Ever wondered who’s behind Colorado’s transformation into an architecture, real estate, and decorating hot spot? Allow us to introduce you to 15 forward-thinkers shaping the local home industry and feeding our love of beautiful spaces.
1. The Starchitect: Cherie Goff
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WHO: As one of the principals of Boulder’s HMH Architecture + Interiors, Cherie Goff is a champion of modern homes that are livable (i.e., the opposite of ginormous McMansions). Her firm runs Boulder’s Month of Modern, a September-long series of lectures, home tours, and other events celebrating modern design that sells out each year.
WHY: “In the third grade I was asked to write about what I wanted to be and why,” Goff recalls. “I said I wanted to be a teacher so that I could arrange the classroom the way I wanted. Of course, I didn’t know what an architect was, and I would have been a terrible teacher, so I’m glad I found architecture.” Her yen for clean lines may derive from the year the Colorado native spent living in Denmark, and her mantra—“quality over quantity”—has helped shape innumerable timeless homes throughout the region, including a remodel of a 1976 house designed by Charles Haertling.
THE IMPACT: HMH Architecture + Interiors recently won three ASID awards and an AIA award for a geometric folding stair inspired by origami trees. Goff also happens to be a woman helming a largely female firm in a mostly male-driven field (just 37 percent of American architects who completed the core requirements for licensure in 2018 were female).
IN THE WORKS: Goff just designed her own 1,800-square-foot home—which is currently under construction—where a cantilevered “birdhouse” of a living room will offer panoramic views from all sides.
2. The History Buff: Lam La
WHO: A skilled woodworker with a background in preservation carpentry, Lam La brings a knack for historical accuracy, architectural detail, and on-site problem solving to Factor Design Build, a Denver-based construction and interior design firm known for its meticulous renovation projects.
WHY: For La—whose project portfolio includes the restoration of a 123-year-old church building in Boston and the renovation of the 1912 Cheesman Park Italianate house that was one of 5280 Home’s 2018 Top Denver Design winners—reviving structures from bygone eras is an act of reverence. “There are people who worked on these buildings before us who put a lot of hard work into what they did,” he says. “It’s a way of respecting and honoring history.”
THE IMPACT: Working in conjunction with Factor’s design team, project managers, and vendors, La has played a major role in ushering our city’s older homes into the modern world—while sparing them from the disjointed, Frankenstein-esque fate of many remodels.
IN THE WORKS: One in-progress renovation project that stands out to La is a pop-top addition for an 1880s Victorian home in City Park. La hopes historic structures such as these will last for generations to come. “Historic Denver and the Landmark Commission through Denver Community Planning work hard to make sure that existing Denver neighborhoods hold their character and keep us connected to the city’s architectural history,” he says.
3. The Queen of Design Democracy: Lee Mayer
WHO: After decamping from New York City (and her career in finance) for Denver in 2013, Lee Mayer kick-started Havenly, an online company that digitally supplies customers with redecorating ideas from professional designers for as little as $79 per room—long before social distancing became a part of our cultural lexicon.
WHY: Back in 2013, Mayer wanted to spruce up her new home in Denver, but hit a roadblock before she could even come up with a plan. “I couldn’t find a designer who ‘got’ my style and understood how I like to shop—online, with plenty of options, and within budget,” she says. She launched Havenly to solve that problem for everybody else: The company’s designers comb through the myriad products on the market to provide clients with design concepts edited to their tastes.
THE IMPACT: Havenly is part of a coterie of female-led, venture-backed startups in Denver, with a local team that has grown from four to more than 100 since 2013; the company has raised a whopping $57 million in venture capital. And, while promoting expanded access to good design, they’ve helped 6,400 Colorado clients—3,200 in Denver alone—create their dream homes from the comfort of their couches.
IN THE WORKS: After successfully launching Cove Goods, a sister line of neutral-meets-natural furniture and accessories, Havenly has two more consumer-ready collections in the works: the free-spirited, boho-style Roam Common, and the modern, statement-making Studio Marcette.
