The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
They’re bold. They’re bright. And what they bring to Colorado is unequivocally beautiful. Meet the designers, architects, housing innovators, and aesthete trailblazers who are shaping the local residential landscape.
1. Dorothy Leyba | Tiny Home Village Program Manager, Colorado Village Collaborative
Raised by a single mom in East Denver, Dorothy Leyba (pictured above) knew the struggles of generational poverty firsthand, which might be why she’s pursued a career focused on helping others in similar situations. After working for Denver Public Schools as an education liaison for students experiencing homelessness, she joined Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC)—an organization that provides houseless Denverites with access to shelter and the opportunity “to lay their heads out of the elements and start thinking about healing their traumas that got them there,” Leyba says—in 2019. Leyba manages the day-to-day operations of CVC’s 33 tiny homes, which currently house 38 residents. “I make sure that the village community is a safe, healthy, transformative environment,” she says. She also plans programs for residents, ranging from employment- and housing-navigation services to yoga classes and writing workshops. As a result, CVC has no shortage of feel-good success stories: A nine-month study found that the vast majority of former residents were in stable housing, employed, and/or in school after moving on from their stays with CVC.
2. Mike Albert | Principal, Design Workshop
Saying that Aspen-based landscape architect Mike Albert was a wunderkind is an understatement. “I started a business at age 15, selling seasonal plants like poinsettias and mums, and mowing lawns,” says Albert, who grew up on a third-generation cattle ranch in the Oklahoma panhandle. “It was all word of mouth, and I just loved the client-relations side of it.” So it’s no surprise that Albert chose to pursue a career in residential landscape design—where his passions for working with people and plants intersect. Armed with a master’s degree from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, Albert became a partner at Design Workshop in 2014 at the young age of 32. The crowning achievement of his tenure thus far? Revamping a working ranch’s 3.5-acre scrapyard into a pastoral landscape with restored native meadows, Ponderosa pines, and a 7,200-square-foot pond—a design so beautiful, it became the only Colorado garden in history to win the National Award of Excellence in Residential Design from the American Society of Landscape Architects.
3. Christian Barlock | Principal, 4240 Architecture
When he was 13, Christian Barlock stumbled upon the original blueprints for his family’s 1926 Denver Country Club home, designed by Colorado starchitect Temple H. Buell. “I was fascinated with the drawings, and the rest is history—I wanted to be an architect,” Barlock says. After honing his skills in San Francisco at KMD Architects, Barlock joined Denver’s 4240 Architects in 1994, and is now a principal there with many international projects under his belt, including Disney hotels in Orlando and Hong Kong. But we’d argue that his most magical project yet is right here in Colorado: the Electric Pass Lodge at Snowmass Base Village, where all 52 ski-in, ski-out residences are 100-percent powered by renewable energy. “It’s pushing the envelope for sustainability,” Barlock says. “We did everything we could to make it live off the grid, and there’s a wellness piece of it as well—we spec’d materials that are very friendly to the environment.” Even the fireplaces are more healthful, with flickering flames made by water vapor and electricity rather than wood or gas. We think Buell would be impressed.
4. Kevin Anderson | Owner, Kevin Anderson Designs
We ask two things of our furniture: Be functional and be beautiful. But at times, those goals can seem at odds—like when you’re trying to squeeze the one-size-fits-all dresser you bought online into an oddly shaped space in your turn-of-the-century Queen Anne Victorian. Kevin Anderson wants us all to stop settling for run-of-the-mill furnishings. The 31-year-old craftsman builds sinuous, timeless tables, dressers, cabinets, and more to perfectly fit clients’ rooms and needs. He’s a one-man shop who carries out every step of the process himself, from designing the pieces to handpicking each piece of lumber. Anderson also puts his University of Colorado Boulder film studies degree to work by documenting the entire process (check out his absorbing videos on Instagram @kevinandersondesigns) as a way to “get people to think about their furniture,” he says. “Instead of flipping through a catalog, reach out to your local craftsmen and craftswomen.” Anderson’s natural wood furnishings are a reminder that we have choices in how we spend our hard-earned dollars. A custom dining table may have a higher up-front cost, but you’ll have it forever. “We spend so much time interacting with our furniture,” Anderson says, “it’s worth the investment.”
