Five Under 40 Award: Interior Designer Devon Tobin
The 2014 and 2015 Five Under 40 Design Awards were so overwhelmingly positive that it looks like the tradition is here to stay. This year, the mass and magnitude of talent that arrived in Colorado Homes & Lifestyles’ inbox was both exciting and inspiring.
We called on the 2015 Five Under 40 award winners to help us with the difficult task of selecting five of the finest from a pack of worthy contenders.
Here we get to know one of the award recipients, interior designer Devon Tobin, co-founder of Duet Design Group, and see some examples of her work.
Portrait photo by Jennifer Olson
Co-founder of Duet Design Group
Photo by Eric Lucero
“I always say I’m not a designer by profession,” says Devon Tobin. “It’s who I am, not what I do. I can’t turn it off. I can be at a brewery on a Sunday afternoon with my husband and be thinking about how the space could work differently.” A fourth-generation Coloradan who has a BSA in painting and a minor in art history from the University of Colorado Boulder, as well as a BA in interior design from The Art Institute of Colorado, Tobin co-founded Duet Design Group in 2011 with partner Miranda Cullen.
In designing high-end residential spaces, she has two main rules: “No. 1: Listen, because clients will always tell you what they want. And No. 2: Be willing to take risks.” Emily Harvey, who hired Tobin to do the interiors on her 1935 Hilltop home, says: “Devon is amazing. She made the house flow. She knew how to articulate our design tastes even though we didn’t necessarily even know what they were.” In November, Duet Design launched a new à la carte design business called Duet Design at Home that focuses on individual spaces rather than entire houses.
“We had to turn away 70 jobs last year,” Tobin says. “Everybody deserves a designer, and we wanted to try to meet that demand.” With so many clients, does Tobin feel like she has arrived? “No,” she says, “and I hope I never do. Because then I’ll feel like I’ve settled, and I want to always continue to get better.”
Photo by Eric Lucero
SAYING "I DO:" Miranda is my work wife. She and I are like yin and yang. I’m the extrovert; she’s the quiet one. But we balance each other’s energy, we’re both insanely Type A, and we were born with the gift of design—we can both see a space and know how to change it. When we design together, the results are better.
IT'S IN HER DNA: When I was a kid, I could take my bedroom or a friend’s bedroom and redesign it. In college, I customized my dorm room, retrofitting the standard, heavy furniture to make a loft bed and then building custom bookcases.
THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG: My favorite projects happen when the clients know why they need an interior designer. I respect them, and they respect me. The result is this beautiful, cohesive, balanced, on-time design, and the whole process is fun. Then it’s harmonious, like music.
DESIGN MANTRA: Our biggest rule is to never allow a distinct style of our own to come through. Miranda and I never, ever, ever want someone to walk into a space and say, ‘Oh, Duet Design must have done this’ because in our minds that means we’ve become cookie-cutter and are working by formula. Every project, every client, every situation and every environment should be different.
SOUP TO NUTS: Miranda and I like to complete projects to the very end. The spaces that turn out truly epic are the ones where we’ve done them literally down to the coasters on the coffee table. Those final layers—the artwork, the accessories—are really what make a house a home. If you take them out of the equation, the home never looks done. Ever.
PAGING DR. FREUD: Designers are like psychologists. You have to have a good EQ [emotional intelligence quotient] because you need to analyze your clients and figure out how they function. It goes beyond whether someone likes red or pink. You need to know really personal details—do they cuddle on a sofa, or do they both lie straight?—so you can dissect how clients will live or work in a space.
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