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Cherl and Bob Akright showcase their collections in a downtown loft

Written by ELLEN GRAY
Photography by LINDA HANSELMAN

Picture a downtown loft in one of Denver’s up-andcoming areas. Put that same loft in an historic building, and add towering banks of windows on three sides of the space. Now cover the concrete walls with fascinating pieces of art, and sprinkle in an eclectic assortment of furnishings. Is the furniture art, or is it the background to a museum-like setting?

Such is the living space that was imaginatively created by Cheryl Akright, an avid collector who has spent years scouring China and Russia to locate emerging artists for her clients, as well as for her own personal collection.

“I like art that is thought-provoking and that evokes emotion,” Akright says. “It’s a matter of how much time a person will take to stand in front of a particular painting to try to understand what the artist is trying to say.”

If that’s the goal, then Akright, along with her husband, Bob, have accomplished it with perfection. The spacious interior of her home, located in the Flour Mill Lofts, pays homage to the early 20th century, when Denver’s milling industry was a vibrant part of city life. Located in the central Platte Valley, just north of Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo) area, the loft has spectacular views of Cuernavaca Park, Coors Field and LoDo.

The homeowners did a skillful job of maintaining the feel and flow of the space and infusing it with a gallerylike feel that causes you to pause at each piece of art. And, as Akright points out, it’s not just paintings that are the art. It’s also the sculpture on the shelf, the antique trunk behind the kitchen table, the coffee table that was once a Chinese bed.

“I never design the interior space around my art, because I think you’re buying art for a reason,” Akright says. “We lived in Moscow for eight years in the 1990s and collected nearly 70 pieces of art while we were there. We never knew where it would one day go, but we liked each piece. If you like something and it moves you, you will always find a home for it.”

The current home of some of Akright’s more contemporary pieces is her downtown loft, and a better showcase would be hard to find. Beautiful works by more obscure Chinese, Russian and American artists adorn the walls and are made even more eye-catching by the industrial concrete backdrop or vibrantly painted walls on which they hang. Furnishings collected from around the world, as well as from flea markets, create an effect that is both artistic and sophisticated.

In each area of the home, Akright has taken great pains to place pieces of art that will create a feeling of comfort, interest and warmth. The view from the living room couch, for example, affords a bird’s-eye view of three fantastic paintings and creates a sense of movement within that space. Behind the dining table, a simple stand holds an old trunk that Akright found in a fishing village in China. More than a piece of art, the trunk is used as a filing cabinet of sorts.

In the hallway leading to the bedroom, two mirrors from China hang on the concrete wall. Akright took out the panels, which were originally used to cover windows, inserted mirrors, and hung them as art.

Another feature that works to Akright’s advantage is the loft’s use of raw elements, such as concrete walls, hardwood floors and steel piping, which results in a dramatic ambience. Normally, the thought of a downtown loft conjures up images of urban, hip and oh-so-trendy spaces. Not so in Akright’s home, where a modern, eclectic and refined attitude prevails.

In the bedroom, a vividly colorful room marked by bright fabrics and breathtaking art, intricate hand-painted trays created by a Chinese artist provide form and function. Each painting in the home tells a story, and in the bedroom, a piece by Russian artist Victor Lysakov depicts the artist’s own experience growing up in the Stalin era.

In the kitchen, a contemporary study in woods, chrome and granite, the ultra-sleek look is tempered by an impressive sculpture of a metal bull emblazoned with semi-precious stones. Many of the pieces Akright collects are made much more interesting, she acknowledges, because of her personal contact with the artists. “Sometimes you meet artists, and you just have to bring them into your home by buying a piece of theirs,” Akright explains. “Then you have a memory of that artist, and if at some point you decide it doesn’t work for you anymore, you may want to pass it on.”

While the art inside Akright’s home is remarkable in itself, she acknowledges that it’s the setting that truly creates the crowning achievement. “If you look out the window, you see how well all the elements blend to translate into the bigger image,” she says. “There, the city has constructed two art formations. Look farther, and you see industrial space with bridges and traffic. Then there’s the part added by nature, with the mountains framing the city skyline. It’s all art, and it’s all beautiful.”