5. Mikhail Dantes | Co-owner, MOD Design
Those who conjure a backwoods mountain lodge when they envision Colorado interiors clearly haven’t stepped foot in MOD Design, longtime Denver decorator Mikhail Dantes’ to-the-trade showroom, which he opened in 2019 with his brother, Ron Dantes. “Colorado being a smaller market, most vendors and manufacturers didn’t really see the potential here, so we didn’t have as much selection as you would have in East and West Coast design centers,” Dantes says. That changed with MOD: The 3,500-square-foot space in the Denver Design District is a trove of furnishings, lighting, fabrics, rugs, and accessories not often found at this altitude, including quartz crystal light fixtures from Australia’s Christopher Boots and kinetic mobile sculptures by Paris-based artist Christel Sadde. Now, designers from Colorado and five surrounding states—Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming—have easier access to brands more typically found in New York and Los Angeles.
6. Tom Gallagher | Principal, Semple Brown
Semple Brown’s principal Tom Gallagher discovered his passion for architecture in an unlikely place: his mom’s sewing room, where she once whipped up a 1970s leisure suit in sage-green polyester with raised seams and contrasting white thread. “It was banging!” Gallagher recalls. “I remember the hand-painted ’70s lifestyle models on the covers of the pattern books, and it was so fascinating to me that these stylized drawings and a pile of pattern paper could be transformed into such things.” Little wonder then that there’s a tailored, sartorial elegance to Gallagher’s work; he’s designed a variety of structures in Denver and nearby areas—from about 15 private homes to the 200-room Kimpton Hotel Born behind Union Station to the open-air Hideaway Park concert venue in Winter Park. His calling card, which he says is shared by everyone at Semple Brown, is a relentless pursuit of perfection “in the overall design and massing, the detailing, the material selection, the curation of the team, and maybe more importantly, the relationships with our clients.”
7. Andrea Schumacher | Owner, Andrea Schumacher Interiors
Andrea Schumacher was a Denver design influencer before the word was part of our global lexicon. She founded her eponymous interior design firm in 1999 and encouraged Denverites to trade staid, mountain-rustic rooms for bold, pattern-infused environments. (She’s since expanded to outposts in Santa Barbara and Palm Beach.) And she continues to set the bar—and keep our city on the design map—by dreaming up new ideas. Take her upcoming wallpaper and textiles line, the Liesl Collection, for example. Named after her grandmother, an artist who trained in Paris under French painter, sculptor, and filmmaker Fernand Léger, the collection features patterns based on Liesl’s woodblock prints. Schumacher is planning to launch the seven patterns and five colorways in April of next year; the release will coincide with the debut of a coffee table book featuring Schumacher’s reflections on her work. The audacious yet sophisticated Liesl Collection designs may be just what homeowners are seeking after a year at home. “It’s going to be like the Roaring ’20s,” Schumacher says of post-pandemic decorating. “People might feel a little more bullish and braver in their design decisions.”
8. Hannah Pobar | Founder and CEO, Home Studio List
When Parker native Hannah Pobar moved to San Francisco to work at a startup, the rent for her 500-square-foot apartment was, as she puts it, absurd. “I was spinning up ideas on how to make extra money, and thought, ‘I bet photographers would rent my apartment by the hour,’” says Pobar, a longtime shutterbug herself. She was right: After previewing the space, HGTV quickly booked a shoot. “I started renting out my apartment, making thousands of dollars, and it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Pobar says. Then the proverbial lightbulb went off, and in 2017, Pobar created Home Studio List, an online catalog of stylish homes that can be rented by the hour for photo and film shoots. The brand is now run out of Pobar’s office in Cherry Creek—she moved back to her home state in 2020—by a staff of six women. Because many homeowners are looking for side hustles in an uncertain economy, “2020 was our strongest year yet; we did 30-percent revenue growth year over year,” Pobar says. Home Studio List now has approximately 60 Colorado spaces, including a Boulder home that looks straight out of Norway (rentable for $200 an hour) and a midcentury abode that could have easily stood in for a Brady Bunch set ($175 an hour). No wonder clients ranging from Starbucks to L’Oreal to Denver Modern have come calling. It’s all literally picture perfect.
