Preserving the Past

A Q&A with Kimber Dempsey, the Realtor with a Passion for Mid-Century Modern Architecture and Vintage Homes

Photos: Atom Stevens

In a world where architectural trends come and go, there’s something undeniably alluring about the timeless charm and thoughtful design of mid-century modern homes. For Kimber Dempsey, a realtor with a deep-seated passion for vintage houses, it’s more than just a professional pursuit; it’s a way of life. As the proud owner of not one, but two mid-century modern homes, she knows firsthand the transformative power of these architectural gems.


Modern In Denver: Why do you specialize in mid-century modern architecture and vintage homes as a realtor?

Kimber Dempsey: I live in and own two mid-century modern homes, and once you own one there’s no going back to typical architecture. These homes live and function differently. The light follows you around the house throughout the day, and the thoughtful design truly makes day-to-day life easier and more enjoyable. I love all vintage things, from clothing to furniture to cars. Things really were made better in former eras. I feel that everyone deserves a well-built home with character and a story. My passion translates into my business and makes every day I get to sell great homes a great day. I consider myself lucky that I get to work with something that I am so passionate about.

MID: What does it mean to be a preservation-minded realtor?

KD: Being a preservation-minded realtor means that I do my best to educate my clients and fellow realtors on the historical significance and details of a home. I sit on two historic preservation boards, Docomomo US/CO and Historic Littleton Inc., so that my knowledge can benefit my community. Education is key to successful preservation, and I like to think that I make a difference every time I can share information with a client or colleague. 

MID: What are the benefits of preservation?

KD: A neighborhood’s architectural character dramatically influences its function and feel. The contributions made by people who owned and built historic homes is invaluable to our communities. The built environment tells the story of the past and holds memories of what it was like to grow up in a specific area. Not to mention, landmarked properties and historic districts have historic tax credits and grants available. Every time a new roof or furnace needs to be installed on a historic property it may be eligible for these tax credits. Additionally, it’s been proven that landmarked homes and historic districts maintain some of the most consistent values in cities, and often times are not as affected by recessions. We need to leave our history for the next generation. The greenest home is often the one that already exists.

MID: What kinds of challenges do you encounter as a realtor focused on architectural preservation?

KD: In a city where land is this expensive and the housing demand so strong, there are many realtors who focus on development and fix-and-flip properties with no regard to the effect it has on the community. Preserving buildings or pursuing adaptive reuse is not often the popular approach. Many think that building the biggest and most dense residence possible is the best route.

However, the quality of materials, high level of craft, and thoughtful architectural design that were common in the mid-20th century is almost impossible to match in today’s construction. Especially because in mid-century modern neighborhoods the homes were built to interact with each other in a certain way. When you tear one down, or make an unthoughtful addition, your neighbor’s floor-to-ceiling windows that were private before may now be completely exposed to its neighboring property. With HGTV programming influencing tastes, many people think that if the home isn’t gray, white, or black, that it’s outdated—which has led to a lot of original brick, woodwork, and cabinetry getting painted.

Helping homeowners understand that some vintage finishes are timeless is of the utmost importance, and that if they don’t like the original finishes, perhaps a different home would be a better fit. It’s a balancing act, but I find that once people understand what they have, and that it adds value, they appreciate their home. There will always be developers who only see money to be made, which means I will never lack properties to advocate for. I can only hope that in the coming decades more people choose to landmark their own properties.

MID: Do you feel like today’s focus on high levels of consumption and quickly changing trends has affected preservation in a negative way? 

KD: Our society is constantly trying to find the next, newest, best thing. Which is not good when it comes to caring for historic properties. Each fad will come and go, meaning houses will go through renovation after renovation to keep up with the trends. In the very near future, people will lament everyone who painted their original brick white and put on a black roof. Unfortunately, once original materials are ripped out or painted over, they can never be original again. In a society that loves to consume, homes aren’t always seen as an important piece of history; they’re more likely to be treated as a space to make look trendy or current with the latest design. If you have quality finishes and design, why fix what’s not broken?