4. The Secret Weapon: Alex Ryden
WHO: The problem with home staging? It looks, well, staged. So, in 2016, Alex Ryden founded Guest House, which makes for-sale properties look worthy of Sunset magazine spreads by professionally decorating them with regionally made furniture, art, and decor. Then, during open houses, consumers show up and browse the rooms as they would a home-goods store, shopping as they go.
WHY: Guest House began when Ryden decided to sell goods from local makers in his own home. Since then, his business has helped zhuzh and sell approximately $100 million in Denver and Boulder real estate (not to mention countless gorgeous wares from some 450 regional artists and craftspeople). “Our goal is to build a better community with everything that we do,” Ryden says.
THE IMPACT: According to Ryden, homes staged by Guest House sell 40 percent faster—and for more money—than standard-issue real estate listings. Hundreds of interested buyers—plus Guest House’s network of interior designers—visit each house in person, discovering new local makers as they shop. Thousands more view the properties and shop the products online. Another perk: Guest House takes more than 500 magazine-quality photos every month, which the company then shares with its featured makers and real estate agents—a boon for these small businesses at a time when content is king.
IN THE WORKS: Newly profitable, Guest House plans to expand to another locale this fall (Austin, Seattle, and a location in California are contenders) and is considering raising a round of funding to bolster expansions to even more markets.
5. The Conscientious Furniture Designer: Jerri Hobdy
WHO: At just 28 years old, Jerri Hobdy has a resumé that’s more robust than those of many seasoned designers. She’s created furniture for top home brands including Currey & Company, Anthropologie, and Arteriors, and her work has graced the glossy pages of Elle Décor, Architectural Digest, and Dwell magazines. Through her new Denver-based endeavors, Meno Home Studio and Pure Home Collective, Hobdy plans to usher in a new wave of furniture design that’s gentle on our planet (she’s committed to using clean materials such as responsibly harvested lumber, formaldehyde-free plywood, and nontoxic glues, finishes, and sealers).
WHY: “People rely on furniture to literally support them every day, so I think it should look good and do good,” Hobdy says. “I believe this is the only way forward. We can’t all just keep making pretty things [out of unsustainable materials] forever.”
THE IMPACT: Meno Home, Hobdy’s in-progress furniture line and design studio, and Pure Home Collective, an initiative of creative entrepreneurs formed as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the local maker industry, share a similar ethos: Connect consumers with tailor-made, safe, and sustainable furniture crafted by skilled manufacturers in Colorado.
IN THE WORKS: “Spoiler alert: It is way better than reclaimed wood,” Hobdy says of the new furniture collection she hopes to debut online this fall. “Expect drool-worthy designs created with environmentally conscious materials and processes.”
6. The Retirement-Living Revivalist: Susan Juroe
Co-founder and General Counsel, Balfour Senior Living
WHO: In an effort to glamorize the geriatric years, Susan Juroe and her husband, Michael Schonbrun, co-founded Balfour Senior Living: Colorado- and Michigan-based retirement communities that, thanks to Juroe’s design leadership, have stylish interiors worthy of Architectural Digest magazine and amenities that rival what you’d find in a five-star boutique hotel.
WHY: After searching for a senior community for his mother, Schonbrun felt so dismayed that he took the maxim “be the change” quite literally and started his own in 1997, and eventually partnered with his wife. “My heart still aches as I remember being a newlywed visiting my mother-in-law in a ‘nice’ senior facility, watching adult children and grandchildren plotting their escapes to a non-depressing restaurant or venue,” says Juroe. “Building code consultants and urine-proof-furniture manufacturers had seemingly hijacked an entire industry.” Balfour is the antithesis of all that, featuring decor from chic design labels including Kelly Wearstler and Schumacher. This strategy pays off: The average age of Balfour’s residents keeps dropping, proof the design-forward approach appeals to a wide (style-savvy) audience.
THE IMPACT: Fun reigns at Balfour—as its strong food and alcohol sales attest. “My 84-year-old parents who just became residents of Balfour Ann Arbor report that they’re having an unmitigated blast daily,” Juroe says. “I’ve lost count of the adult children who have thanked me personally, through their tears, for building Balfour and changing their family members’ lives.”