9. Angela Harris | CEO and Principal, TRIO
Angela Harris has the unique ability to predict what consumers want. Through her Denver-based design firm, TRIO, Harris takes a market-driven approach to interior design, analyzing consumer behavior to craft appealing multifamily and commercial projects. It’s an effective method: TRIO made Inc. magazine’s 2020 list of fastest-growing private companies in the country, and experienced a revenue jump of 236 percent over the past three years. “One mistake people make is that they bucket demographics, [saying], ‘All millennials want this,’ when really, [what they want is] based on values and lifestyle,” Harris says. “Millennials can live in the same environments as empty-nesters because they share a lot of lifestyle components and values.” The TRIO-designed Alas Over Lowry apartment building, for example, plays to consumers’ desire to live in healthy spaces—regardless of their age—with a wellness wing equipped with meditation pods. Harris’ crystal ball guides her own designs, too: She launched a versatile fabric collection through Premier Prints in May, and a line of furniture is set to debut in the fall, in partnership with Charleston Forge.
10. Scott Bennett | Founder, Housefish
You might not expect a former race-car designer to enjoy life in the slow lane, but that’s exactly what inspired Scott Bennett to launch modern furniture company Housefish. “In 2002, I was doing an IndyCar design and the company shut down unexpectedly,” says Bennett. “I ended up cofounding a baby-furniture company, and we were importing stuff from Vietnam. It required a lot of travel, and then when you see the way stuff is done, it’s just crazy,” he says, referring to the massive ecological footprint created by shipping materials and furniture internationally. “It was really bringing me down.” So Bennett changed course and founded Housefish, with a workshop just north of RiNo and, these days, pieces in some of Denver’s most notable eateries (if you’ve pulled up a plywood-and-powder-coated-steel chair at Avanti or sat at a rift-cut white-oak booth at Uchi, you’ve dined with Bennett’s designs). Housefish furniture can also be found in some 190 local homes, and its reach is destined to grow even broader: West Elm now carries a collection of tables designed by Bennett on its website.
11. Kristen Fogarty and Meredith Steele | Founders, Magik Studios
Who says murals should be limited to the city’s alleyways and trendy commercial spaces? Kristen Fogarty and Meredith Steele, the duo behind Magik Studios, are reimagining how—and where—we encounter these sweeping works of art by painting them directly onto the interior and exterior walls of homes and businesses in Denver and beyond. “Wallpaper and hanging art enhance a space, but by taking the artwork off the canvas, [we help] rooms become unique, creative environments,” Fogarty says. These aren’t the gaudy, distracting designs of the ’90s, though. The friends—Denver transplants with combined backgrounds in graphic design, fine art, painting, and floral design—dream up custom creations based on each client’s space and style. Their recent projects include botanical murals on residential exteriors, and playful, pastel motifs covering every wall of a child’s bedroom. In April, the pair launched the Highlands Mural Project to spread the joy even further by partnering with area businesses, which sponsor hand-painted murals in the Highland neighborhood; the first can be found at Coffee For People. Twenty percent of the budget was donated to nearby Valdez Elementary to bolster its arts-education program—proving Fogarty and Steele are creatives with artistic vision for our homes and our city.
