The Future of Design: 5 under 40 Design Award Winners!

For the first time, we are honored to present the 5 Under 40 Design Awards, celebrating the best young designers Colorado has to offer

We sent out a few emails and newsletters asking for nominations, and we were overwhelmed with the response. Our sincere thanks to everyone who told us about their favorite up-and-coming designer. One thing is for sure: if you don’t consider Colorado a design mecca, you just aren’t paying attention.

Colorado Homes & Lifestyles' 5 Under 40 Design Award Winners (from left): Claire Jordan, Arch 11; Valerie Yaw, Bluegreen; Victoria Jones, Worth Interiors; Mike Albert, Design Workshop; Beth Armijo, Armijo Design Group group photo and portraits by Brian Mark


Claire Jordan

Category: Residential Architecture
Firm: Arch 11, Boulder;
Nominated by: EJ Meade

Why she was selected: We were impressed with Jordan’s ability to create clean, modern spaces using environmentally-conscious practices (her award-winning Lodgepole Retreat operates at net-zero energy use). She has won numerous design awards for her custom furnishings and cabinetry.

Fun Facts: Jordan was born in Grand Junction and raised on a ranch in the tiny town of Collbran. She’s married and has two children, Ben and Zoe. When she’s not designing, she can be found in her kitchen expressing her inner pastry chef.

When did you know that you wanted to be a designer?
I knew I wanted to be an architect when I was in middle school, but I started drawing houses at a very young age. My dad was a fine woodworker and had a drafting table that I was always playing with. I also spent a lot of time in his shop building creations of my own. He helped me build some of the furniture I designed after I graduated from college. I think being around him as he crafted things definitely helped steer me toward a profession in design.

What has been your biggest design challenge so far?
My biggest design challenge has been a vacation home named Lodgepole Retreat. It was a challenging site because of its remoteness . It also had to be designed for many extremes: high winds, heavy snow loads, power outages, etc. It was fun to work on a house that had to withstand all these extremes but also look good.

Why did you choose to build your career in Colorado?
I was born and raised in Western Colorado, and after living in Southern California for four years I chose to come back and put roots down here; it is such a wonderful place to live. The state is such a beautiful backdrop to all of our projects, whether the views are the Flatirons or a 13,000-foot peak in the distance. I think Colorado is also a great up-and-coming design community, especially as people move here from the coasts. It has really elevated the design community.


Valerie Yaw

Category: Landscape Architecture
Firm: Bluegreen, Aspen;
Nominated by: Penn Newhard

Why she was selected: Yaw’s gift for seamlessly integrating a modern aesthetic into the natural surroundings caught our eye, as did her innovative use of materials to create sustainable environments. Dedicated to conservation and environmental stewardship, Yaw is a certified arborist and a member of the US Green Building Council.

Fun Facts: Yaw was born and raised on a farm in a 150-year-old log cabin in Indiana; she co-authored Aspen’s historic landscape preservation guidelines; is married to “best friend” Loren Yaw and has two daughters, Ella and Sylvie.

How do you hope people feel when they experience something you’ve designed?
It is a tremendous joy when a person describes a Bluegreen-designed landscape, such as the Snowmass Village Recreation Center, as though it is personally theirs. When a community celebrates a designed landscape and continues to nourish it as their own—it is the highest compliment.

Why did you choose to build your career in Colorado?
My family has enjoyed an annual ski vacation in Aspen since I was a child and, in turn, it was a comfortable move for me. During one visit, I took the opportunity to introduce myself to an Aspen-based design firm and, following my internship in New York City with Robert A.M. Stern Architects, spent my early professional years learning to love Aspen’s reputation as a “little New York City.”  The combination of Aspen’s diverse culture and access to nature made it a natural choice for me. Fifteen years later, I am very rooted in Aspen, and my business partner Sheri Sanzone and I continue to grow and nurture Bluegreen in this amazing place.

What do you do when you’re not designing?
I have the lovely curse in that design is integral to my existence. I design grocery lists, days off, camping trips, DIY bathroom remodels…trust me, it’s a curse.


Victoria Jones

Category: Residential Interior Design
Firm: Worth Interiors, Avon;
Nominated by: Eddy Doumas

Why she was selected: The youngest of our winners, Jones’ skill at melding fresh, modern pieces with the traditional mountain aesthetic is defining the Mountain Modern style. “I am fortunate to work with a number of talented designers, but Victoria is truly someone to watch,” says Jones’ employer and internationally-acclaimed designer Eddy Doumas.

