Dark woods and textured fabrics create the ambiance of a private club in the wine room at Talisker on Main. Photos: Peter Aaron/Otto

Designing the West: Holistic Design

Designing a new custom home from the ground up usually involves the researching, interviewing, hiring, scheduling and coordinating of a sizable team of professionals — from the architect and builder to the excavator, interior designer, lighting expert and others. But what if you could work with a cohesive group of people all under the same roof, so that scheduling a meeting with the design team was as easy as making a single phone call? That’s the concept behind Denton House Design Studio, a full-service architecture, interior design and graphics firm based in downtown Salt Lake City.

“We’re highly collaborative,” says founder and principal Rebecca Buchan, ASID, CID, IIDA. “We have teams of architects, interior designers, graphic designers and even our own purchasing department, because we believe our clients have a much better outcome when all of these elements are carefully coordinated.” 

Buchan credits her mother for encouraging her early affinity for design. “My mom was an interior designer, and when I was in high school I started working for her company as a receptionist,” she says. “I quickly realized that I loved everything about it.” Still, she decided to pursue a practical pharmacy degree before later switching gears to study architecture and design at UCLA and art history at the University of Utah.

After working in Palm Desert during the real estate boom of the early ’80s, Buchan returned to Salt Lake City and opened her company in 1996. “I never wanted to be a designer where every project looks the same,” she says. “My own design sensibilities lie in classic architecture and styles. I like to start with a classic base and punch it up — with color, specialty lighting or oversized fixtures. I like to take traditional design elements and reinvent them to be relevant to today’s world.”

Located in a renovated building that once housed a printing press, Denton House’s two-level space is open, airy and filled with a dynamic energy. The firm employs 22 people and also has offices in Bozeman, Montana, and Coral Gables, Florida. Buchan credits collaboration and good communication as keys to the company’s success.

“I’ve always been big on listening,” she says. “You have to ask good questions and be intuitive to truly hear and interpret what the client says. I try to learn how our clients live, and early in the process I like to visit them in their own personal space. I learn volumes about their individuality when I’m in their environment.” 

After the initial design goals have been discussed, the concepting phase comes next. “We don’t try to show everything in the beginning,” Buchan says. “Instead, we begin with images that we hope will evoke an emotional response from our clients, to make sure we’re in tune with what they’re looking for. Once we finalize the overall concepts, we move into the design process.”

The team then begins to narrow down the details, from space planning and floor plans to individual furnishings, fabrics and lighting. “We’re a very visual firm, so we offer CAD drawings, 3D models and color renderings,” Buchan says. “We take a holistic approach to design, so we want to think through all of our clients’ behaviors and how they’re going to live in the space because we want them to be successful when they move in.”

The firm has designed numerous commercial projects, including many restaurants. “Our residential work definitely informs our restaurant work,” says Buchan. “Since we started out as a purely residential firm, we naturally think about elements like comfortable seating, fireplaces, better lighting and the comforts of home.” Denton House was awarded a 2012 AIA/LA Restaurant Design Award for its work with Talisker, a Park City eatery.

The firm also offers graphic design services. “As we’ve evolved into architecture, we’ve increasingly provided counsel to our clients on concepting and branding, which took us into graphic design as well,” Buchan explains.

“Design projects are always especially challenging,” says Denton House client Bruce Fery, CEO of Grand America Hotels & Resorts. “You’ve got to find the creative team who can not only tap into your vision for the project, but execute all the details efficiently and stay open to innovation as that vision evolves. Working with Denton House was a great experience. They’re dependable, and there’s a high level of integrity. Becky Buchan brings an incredible depth of experience and creative ideas, and her calm nature makes working with her really enjoyable — and honestly fun.”

Although her focus has shifted with the growth of the company to traveling and managing people and projects, Buchan says, “I never want to lose sight of doing design. I enjoy the big picture planning, but sometimes I’ll still jump in on a project. I like people, and I like to understand them and help create spaces that become a part of them. To me, that’s the fun and challenge of good design.” 

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