How to Make Large Spaces Cozy

Colorado designer Colleen Johnson has a knack for giving big rooms the intimacy of small ones
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Photography by David Patterson

Award-winning designer Colleen Johnson of In-Site Design Group is equally at home designing compact interiors in a Gulfstream jet as she is bringing an inviting elegance to grand mountain manses. But she has a particular flair for transforming residences with square footage in the five-digits into homes that exude warmth and intimacy.

Here she shares some of her favorite tips for living small in big spaces.


“Nothing says warmth like wood. For hardwood flooring, I prefer wide boards done with a French oxidation process and an oiled finish that speaks to the natural grain. Wood can have a lot of variation, and wide boards are less busy. They also unify a space. Similarly, there is no stain on the dining-room table, which is made of wood that was buried for decades and then excavated. The natural color works beautifully with the porcelain pavers. Additionally, all interior doors are stained, adding warmth and a common thread throughout. They pull all the other textures together, preventing things from feeling disjointed.


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“The scale of the furniture has to fit the room, and fewer, correctly sized items is the way to go,” Johnson says. “The right furniture also softens the architecture. A pair of curved sofas flanking a fireplace, for example, so when you walk in you’re not looking at the back of a sofa can make a space so much more inviting and add to the sense of intimacy. As a designer, I never want to stand back and think ‘oh my gosh, this looks like a furniture showroom.’”


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“The architecture is always the star of the show, so I look at wallcoverings and other materials as supporting actors and select things accordingly. In this case, I used the coloration of the rock formation on the exterior as part of the indoor palette. You can see the strong, sculptural staircase from the outside, so coordination was important. The rich, brown tones of the eight book-matched marble slabs on the inside wall make everything coalesce. They add to the sense of flow, while setting the stage for wood elements like the paneling in the wet bar and the floors.”


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“Lighting is always a critical part of the design, and it really affects how you experience a room. The right lighting not only embellishes the variety of textures, but it also warms the cool finishes like the stonework, making the home’s overall scale seem less imposing. In the master bathroom, for example, natural light saturates the entire room. A stained-wood barn door balances the polished finish of the marble columns, further enhancing the inviting ambience.”


GALLERIA OF STONE brings in more-unusual slabs that sometimes can be book-matched.

BELLA GLASS PRODUCTION pushes the design envelope to create unusual, unpredictable finishes with glass.

T&G FLOORING focuses on making the hardwood flooring a statement.

FUSE LIGHTING sells to the trade at MOD Design, offering uses of materials, styles, textures and finishes for both indoor and outdoor lighting.

CAI DESIGNS features a wide range of brands in its to-the-trade showroom, along with one-of-a-kind pieces for a collected look.

INTERIOR DESIGNER Colleen Johnson, In-Site Design Group

Categories: Interiors