Designer Kristen Thomas preserved a historic Denver home’s original fireplace and added built-in bookshelves and a coffered ceiling to create a comfortable, functional home office. The desk is by Lexington, and the chairs are from CR Laine.

Designing the West: Success in Simplification

While other teens were working as restaurant servers and lifeguards after high school, interior designer Kristen Thomas was busy studying for her realtor’s license. “My parents were both in real estate, and my father was a developer who flipped homes,” says Thomas, founder of Studio Thomas based in Greenwood Village, Colorado. “Dad used to take me with him to the hardware store, and I loved helping him pick out fixtures and finishes for the houses he remodeled. When he passed away, I kept doing home projects because it made me feel close to him.”

That passion eventually led Thomas to enroll in the design program at Arapahoe Community College and pursue a career in interior design. After working for several firms, she started her own company in 2013. “Having been around construction my entire life, I tend to approach design differently,” says Thomas, who is both a licensed real estate broker and an Allied American Society of Interior Designers member. “I understand the business side because I know what features add value, and I also understand the fundamentals of good design,” she says. “My customers become my friends, and I want them to get a good return on their investment.”

Developing relationships and discovering how her clients live is an essential part of Thomas’ process. After they complete a comprehensive survey, the designer visits her clients at home to explore how they live. She delves into their personal style, inquiring about their favorite stores, where they vacation, their fashion preferences, whether they like to cook and entertain, and even what kind of cars they drive. She observes if they display mementos and keepsakes or if their style is more minimalist. “In addition to asking what they love in their current homes, an equally important question is, ‘What are the problems here, and how can we solve them?’ Thomas says. “A good designer is always a good listener.”

Thomas and her staff begin homing in on the design scheme by creating mood boards. “They’re almost like company branding boards. We pull together our clients’ favorite colors, interests and photos of rooms they like,” she says. “As we begin to put things together, I find that there’s always a common thread. We design around our clients’ lives, and help them elevate their own personal style. My goal is that when someone walks in to one of our customers’ homes, they see the space as a reflection of the homeowner and not of our firm.”

Every space Thomas creates is different, but she always recommends high-quality furnishings, classic lines and a blend of materials. “I always say if you buy a nice piece of furniture you cry once,” she says, “if you buy something cheap, you’ll cry every time you repair or replace it. I also believe every home needs elements of wood, metal, reflective surfaces, something organic and varying textures. For me, spaces feel flat if they don’t incorporate those five things.”

She likes to update interiors with pillows, artwork and accessories and helps her clients edit their possessions so they can better appreciate special pieces. “If I summed up my design philosophy in one word, it would be ‘simplify,’” Thomas says. “I help my clients develop living spaces that are calm and simple, so they have a peaceful haven where they can relax and spend time with family and friends.”

Thomas helped Greg and Annie Kilkenny of Lone Tree, Colorado, redesign their home when the couple gutted their entire first floor down to the studs. “The first challenge I gave Kristen was telling her that I’m not a big color person,” says Annie Kilkenny. “That might put some designers off, but she came up with the most beautiful palette of whites, grays and taupes and a full range of beautiful textures.”

Kilkenny’s favorite space in the house is the home office. “Our old den used to be super dark with no overhead lighting and orange-brown wood on the floors and walls,” she says. “Now, it’s light and bright, and I love to spend time there. The whole house really flows, and the process of working with Kristen and her team was so much fun,  I was actually a little sad when everything was completed.”

While most of the firm’s focus has been on residential projects, Thomas is interested in expanding into more commercial work and recently designed a luxurious health spa and upscale dental offices. The company’s headquarters is located in the Denver Tech Center, and the space is clean, organized and flooded with natural light so that clients can easily review fabric samples and finishes. Thomas’ design philosophy is evident throughout the space, where framed wall quotes include: “Less is more” and “Simplify your life.”

“I believe you don’t need a large home to live beautifully,” Thomas says. “I’d rather live in a small, simple, well-kept home with nice furniture and fine finishes than a big, overdone house that doesn’t feel like home.”

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