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Five Under 40: Crystal Russell

Colorado Homes & Lifestyles' Class of 2019




Photo by Jennifer Olson

There are two things you notice when you meet Crystal Russell: her curious eyes, taking in everything and everyone around her, and her unwavering use of the word “we,” when she speaks of her team at TVL Creative, the company she founded six years ago. (TVL stands for This Visionary Life.)

TVL is Russell’s brainchild, her pride, and her reason for existing as an architect and interior designer (she has degrees in both). As gifted as she is driven, Russell has worn many hats since TVL’s launch. “As CEO,” she says, “my roles have tended to change as our company expands.”

This year, Russell pushed her firm’s boundaries and took the leap into design-build by testing for her national general-contractor license. In her expanded role as construction manager, Russell is neither sitting nor sketching. “I directly curate and manage all construction bidding, contract writing, job scheduling and on-site management, alongside my regular management and development of TVL’s business,” she says. “My days are 14 to 18 hours long. And I love it!” 


Photo by Grace Combs
“The umbrella in our logo is our symbol for coverage. We cover our clients, we cover our people, and we love the iconography of shelter as it relates to space and architecture.”
— Crystal Russell

THE OPPOSITE OF 9-TO-5: “My workdays are intense, unusual and unorthodox. It all depends on the specific needs of each client and active job site. Typically, I start early and respond to critical emails. I then head to site visits, material runs or client meetings. I try to visit as many active job sites as I can. I may meet my teams to walk through progress, accept deliveries and pick up materials to drop by a job site. I often have coffee meetings with vendors and other industry partners squeezed in-between. If I have time to swing back by the studio to hit my email again, I do it. But usually, I walk back in the door around 9 p.m. to return e-mails, and then I head home.” 


Photo by Grace Combs

ON TOE-DIPPING: “I have ever-changing mottos that evolve as my life shifts in different directions. The one I live by and spread at TVL is ‘No toe-dipping.’ I tell this to myself, to my employees, to friends and to peers all the time: ‘Don’t just dip your toes into a project. Jump in. You’ll figure it out; you’ll learn to swim.’”

HER MOST PRIZED POSSESSION: “Honestly, my laptop. I know this sounds so ridiculous and materialistic of me. But it’s true! There isn’t anything I can’t accomplish with my souped-up Zenith (that’s her ZBook’s name). I’m a huge techie. And aside from the visualization capability that this computer offers me, it’s my mobile office, and I rely on it constantly.”

THE REASON DESIGN EXISTS: “Human need is something that powers our love of design at TVL. Need is also a huge part of what keeps me diving deeper into this business. There is always a problem that can be solved, something that isn’t serving a human need. It is my mission in life to find those problems and strive to resolve them through either design or architecture, or both.”


Photo by Grace Combs

COME RAIN: “The umbrella in our logo is our symbol for coverage. We cover our clients, we cover our people, and we love the iconography of shelter as it relates to space and architecture. We have become well-known for our orange umbrella. In fact, we purchase logo tattoos for employees (or nonemployees) who want one. We have plenty of die-hard ‘Visionaries’ out there sporting our logo as permanent ink. Now, that’s dedication!” 

CARNIVALESQUE: “For my carnival, I’d lean on an aesthetic between Cirque du Soleil and sexy speak-easy—moody, vintage-inspired and surprising. I would absolutely expect integrated drinking lounges, tattoo booths and gypsy jazz. I imagine the entire experience being mostly monochromatic. Outside, the ground would be covered in black soil, or sand, with flecks of gold to catch the light. I’d wrap the trees in black fabric to soften their textures. I’d hang mercury-glass lanterns from the branches, with the warm glow of candles inside. I’d then have a series of black circus tents in varied sizes. I imagine a tattoo-lounge, designed with high-back booths in velvet, thousands of white roses hanging upside down from the ceiling and mirrored tables.”

See the rest of the 2019 Five Under 40 Design Award Winners

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