Five Under Forty: Lori Gerety

Forum Phi Architecture | Denver
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Portrait by Jennifer Olson

As an architect, Lori Gerety is expected to see the beauty in perfect lines, wonderful views or exciting materials, but she sees beauty in surprising places, too. “There’s pain and beauty in flexibility,” Gerety says. “It can be jarring when a zoning officer says, ‘No, you cannot do that.’ You have to go back to the drawing board and come up with another option. But there’s always another solution, and there is beauty in that. You just may have to go through the mud to find it.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree from CU Boulder in environmental design, with an emphasis on architecture, the Colorado Springs native answered an ad in 2010 for a job at Forum Phi in Aspen. It was a fortuitous decision. “We’ve gotten bigger and bigger projects, and more interesting projects, and I really got to grow with the firm.”

Along the way, Gerety says, she has been lucky enough to be involved in almost all of Forum Phi’s projects, whether in a designer or a mentor role. Most of the work is high-end, luxury mountain homes, but also includes some multifamily commercial work and a boutique hotel in downtown Aspen (a personal favorite of Gerety’s).

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Photo by Steve Freihon

“When you start out at a small firm, you get exposure to everything,” she says. “I got the opportunity to have more client interaction and to get heavily involved in construction administration. I developed close relationships with clients, and then started to have repeat clients.”

Gerety—who splits her time between Aspen and New York City (where her husband works)—is a triple threat at Forum Phi. She works not only as an architect, but also as the firm’s marketing director and staff manager. “I absolutely love the staffing role because, not being in Aspen full time, I get to interact with everyone more. It’s been so busy that the question du jour over the last six months has been: ‘We have a potential project— can you look at staffing and tell me when we could do this?’ ”

As for the marketing role, “I revamped our social media and also put together a cohesive portfolio of our best work. Our message is that it’s all about the experience. If a client is happy with the end product, that’s great, but we take it a step further: We want the entire process, from design through construction, to be a really great experience. Working with the kinds of clients we do in Aspen, we have the unique opportunity to provide a white-glove experience. We become the client’s advocate, their boots on the ground, and the middlemen where everything filters through us.”

No matter what the project is, Gerety says, “I really get inspiration from my clients. The reality is that most of our clients have lived very interesting lives and been very successful. It inspires me to learn about them, learn about their lives, and then create something that they’ll then spend that life in.”

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Photo by Draper White

“As a kid, I was always drawing—and I grew up on job sites. My dad was a home builder, and so was his dad, and his dad, too. My grandfather built not only his house, but most of the furniture and cabinetry in it. My mom said I was always crawling around in the sawdust, and that may be why I knew I wanted to be an architect from the age of five. In high school, I took all the drafting classes, and I was good at math and science. I thought briefly about being an engineer instead, but in my senior year, I entered a competition to design a bank and took first place in the Four Corners states. My drafting teacher took me aside to say architecture would be a more challenging opportunity for me.”

“I started working on a home for a client in Aspen in 2012, and it was the loveliest family you could ever dream of. They were very professional, yet caring and appreciative and trusting. I finished the home in 2015. Then, they called us again in 2018 and said, ‘Hey, we want to do another home in Atlanta near where our son and daughter-in-law and three grandkids live.’ They had found a historic property and asked, ‘Can you come look at it and make it work better for us?’ What made it ideal was the trust they had in me and valuing what we do.” ‘A FEW MORE SUNSETS’ “What’s great about designing in Colorado, and Aspen in particular, is the quality of life. We get to capture the views and speak to the experience that clients want to have. We had a client a few years ago who said, ‘Hey, I just want more sunsets in my life, so I bought this property. Can you make it happen?’”

“Everything affects everything else. How you do anything is how you do everything, and nothing lives in a vacuum. We really can’t be compartmentalized when we’re designing, because every little thing affects every other thing.”

“Aspen Street Lodge is my proudest project, and that’s because all the difficulties with planning and zoning took us two and a half years to work through. Aspen’s very particular about what is allowed in town, and because of height restrictions, we took a two-story building and made it four stories, including the basement. We had to be extremely creative with design. When I walk through the property now, all those memories come flooding back—but they are things only the architect would know!”

“I have two autoimmune diseases, and walking through those health challenges over the years taught me that the healing journey is never linear and that everything is true until it isn’t. We all want to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This is right and this is wrong, and that is the way it is,’ but that’s only true until what you believe is debunked. I feel like the design process is the same way: You’re walking a tightrope between what the client wants and what the possibilities are. We set out down a linear path, but it never works out that way.”

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

Categories: Stylemakers