Fun Facts: Jones was a member of the design team that won Mountain Living magazine’s 2011 Home of the Year. Her French bulldog, Penelope, goes to work with her every day, and in her spare time she plays competitive softball.

When did you know that you wanted to be a designer?
To be honest, I had no idea that I wanted to be an interior designer until it started happening. I was 18 years old, just out of high school, wandering around and about to make a decision that would ideally lead me to the rest of my life. I dabbled in many different things: criminal justice, psychology, even oceanography before I finally landed on interior design. After my first class, I knew that being able to create was the calling in my life.

How would you define your personal style?
I really love a great modern space with lots of texture. I believe adding texture to a space can make the house feel like a home. It adds warmth and can really create that cozy element that I find most clients are looking for. The great thing about texture is that it doesn’t limit you to one specific style and can apply to any look: modern, contemporary, traditional, transitional.

Why did you choose to build your career in Colorado?
I am a Colorado native. I get to travel for my job and visit a lot of great places, but Colorado always calls me back home. I love my state and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else right now. In terms of design, my skill set is very versatile but I would put Mountain Modern at the top of the list of styles I do well. Having the mountains literally in my backyard has really allowed me to create some exceptional spaces over the last few years.


Mike Albert

Category: Landscape Architecture
Firm: Design Workshop, Aspen/Denver;
Nominated by: Kurt Culbertson

Why he was selected: Albert’s work certainly speaks for itself, but his list of accomplishments and accolades is truly impressive: he holds a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and became a principal at Design Workshop at age 31 (the youngest employee to earn the title in the company’s 45-year history). As Kurt Culbertson wrote in his nomination letter, “Albert is poised to become one of the great landscape architects of his generation.”

Fun Facts: Albert started his own plant and landscape design business when he was 14; he has visited more than 30 countries; he has an English bulldog named Estelle.

How do you hope people feel when they experience something you’ve designed?
I hope people will first feel as if it belongs; that it’s not forced or contrived. Although inspiration may come from a range of sources—personal travels, history, art or even a way of living—one must address how those inspirations can find their way into the sites in which we work. That is where the real creativity comes into play. In the end, I hope my projects foster an appreciation for the natural environment, inspiring individuals to spend more time outdoors. I also hope my projects evoke an appreciation for art. To me, gardens are works of art, sculptural in their nature.

How does working in Colorado play a part in what you do?
Colorado has influenced my perspective on design in many ways. Working across the state has heightened my perspective on designing, particularly in regard to site-specific contexts. Within the Roaring Fork Valley Watershed alone, five distinct eco-regions, four USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and over 8,500 feet of elevation change exist. Plant species and vegetative patterns, geologic formations, soils, precipitation levels, slopes and solar exposure, and length of growing season all vary within each eco-region and require knowledge to design for these differences. Therefore, what might be appropriate on one property may appear foreign, or may not even survive on another property. The physical environment of Colorado—its powerful scale, extreme climate, environmental qualities—requires clear design ideas.


Beth Armijo

Category: Residential Interior Design
Firm: Armijo Design Group, Denver;
Nominated by: Marty Harrison

Why she was selected: A native Coloradan, Armijo’s consistent talent for creating unique, timeless spaces is apparent in every project she completes. Her homes are vibrant, youthful  and fun, but with enough classicism to remain current and stylish for many years.

Fun Facts: Armijo was voted San Francisco’s top up-and-coming designer in 2004; her work has been published in CH&L numerous times, and one of her projects, a loft in downtown Denver, was named our 2011 Home of the Year; she has a dog named Miss Maybelle.

When did you know that you wanted to be a designer?
My parents let me design my own room (I would rearrange my bedroom three or four times a year), take art classes at Arapahoe Community College at age eight, and wear whatever I wanted. So I think the creative juices started flowing early. But I made the conscious decision to go into interior design after living in Florence, Italy. I had taken art, fashion, and architecture classes with instructors that encouraged me to pursue a ‘right-side-of-the-brain’ career.

What has been your biggest design challenge so far?
Explaining to clients that good design of a home doesn’t happen in six weeks.

How would you define your personal style?
Classic Eclectic. I seem to like tailored, clean lines with the addition of found items that give a space that ‘acquired’ look.

What would you be if you couldn’t be a designer?
An archaeologist.

What’s your favorite structure/space, public or private, in the state?
There are so  many great places to choose from, but for ease/access, I’d have to say Chautauqua in Boulder.

Categories: Stylemakers