IN THE WORKS: This fall, Balfour is set to open a Western-inspired facility in Longmont that John Wayne would love. And a new partnership with Welltower Inc.—a real estate investment company specializing in senior housing—means Balfour will be adding 20 to 25 more properties to its stable in the next decade.
7. The Building Boss: Fiona Arnold
WHO: It comes as no surprise that Fiona Arnold named her company Mainspring, which means “driving force,” when she launched it in 2014. The real estate and business development firm has been the engine behind myriad Denver projects, from condos and commercial spaces to hip watering holes, including Blue Sparrow Coffee, Queens Eleven, and Room for Milly, an impeccably designed craft cocktail bar that opened in February.
WHY: Formerly general counsel for Vail Resorts, Australian native and dual citizen Arnold took a year off to explore other passions, including renovating and flipping a house, scooping up an old RiNo warehouse that she converted into commercial rentals, and diving into interior design work. It all came together to become her new career. “Doing this work has always felt like gardening to me,” Arnold says. “Creating something beautiful that people may not even notice, but that they feel good, inspired, and at home in.”
THE IMPACT: Arnold creates interiors that are cozy and rarefied, challenging Colorado’s typical design approach. At Room for Milly, hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper hangs over the back bar, an olive-green velvet banquette beckons, and the artwork—curated by Denver-based Kate Finds Art—is almost entirely by regional female artists. “I think our spaces may be fairly unique in Denver, where much design has been spare and minimalist,” Arnold says. “I really try to bring the ‘sink-in’ comfort of home to our commercial spaces, blurring the line between residential and commercial.”
IN THE WORKS: Among many projects percolating is a boutique hostel with a Scandinavian feel in Five Points, though that’s been shelved temporarily due to COVID-19—but Arnold will no doubt find a way to bring it to life.
8. The Modern Maker: Sean Vandervliet
WHO: Modern ceramist Sean VanderVliet handmakes kitchen and home goods in clean, precise forms and fresh hues—a style he’s been perfecting for 20 years—out of his Denver studio. His most recent venture: a Scandi-inspired collection of table lamps and pendant lights crafted in collaboration with Colorado woodworking company Cream Modern.
WHY: “I think, to be honest, things can get a bit stale,” VanderVliet says of his beloved medium, which is typically associated with cupboard essentials. “Lighting allows me to be creative and think differently about space and scale and the way light should be cast off of a form. It totally reignited my excitement for making new things that weren’t just dinnerware.”
THE IMPACT: VanderVliet’s kiln-baked creations can be found at Miller Lane Mercantile, Berkeley Supply, and a handful of other shops in Colorado, as well as countless homes around the United States, but that success is not enough to satisfy his ambition. “The goal is to make the nicest handmade lamps you can buy anywhere in the world, and to figure out a way to get them into as many hands as possible,” he says.
IN THE WORKS: It might not be long before that lofty goal is achieved, as VanderVliet is currently designing two exclusive lamps for Room & Board, on track to be sold at the furniture and decor brand’s 17 stores nationwide by January 2021.
9. The Expressive Artist: Genevieve Smith
WHO: “I see a blank wall and I get itchy,” says Genevieve Smith, who has been painting residential murals since she was 11 years old (her first commission was a forest scene for her parents’ home in Monterey, California). Via her one-woman decorative-painting business, she adds personality and pattern to homes and commercial spaces across Denver with her signature blend of technical expertise and creative problem-solving.
WHY: Smith approaches each project with one goal in mind: to assist her clients in expressing what you might call their “true colors.” “I think it’s really important to identify with your space; to have your space be a joy for you but also make a statement about who you are,” she says.
THE IMPACT: From hand-painted faux-tile backsplashes to edgy abstract motifs to an ’80s-inspired color rush for Dang Soft Serve Ice Cream’s South Park Hill shop, Smith’s breadth of work proves that decorative painting isn’t just for kids’ rooms.
IN THE WORKS: The COVID-19 stay-at-home order put many of Smith’s residential projects on hold, freeing up time for her to work on commissioned fine-art paintings in a style she describes as “realism meets children’s illustrations.”
