Five Under Forty: Jodi Cook

Cook Design House | Denver
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Portrait by Jennifer Olson

The recipe for great residential design? Sure, it includes scale, perspective, color, and texture—but for Jodi Cook, it’s also about having true connections with clients.

“The thing I love about residential design is the people,” she says. “I come from a huge family, which gave me practice in seeing the best in everybody. In my personal life and my professional life, I place a great deal of emphasis on my relationships. Being authentic and approachable with a dose of humor is the path to happiness. When you’re a good person who does what you say you’re going to do, people appreciate it.”

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Photo by Kimberly Gavin

Cook grew up in a Wisconsin farmhouse built by her great-grandfather, then went off to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to earn an undergraduate degree. “I started out as a business major and then had a quarter-life crisis. I panicked when I tried to imagine what I’d actually be doing each day,” remembers Cook. “But I’d been taking art classes for fun, and my counselor suggested I switch to the interior design program. I couldn’t believe people actually got to do design for a living. It was like the gates of heaven opened.”

After a brief post-college stop in Minneapolis (“arctic”), Cook moved to Colorado and landed her dream job at Slifer Designs in Edwards. “There are certain crossroad moments in your life where you think, ‘Wow, that really set me on a course,’” she says. “One was switching my major to interior design; the second was getting the job at Slifer.” It was there that she picked up “all the practical, nitty-gritty knowledge I needed, learning AutoCAD, construction management, and the fixed-finish side of the industry.” In 2009, she moved to Denver to work for a residential design firm, where she built out her résumé by learning about furnishings and client management.

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Photo by Emily Minton Redfield

In 2016, she founded Cook Design House in Washington Park, and she’s been slowly building her team ever since, creating a style that Cook describes as “an approachable take on timeless, tailored elegance.” She and her two senior interior designers currently have a full roster of residential work: four new construction projects, seven large-scale remodels, three small-scale remodels, and three non-construction jobs (furnishings, light fixtures, wallpaper, and the like).

Cook, who lives in Centennial with her husband, two kids, a cat, and a “COVID puppy,” says that, fundamentally, “Good design should make people feel at home, whatever that means to them. They should be surrounded by the things that mean something to them, like the quilts my mother made for my kids’ beds. I try to find that balance between sophisticated and approachable and real. It’s my job to help you translate your tastes and preferences into a design for your home.”

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Photo by Kimberly Gavin

“As a child, I was good at art—but I was also always rearranging the furniture in my room. If my mom was hanging wallpaper, I was right there, and if she was picking furniture, it was the best week ever. I always loved making things beautiful, whether it was baking a cake and decorating it or moving furniture around.”

“I called my company Cook Design House because I wanted it to be about a group of people working together as a team. Good design doesn’t happen in a vacuum—it’s a collective effort. We all reach a point where we’re stuck on a project. Maybe you try to build a room around a certain coffee table and it’s not gelling, and you ask someone else and they say, ‘Well, it’s that coffee table— just take that out.’ A fresh perspective helps when you get too close to a project.”

“Every job is a unique puzzle. If it’s an existing structure, it’s about marrying the exterior architecture with what the client wants to do inside and making sure there’s a grace between the two. If I see a contemporary home where inside they have Rococo mirrors and a Louis XIV table—whoa! Some people buy a home because it’s in the right neighborhood at the right price and think they can make it what they want, but the exterior needs to align with their design preferences.”

“Almost 50 percent of our work is large-scale remodels. Usually, a client will say, ‘We want to remodel the kitchen and the primary suite,’ but then something called scope creep happens. A contractor I know says, ‘The four most expensive words in construction are ‘While we’re at it…’ ’ You start to rearrange the kitchen, then you knock out a wall. Next you redo the floors, then the stair treads and the railing, and then you decide to paint and redo trim. All of a sudden, the entire house has been remodeled.”

“Return clients say they like to work with me because I hear what they want, not what I think they should do. But I’m also there to save them from themselves if I think they’re making a really bad decision. Somebody’s watching over their shoulder to make sure they don’t make any mistakes.”

“Someday, I’d love to have a hobby farm with Jersey cows and chickens and a great kitchen garden. Because I grew up on a farm, I didn’t even know you could buy spaghetti sauce in a jar until I was in high school! I love the idea of having some space and a quiet life. I’d love to wake up, collect some eggs, pat the chickens on the head, and then retire to my pottery wheel in the shed or eat some fresh cucumbers. Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

See the rest of the 2021 Five Under Forty design award winners.

Categories: Stylemakers