2016 Circle of Excellence: Architect Eric Mandil

Our Circle of Excellence awards pay tribute to five pioneering professionals who have paved the way for Colorado's design evolution. This year's recipients continue to enhance their legacy in our local landscape. Here, meet: ERIC MANDIL, President, Mandil Inc., Denver

Portrait by Jennifer Olson

Whether designing homes, commercial buildings, or public spaces, architect Eric Mandil takes a holistic approach. “I do this work because it feeds my soul,” says Mandil, who opened his office in Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood 36 years ago and has won numerous awards, including a recent Newman Merit Award for Interior Design from the ICAA. “He’s brilliant,” says Jocelyn Kraus, whose Cherry Hills home Mandil renovated.

“His attention to detail is unbelievable, he’s really practical, he is great at working with proportions in a room, and he wants to make sure you really, really love the feel, the color, and the touch of a space. Plus, he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty—when we moved back into our home, he was helping us unpack boxes. He’s just a wonderful man.” Designing a home, Mandil says, allows him to “set the stage” for the people who live there. “They’re the actors in the house and have to interface with the space, so how do we create an environment that supports that and allows them to evolve?” 

Cheesman Park residence [Photo by Ron Ruscio]

Young urban planner: “As a child, my favorite toy was bathroom tiles. In the Washington, D.C., neighborhood where I grew up, they were putting up a lot of new buildings, and one of the tile setters gave me all his extra ceramic tile. I would build cities out of them. I guess I was always a little weird.”

Nights (and days) at the museum: “When I was 15, I sent some sketches to the secretary of the Smithsonian and asked if there was any space for a kid like me to do an internship. He actually took me on, putting me in touch with the exhibit’s lighting division, where I worked for three years. One of my jobs was to point out every burned-out light bulb in all the exhibition rooms. But the people there—in the graphics division, the exhibits division—really took me under their wings. I almost destroyed the Wright brothers’ plane when I was rolling a ladder across the floor and almost hit the wing.”

Cheesman Park residence [Photo by Ron Ruscio]

$400 and a dream: “I came out to Colorado to help design a wine and cheese shop for some friends in Copper Mountain, and I thought This is really nice—I like it much more than the East Coast. After graduating from architecture school at the University of Maryland, I had $400 left, so I drove out to Colorado and gave myself a month and a half to find a job. I answered an ad in a Boulder paper for an architecture job in Casper, Wyoming, and ended up opening my own firm there when I was 25. I got a lot of opportunities up there, and learned a lot about running my own business, before returning to Colorado after 10 years.”

History class: “My whole philosophy is that if you understand where things come from, you can reinterpret ideas and re-create. But you need to know traditional in order to do contemporary. If you understand historical context, you create more effective designs, instead of just a copy of a copy of a copy. So when someone asks for Tuscan villa style, it doesn’t just end up being a Macaroni Grill, re-created.”

Bulthaup kitchen in the Jacob residence, Denver Country Club [Photo by Ron Ruscio]

Zen and now: “I try to meditate every morning, and I’ve even been to two 30-day silent retreats where there is no eye contact and no talking for 30 days. There is a similar calmness to my designs, a sense of being classic, balanced, almost spiritual. Whatever the flavor of one of my projects, whether it’s tutti-frutti, chocolate, or pistachio, they all have that quality.”

The value of going slow: “There’s a hurry up, hurry up mentality to so many things today. People will order a $300 meal and then consume it in 20 minutes. And I always wonder, Did you actually enjoy the process? That’s how I feel about architecture: Did you savor the experience? Good design is a process, not just a goal.”

Best compliment: “I designed a house for a couple. After the husband passed away, his wife called me and said, ‘You know, he really loved living in this house—it really supported him—and he loved being able to die in this house.’”

Categories: Stylemakers