Let’s be honest: Not every eatery in Denver can (or should) have Edison-bulb light fixtures, steel Tolix chairs, and walls covered in beetle-kill pine. And thanks to Tana and Brandon Anderson, principals at LivStudio—one of the most in-demand and inventive architecture and design firms in town—we aren’t awash in a sea of mountain-modern or farmhouse-inspired restaurant concepts.
Perhaps you’ve bellied up to the pizza bar at Vero in the recently renovated Denver Central Market? That’s LivStudio’s work. Or maybe you’ve experienced conveyor-belt sushi under the colorful, floor-to-ceiling art installation at Sushi Rama? Yep, that’s them, too. From the slick and moody Bar Fausto in RiNo, to the impeccable Studio Como furniture showroom to the canary-yellow charm of chef Troy Guard’s new brunch spot Hashtag, LivStudio-designed spaces continue to top the list of must-visit food and retail destinations in Denver.
“I love the vitality of Denver. It is full of possibility,” says Tana Anderson, who founded LivStudio in RiNo in 2010 after she left San Antonio architecture firm Lake Flato. (Her husband, Brandon, came onboard in 2012; Liv is named after their daughter, Alivia.) Denver’s untapped potential inspired LivStudio’s design approach, which, the couple says, begins with two simple questions they ask about each project: Why? and Why not? “Why? is about appropriateness,” Brandon says. “Does something have meaning, does it bring the energy we’re going for, is it there for a purpose, or can we edit it out?” Why not? is about pushing the boundaries of functional design and looking beyond current trends. Thanks to those big-picture questions, none of the firm’s designs—it does office and residential projects, too—feels predictable, even in RiNo, where the firm has clients on nearly every block.
Unconventional thinking also led Tana and Brandon to open Greenlight Lab, a new bar behind their RiNo studio where they test materials and furniture designs (and cocktails!). The design changes quarterly, which is enough time to give tables, chairs, bar stools, wall finishes, and even light fixtures a chance to wear—and tear—in a very public manner. Greenlight’s patrons rate every detail, from the innovative drinks to the fabric on the banquette. “This is a space for creativity,” Brandon says. “It’s a space for LivStudio to explore new materials, fabrication methods, and ideas. It’s easier to take chances when you are your own client.”
The forward-thinking studio is just the type of firm Denver needs to help navigate its explosive growth spurt—especially in the restaurant sector. “We have room to stretch our arms and see where it takes us and the client,” says Preston Reed, an architectural designer with LivStudio. That means pushing clients toward materials and designs that make sense and strike at timelessness, without falling into cow-town clichés. Take, for instance, the West End Tap House on Tennyson Street, which asked LivStudio to build a “Colorado bar.” “We were scratching our heads, thinking, What does that mean?” Brandon says. In the end, they designed a very modern, geometric mountain range out of wood, then flipped it so it hangs upside down from the ceiling. It’s both surprising and delightful. “We take inspiration from Colorado,” Brandon says, “but that doesn’t mean you have to be sitting in a forest.”
According to LivStudio, we must be ready for something bigger.
LivStudio’s Best Design Moves
Above: Sushi Rama
Where: RiNo (2615 Larimer St.)
What We Love: The use of 1960s-era ply-wood, as seen in the floor-to-ceiling sushi art installation (fabricated locally by Vonmod) and chairs (designed by Denver’s Housefish).
West End Tap House
Where: RiNo (3945 Tennyson St.)
What We Love: A geometric wooden “mountain range” that hangs upside down from the blue-painted ceiling.
Gerard’s Pool Hall
Where: RiNo (1305 26th St.)
What We Love: Historical touches, like the chandeliers, reclaimed from a shuttered Shrine Club and a saloon-inspired leather banquette (with fringe detail).
Where: RiNo (2535 Walnut St.)
What We Love: The airy, spherical, made-from-yarn Random Light pendants (by Moooi) that illuminate and soften the vast, modern home-goods showroom.
Where: RiNo (2601 Larimer St.)
What We Love: It’s a toss up: Three enormous, sculptural (and hand-blown glass) Bocci light fixtures or the c-shaped tufted booths, which provide intimacy.
Where: RiNo (1336 27th St.)
What We Love: The whole concept: a handsome lounge behind LivStudio’s office that’s part bar, part design testing ground for furniture, lighting and more.
1336 27th St, Denver, CO 80205, 720-465-6182; livstudio.net