A 1927 art deco stained- glass Madonna is a focal point in the dining room ceiling. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post )

LITTLETON — When architect Jeff Swanson built his dream home, he thought other people might ask him to replicate it. But no one has.

"When it comes to building houses, most people are concerned about being safe rather than being stylish," says Swanson, 39. "They are scared about resale and property values, (and) they worry about what their spouses and neighbors will think."

Swanson's 5,700-square-foot custom home is made from stucco, metal and concrete. It has framed outdoor views in nearly every room.

The house has a painting studio and a home theater. Its angular design unfolds to a visitor like a fine art gallery.

Swanson and his life partner, Richard Nielsen, took heat for their building plans from some of their

Exterior of Architect, Jeff Swanson, and Richard Nielsen's house that they designed and built in an older traditional Littleton neighborhood called Bowmar South. (The Post | Andy Cross)
Bow Mar South neighbors. Theirs is an older neighborhood dotted with small lakes and dominated by ranch-style, split-level and Dutch Colonial- inspired homes.

Swanson and Nielsen knew their house would stick out, but they still chose to build in Bow Mar South because of its location and because building codes there contain few architectural restrictions.

The two purchased their empty lot in 1998 and built from the ground up. The house was completed on 2000 — on Valentine's Day.

The neighborhood had not seen much new construction, Swanson says. One neighbor "planted two large evergreens in front of her house so she couldn't" see their house.

"She has come around" to it since then, he says.

Today the home, valued at $1.7 million, complements the couple's creative lifestyle. It includes a 28-foot, barrel-vaulted ceiling in the living room, and a 14-foot-high ceiling in the master bedroom.

"We were frustrated with the builder options," said Nielsen, 43, a painter who also owns the high-end Denver furniture showroom Nielsen- Metier Inc. "We wanted to have control over our environment."

His love of cooking demanded a fabulous kitchen. And Swanson wanted a soaking tub in the master bathroom.

Jeff Swanson and Richard Nielsen paired traditional Italian chandeliers with a trendy sofa to create a casually elegant feel in their Bow Mar South home. (The Post | Andy Cross)

Ever-unfolding vistas

The landscape is filled with Nielsen's favorite perennials, including butterfly bush, black-eyed Susan and Russian sage.

The sound system that runs throughout the house is programmed to suit them both.

Every interior wall is cream — ideal for displaying Nielsen's vivid artwork and the home's equally stylized furniture collection.

A 4-foot-wide, custom-made mahogany front door pivots on an axle. But visitors beware: Scoobie and Astro, the resident miniature dachshunds, are prone to clandestine escapes.

Serpentine exterior curves mimic the street. Scuppers on the roof serve as drains during heavy storms. A canted wall punctuates the entryway. Niches in most rooms highlight even more artwork.

The home's open floor plan, linear walkways and various ceiling heights provide "unfolding ... experiences," Swanson says. All are thoughtful details that lure architecture students to study and sketch the house.

Indian and limestone slate in the entryway continues through the home, where the couple tries to blend minimalism with warm, traditional pieces. An 18th-century French Normandy armoire and traditional Italian chandelier, for instance, are paired with a trendy sofa decked out in geometric-print upholstery.

Their decorating goal? "Casual elegance."

A daunting, art deco stained-glass Madonna is set in the dining room ceiling. Backlighting casts a warm glow behind the image, which was salvaged from a burned-down church in Rochester, N.Y.

Stamped concrete floors, cherry cabinets and black granite set off the kitchen, where warm weather brings martini shaking for cocktail consumption on the terrace.

Throughout the house, windows draw the eyes to other spaces, like one 18-foot glass-block wall that lets light in but keeps lookie-loos out.

The master bedroom is the only room with window treatments: huge silk panels dyed in bold primary colors.

But even in a home this eclectic, everything has its place.

"I knew there would be a piece of art there, so I put up can lights," Swanson says. "I knew where my keys would be, so I built that angled wall there ... Nothing was accidental."

Sheba R. Wheeler: 303-954-1283 or swheeler@denverpost.com