10. The Outdoor Enthusiasts: Bob & Jay Dillon
WHO: Father-and-son duo Bob and Jay Dillon founded Minnesota-based Yardbird, a line of 100-percent recyclable outdoor furniture—including everything from cushy sectionals to rust-free aluminum fire tables—in 2017. Now, Coloradans can test out the firm’s collections—some of which utilize wicker made from repurposed ocean plastic—at their Lone Tree showroom, which opened in March.
WHY: “I was in the market for high-quality outdoor furniture and couldn’t afford it,” Jay says. “There was an obvious opportunity: When you see a well-known retailer’s chair being produced in a factory for $100 and retailing for $1,000, you know you’ve got a business.” The idea to repurpose some materials came, well, naturally: “When I moved to Asia to learn more about the furniture manufacturing industry, my wife and I would often visit the area beaches and find them filled with debris,” Jay says. “That’s when I knew we had to do something to help, and using recycled ocean plastic was the natural extension of that.”
THE IMPACT: In addition to its recycled-plastic pieces, Yardbird makes high-quality aluminum and Sunbrella furniture that costs 40 percent less, on average, than other comparable options in the marketplace. Its Lone Tree locale is the only retailer devoted entirely to recyclable outdoor furniture in Colorado, and sells more per capita online in Denver (more than six figures in 2019) than anywhere else in the country.
IN THE WORKS: Two new lines launched this spring: Brooks and Winnie, hewn from grade-A teak with Sunbrella (i.e., essentially bulletproof) cushions. “Denver style is quite diverse,” Bob says. “I have a feeling our Brooks collection will be popular—it’s one of our first forays into a more modern aesthetic, with metal accents, clean lines, and sloped seating.”
11. The Philanthropist: Lezlie Goldberg
WHO: With about 30 years of experience working for nonprofits, Lezlie Goldberg has supported many causes over the course of her career. But it wasn’t until she stepped into her role at the Duet Design Group Foundation in 2014 that she found one that hit so close to home, so to speak. Goldberg (who happens to be the Duet Design Group co-founder Devon Tobin’s mother) oversees the Littleton interior design firm’s charitable offshoot, which donates design services to local nonprofits that provide residential space and supportive programs to individuals and families enduring or recovering from different types of trauma.
WHY: “Helping heal through thoughtful design”—the foundation’s tagline—reminds us that our living spaces shape our lives. “You don’t feel good about yourself if you’re living in a place that’s awful,” says Goldberg. “[An attractive, functional home] helps you thrive, grow, and become more self-confident and self-assured.”
THE IMPACT: Through its work with Brent’s Place and Third Way Center, the foundation has designed more than a dozen beautiful, safe apartments for high-risk youth and families experiencing life-threatening illnesses.
IN THE WORKS: The group’s generosity continues: Goldberg is currently discussing partnerships with a shelter for homeless youth and an organization that houses unaccompanied women and transgender individuals.
12. The Holistic Healer: Matthew Tenzin
WHO: With the launch of Boulder- and Aspen-based True Home Holistic Design Services in 2017, Tibetan-Buddhist-monk-turned-interior-designer Matthew Tenzin seized a business opportunity at the intersection of his lifelong passions for creativity and spirituality. His unique design consultancy aims to not only provide aesthetically pleasing, functional living spaces, but also to diagnose and address negative energy within a home.
WHY: Do you have a space in your home that just feels “off,” or a piece of furniture that never gets used? That may be a sign of an energy imbalance, says Tenzin, who developed his holistic approach while working as a principal at his husband’s design firm, Joe McGuire Design. “Our homes are not just physical, material structures that wall us off from nature,” Tenzin says. “Everything that is in our home is infused with energy and intention, or at least can be.” Through meditative work, Tenzin is able to identify the cause of an imbalance and suggest remedies to his clients.
THE IMPACT: Though Tenzin realizes his spiritually charged services—ranging from full-scale remodels to one-off space-blessing ceremonies—aren’t for everyone, he says his process of balancing energy in a home can lead to positive effects on his clients’ health, mood, and overall well-being. “When we approach the design of a home from a more holistic point of view, we can create a space that has beautiful, powerful, positive energy that’s life-giving,” he says.