12. Caroline Wilding | Founding Principal, ConstructDA
Licensed architect Caroline Wilding is a triple threat: She devises warm, elegant environments inspired by Australian and Scandinavian styles, offers interior design services—including drawing up plans for custom furniture—and is a licensed real estate broker. That last piece is what really sets Wilding apart in Denver’s hot housing and design markets. Wilding was inspired by her own clients, who often asked her to share her opinion on recent purchases, to integrate real estate brokerage services with her design offerings. It was a “natural progression,” she says—and one with added benefits for buyers, particularly when home inventory is as low as it is now. “I see a need for it in Denver,” Wilding says. “It opens up new possibilities and options for properties that might otherwise get overlooked.” How? Wilding uses her trained architect’s eye to determine if a home has the right bones to become her client’s dream abode. It’s a brilliant business model that may just launch a new field of architect-brokers.
13. Gene Myers | Founder & CEO, Thrive Home Builders
A 1973 stint with the Peace Corps in Honduras had a transformative effect on Gene Myers, now CEO of Denver-based Thrive Home Builders. “That idealism to make the world a better place has stuck with me,” he says—and Myers has more than achieved his goal. His firm builds high-performance, sustainably designed homes at prices everyday people can handle, including more affordable row houses (approximately 350 at last count) than any other production home-builder in Denver. Thrive just completed its largest affordable-housing project in late 2020: 271 units of townhomes in Central Park that cost about $200,000–$250,000, less than half the median house price in Denver. “They all came with solar panels, the EPA’s Indoor airPLUS [air-quality designation], and [meet] DOE Zero Energy Ready Home standards,” he says. The resulting energy bills are saving homeowners up to $1,500 per year. “That’s real money,” Myers says. It’s no surprise that Thrive has won heaps of accolades for its work, including 11 Grand Awards for Housing Innovation from the U.S. Department of Energy in the past eight years, and a Legend Award for Myers from the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance.
14. Lori Pace | Founder, the Diversity Difference
Realtor Lori Pace knows that the prospect of buying or owning real estate can be intimidating for many people—especially women and people of color, who have long been discouraged from owning property through racist and sexist policies. “A lot of people think [owning real estate] is an elitist thing you have to be taught how to do,” says Pace, who works as an associate broker with Kentwood Real Estate. But “it’s no different than learning how to ride a bike. It’s accessible to everybody—people just need the tools.” So she created them. Pace, who was born in Jamaica and identifies as Black, designed the Diversity Difference Tool Kit, an inclusion immersion program for organizations including brokerage firms and real estate associations, through which she crafts custom, strategic plans for increasing diversity among their ranks and selling with equity and multiculturalism in mind. She’s taken these important ideas to a TEDx stage in Denver as well as the boardroom: Pace joined the board of directors for the Denver Metro Association of Realtors to push forward policies that promote fair housing practices and encourage more diverse representation in the real estate industry. “Sustainable change and systematic change happen from being on the inside,” she says. “[And that matters because real estate] is how wealth is created in the United States and the world.”
15. Annie Levinsky | Executive Director, Historic Denver
For Annie Levinsky, the future depends on the past. “Preservation isn’t about stopping change; it’s more of a change-management tool,” she says. “It’s part of what gives our city its sense of place and its sense of identity.” Levinksy believes that safeguarding historic homes, important commercial sites, and even public spaces protects Denver’s future, as old buildings find new life as affordable housing developments or food halls or hotels. “It would be naïve to think we’re going to rebuild the entire city,” she says. “A more efficient way to [serve Denver’s growing population] is to use what we have creatively to accommodate our needs.” As the head of the nonprofit that owns and operates Molly Brown House Museum, Levinsky is leading the organization’s efforts to preserve venues that reflect Denver’s multicultural history, from helping to rehabilitate the Five Points home of Justina Ford, the first Black female licensed doctor in Colorado, to working with the La Alma-Lincoln Park neighborhood, as it applies to become a historic cultural district. These efforts will only strengthen Denver’s distinctive character—and, she says, save us from becoming another “Any City, USA.”