From the futuristic vibe of Snooze to the stripped-down appeal of Ace Eat Serve, Denver’s hippest eateries boast atmospheres as varied as their entrées. Yet these and nearly a dozen other Front Range favorites have one thing in common: Melissa Friday.

Once a successful, well-compensated chef in Boulder, Friday traded in her apron strings in 1996 for an $8-per-hour interior design gig at Denver’s Ricca Newmark Design. “I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do,” Friday says, “and I knew there was something more.”

In 2002 she launched her own company, Xan Creative, which has since become one of the go-to firms in the city for modern, chic restaurant and commercial design. Friday describes her style as “timeless” and “practical,” and her finished projects often lean industrial—polished concrete floors, steel, exposed beams. But Friday also relies heavily on her clients to provide direction for each project. “Listening is a huge part of my philosophy,” she says. “A space needs to work just as well for the people who work in it as for the patrons.”

As she puts the finishing touches on her latest venue—a new location for D Bar Restaurant—Friday walks us through some of her favorite projects.

D Bar Restaurant

The reincarnation of this popular Uptown dessert bar and restaurant debuts this fall at the corner of 19th Avenue and Pennsylvania Street. The new space will boast a sleek, contemporary look with a dessert-worthy palette of Tiffany blue, crisp white, and chocolate brown, plus a grab-and-go retail shop for D Bar’s famous cakes and other desserts.

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

Round booths, bold colors, circular light fixtures, and a space age–style logo give this beloved diner’s five Colorado locations a Jetsons-like ambience. The bustling breakfast cafes of Friday’s native Chicago inspired this look; she remembers seeing the lines snake outside those Windy City diners and wanted to create an equally in-demand breakfast spot in Denver. Given Snooze’s sometimes hourlong wait times, we’d say she accomplished her mission.

Mad Greens

The rebranding of this fast-casual salad and sandwich chain, which the Coors family acquired in late 2013, includes nods to the restaurant’s locally sourced ingredients. The new farm-themed approach (think: textured wood, natural colors, and renderings of a vintage pickup truck rambling above the wall-mounted menu) will debut this summer in Centennial at the southeast corner of Arapahoe Road and Quebec Street.

Ace Eat Serve

Friday took this former car dealership and mechanic’s shop back to its roots, exposing original floors, brick walls, and soaring wooden beams. Her use of recycled materials, including a 40-foot metal shipping container and salvaged airplane parts, imparts an industrial feel to the space.

Los Chingones

Opened in December 2013, Troy Guard’s airy, hip taqueria features a rooftop deck and bar with city views. Bright shades of orange, turquoise, and red channel Mexican flavor, while tables with cement-block legs and a graffiti-style mural lend a gritty twist well-suited to the emerging neighborhood.

Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria

Friday selected ornate ironwork, warm lighting, and an earthy color scheme to give this Ballpark eatery a cozy atmosphere. True to her habit of repurposing materials, the back bar is made from wooden columns that had to be removed to make room for the pizza oven. Exclusive: Click through the slideshow above to see some of Friday’s favorite elements in the restaurants she’s designed.