IN THE WORKS: After the success of his 21-day, guided-meditation video series called Coming Home that launched this spring, Tenzin plans to host similar workshops that can be accessed via his website.
13. The Eco-Concious Designer: Anna Elyce Smith
WHO: Lifestyle blogger-turned-designer Anna Elyce Smith’s long-established, Golden-based design firm launched a new, sustainably minded objective in 2019: to source mostly American-made furniture and accessories, plus a smattering of fair-trade finds and European antiques for good measure. And if social media has anything to say about it, the new approach is working: Smith’s Instagram feed has garnered nearly 45,000 followers.
WHY: Smith was working toward her master’s degree in the history of decorative arts at George Mason University when she realized her calling was creating design—and kick-started a blog that launched her career. Unlike many in the design industry, Smith approaches every project with sustainability in mind. “Own less, do more,” she says. “I’m more at peace when I own only what I need and what makes me happy, and nothing more.”
THE IMPACT: Smith’s ethos is a consumer version of Pay It Forward. “The best feedback I ever received from a client was that prior to working with us, she never really thought about the impacts her purchases had on people and the planet,” Smith says, “and now she thinks about it all the time.”
IN THE WORKS: Annabode recently began offering a new service called One Day Redesign. “We tackle one room in a client’s house using what they already own and reimagine it in just a few hours,” Smith says. “We find that so often, people own beautiful, functional things, but they just have trouble putting a space together.” A revamp with a carbon footprint of zilch? Brilliant.
14. The Big Builder of Small Living: David Sinkey
WHO: Low-maintenance living has been top of mind for David Sinkey since he founded his Front Range home-building company, Boulder Creek, in 2006 (read: Many Boulder Creek neighborhoods come with an association that takes care of yard work and snow shoveling for its residents). Now, with its popular series of small-floorplan Wee-Cottage neighborhoods, Boulder Creek is proving that when it comes to homes, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
WHY: Ranging from about 900 to 1,400 square feet and two to three bedrooms, Wee-Cottages provide an entry point for prospective home-buyers. They differ from apartments because you can own them, and they offer more privacy than condos. Plus, owning a Wee-Cottage is “not the same as a typical single-family home because you don’t have the big yard and the three-car garage,” Sinkey says. “It’s an in-between option.”
THE IMPACT: It’s no secret that Denver and Boulder have very limited affordable-housing options. With prices starting in the low $300,000s, Boulder Creek’s Wee-Cottage developments in Stapleton, Boulder County, and Thornton provide a lower-cost way to own property and achieve the no-fuss lifestyle that Colorado’s weekend warriors are so fond of.
IN THE WORKS: The grass is looking greener in Erie, where Sinkey says his company is planning to build the first “garden court” Wee-Cottage development that provides residents with shared green spaces built into their neighborhood.
15. The Real Estate Whiz: Susan Chong
WHO: Real estate maven Susan Chong has a career as soaring as her properties: Iconique, the brokerage she launched last September, has sold condominiums in Union Station’s 334-unit Coloradan building and downtown’s 42-story high-rise Spire. The firm champions true luxury (like the ability to stroll to a James Beard Award–winning restaurant from your abode).
WHY: Since beginning her real estate career in 2002, Chong has become a luminary in Denver thanks to her clients-come-first approach. “Customer service has always been my number one priority,” Chong says, likening her clients’ experience to the concierge-level pampering they’d enjoy at a boutique hotel. “Taking good care of people as they navigate the biggest transition of their lives makes this work so rewarding!”
THE IMPACT: Chong—who has been lauded as a Top Broker by the Denver Metro Association of Realtors multiple times and is known for selling Denver’s currently booming luxury condo buildings—has sold $750 million of urban real estate in Denver and Boulder since 2002.
IN THE WORKS: Iconique is the exclusive brokerage for two big new projects in the Mile High City: Flora, a high-rise of 92 riverfront condos in RiNo, and a development of townhomes in Curtis Park.