Five Under Forty: Marcus Otten
Exquisite Kitchen Design | Denver
“There are 10,000 different ways to do something—but only one way to do it right,” says Marcus Otten. That motto guides every detail of the designer’s work.
To hear his story, it would seem Otten’s career was fated: He’s one of 13 kids, most of whom are now involved in the building business, either designing kitchens, remodeling homes, or working in the carpet or countertop business. In Denver alone, Marcus has two brothers who work in kitchen design, including Mikal, who founded Exquisite Kitchen Design with his wife, Lisa. “Building is in our blood,” says Marcus.
The Otten brothers grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, with Mikal coming to Denver in 1999 and Marcus following in 2002. “Mikal was my role model,” says Marcus. “He was always doing such cool, creative things.” From 2002 to 2006, Marcus did installations for Mikal at William Ohs. When Mikal founded EKD in 2006, Marcus joined him to do installations, then technical design and drafting, and to work as a project manager before moving into design in 2014. “I learned a lot of very, very strict, perfectionist approaches from Mikal, always with the goal of creating timeless, successful projects.”
All that boots-on-the-ground training informs Marcus’ award-winning work today. “I know every aspect of the job from everyone’s perspective—that of the clients, designers, project managers, subcontractors, builders, drywall installers, and tile guys.” An important part of his job, he says, is imparting that knowledge to his clients. “Having all those skill sets allows me to best direct the client to a successful design. My aesthetic includes clean lines, great portioning, movement, pattern, and texture. Everything has to be both pleasing to the eye and functional.”
Another trait that has guided his success? “I’m organized. I got that from growing up in a huge family,” says Otten, who works 70-80 hours per week, carving out free time to spend with wife Kenlys and 3-year-old daughter Valentina. “Can you imagine what would have happened if my mom wasn’t organized, trying to run a house and cook for 13 kids, an uncle, and a grandfather?”
“Perfectionism always pays off,” says Marcus. “The best thing I can hear a client say is ‘There’s no way we could have done this without Marcus. The process was so easy and fun. He took care of everything. Let’s do it again in our other house. He’s our guy.’ ”
“If you want to work with me, I will give you everything I’ve got. I’ve done a wide range of projects, from a very small powder room to the most luxurious kitchens and baths, from California to the British Virgin Islands. We create from the ground up for each client.”
A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
“I take an organic approach: As I walk through our showroom with clients, there’s so much to see—we have about 12 kitchen vignettes. I watch their eyes and what they react to—that tells me so much. They are opening up, and I am listening. Ultimately, there has to be a synergy between the client, the interior designer, the architect, the builder, and me. When you put those perspectives all together, it’s remarkable.”
FORM VS. FUNCTION
“In the first round of design, I might have four to six kitchens designed on sketch paper, and then I present one that has the best of everything. But the client is very involved, and it’s a very intimate, emotional decision. It’s their forever home, so every single detail is critical. Some clients come in with practical needs, like ‘I have four sets of cutlery, four place settings, and we’ve got to make that work.’ When I hear that, the process starts with functionality, and then we make it aesthetically beautiful. The end result needs to look and feel exquisite. ”
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
“The ideal project happens when a client wants to expand, to do something unique and innovate—they don’t just want something basic. They want to get inspired, to get pushed—that’s exciting. ”
TIMELESS, NOT TRENDY
“In my kitchens, you will never see the trendy color of the year, like a bold red. I don’t follow trends. I create designs using timeless pieces. Timeless design has to do with scale, fitting the architecture of the home, tying in details throughout the house, making it look like it’s part of the architecture. You’re never going to walk into one of my kitchens and say, ‘Oh, my god! That was so 2012! I can totally remember that feeling!’ ”
“At EKD, we’re always helping each other, so you get the entire team of designers working together for you. We all sit down once a week and talk about the challenges we’re facing on projects. We have intimate relationships with other high-end designers across the country and go to shows across the globe. We have brilliant, very detail-oriented designers here, and none of them are copy, cut, and paste. We create everything from scratch.”
See the rest of the 2021 Five Under Forty design award winners.