04 Jan Designing the West: Coordination and Collaboration
Elevated Living — a full-service residential and commercial design firm specializing in mountain modern, lodge, and transitional Western styles — is a foundational member of the Jackson Hole design community because Melinda Shirk Dorion established her business to meet the specific needs of the region. In 2023, the average list price for a home in Jackson was a record-breaking $7.6 million; and the town’s population of some 11,000 swells to more than 52,000 people in the summertime, when part-time residents arrive to enjoy the mountain setting of their second or third homes. “The foundation of our office is quite unlike most design firms, which is generally based on ‘exclusive design services,’” Dorion says. “Due to geographical isolation and hard-to-come-by resources, Elevated Living has opened its doors to other designers from outside of Jackson. Our real estate market is one where buyers are apt to bring their favored designer with them, generally the one who designed their primary home.”
Dorion and her team work with these interior designers to source products, materials, subcontractors, and other resources, which can be challenging to find in a small town with big demands. “We have been in business for over 40 years, establishing relationships with providers of products, including craftspeople as well as service providers,” Dorion explains. “We open our library of products to work with out-of-town designers; we connect them to contractors and our subcontractor teams.”
Client Christine Baker hired Elevated Living during the COVID-19 pandemic. “After purchasing a 20-year-old log home, we searched for an interior design firm capable of modernizing its classic style,” Baker says. “Melinda and her team guided us through updates from structural aspects to furnishing our home. They had an incredible variety of sources to work with; they seamlessly wove our antiques with fresh modernity. Beautiful, comfortable, and classic all at the same time. We love it, and guests love visiting our home.”
Elevated Living’s team of 10 has a variety of experiences complementary to the design business: one associate developed a passion for textiles and furniture by exploring European antique shops in New York City; another leans on the elements of design she learned while following her parents to their antique shop and building sites in Vermont; one was born in Jackson, moved away to study, then returned to a place she knows and understands; and two attended the venerable Parsons School of Design. The team’s diversity of experiences makes it easy for prospective clients to find a designer that can address their needs and tastes.
“One of the best things about the firm is that they don’t do a cookie-cutter look. First and foremost, they listen to the client, learning their wants and needs, not imposing their ideals onto the client,” says Pamela Stockton, who established the interior design business that grew into Elevated Living in 1989.
Hailing from the Midwest, Dorion joined Stockton’s firm in 2005 after earning her design degree. She became a partner in 2010. Together, Stockton and Dorion operated Stockton & Shirk Interior Design until Stockton retired in 2019. “[Dorion] started as my assistant, and having had several in my career, she was by far the hardest working and most devoted to learning. So she easily assisted me in everything — she got a taste of the business from the ground up. It was easy to have her progress to be a full-on designer and then, later, as a partner,” says Stockton. After Stockton retired, Dorion rebranded the business as Elevated Living — a brand that elevates style and encompasses teamwork.
Today, Dorion is fluent in facility management, space planning, interior fixtures, furnishings, custom millwork, finishes, lighting, and textile design. She also specializes in sustainable design and has a LEED Accredited Professional certificate. Dorion is a member of the United States Green Building Council for Wyoming and is passionate about sustainable fabrics and indoor air quality.
“Honestly, the LEED test was the hardest test I’ve ever taken,” she says. “Their standard is extremely high, so to have that certification is a testament to my tenacity, and because of that certification, we were able to work on projects that otherwise we would not have been qualified for. Having a LEED-certified background and being able to build homes and consult on sustainability led our office to offer materials that go along with the LEED certification.”
The firm has a wide variety of resources — carpet, fabric, furniture, and building materials — that qualify under the Forest Stewardship Council standards, which is the world’s most trusted forest certification system, ensuring that wood products come from forests uniquely managed to keep them healthy and intact.
Dorion says that recycling and sustainability are both part of creating a home that is non-toxic and healthy for families, especially children. “The theory of so many Western designers is to ‘bring the outside in.’ But what happens with what’s already inside? What about the couch your family sits on? The paint that you use on your walls? The carpet that your baby crawls on? Or your dog sleeps on? It makes you think.”
She offers the example of the ever-popular expanding foam mattresses which are shipped to a home in a box, and then off-gas while in use. “Mattress lines that are green are most important to our health, as we spend much of our 24 hours sleeping on them. Being able to stand behind a product that is safe for you and for your children is a beautiful thing,” she says. “We like to show families that they can feel good about the safety of their homes because it is our job to select materials [that are] safe for them.”
“One of the finest team members is our local upholstery partner who reupholsters in sustainable fabrics we provide, making it possible to preserve quality pieces of furniture,” Dorion says. “Upholstery is a lost skill, likely because we live in a disposable world. For us to offer our clients the best possible solution to preserve a memory that furniture can create, is a testament that Elevated Living puts into its design process.”
Dorion says that as much as possible, Elevated Living works with local vendors who offer custom products, such as Game Trail Gatherings, whose owner Kyle Anderson repurposes shed antlers. “Kyle can make anything from lighting to furniture to sculpture and functional art,” Dorion says. “His products add beautiful accents of the West to the homes we design.”
Another local trade that Elevated Living utilizes regularly is Custom Iron Designs to create mantles, balusters, handrails, and iron detail on timber framing. Dorion notes that owner Terry Chambers is a “staple” of Jackson’s design community, and his skills are unmatched. For those clients who fall in love with a particular piece of furniture, but its size doesn’t work, Dorion relies on MTC Designs in Salt Lake City, Utah, or Epoch Designs in Bozeman, Montana, companies that reproduce or create complementary designs in a reasonable lead time.
“When you are a 40-year design firm, you’ve vetted the best,” says Dorion. “That’s what serves our clients to their greatest good.”
Shari Morrison has been in the business of art for more than 40 years. She helped found the Scottsdale Artists’ School and the American Women Artists and directed the Santa Fe Artists’ Medical Fund for some years.
Melinda Shirk Dorion of Jackson Hole’s Elevated Living outlines her approach to designing successful spaces.
Checklist: After ensuring that the client’s dates for execution align with our firm’s current commitments, we would want to establish the preferred partners. Do we choose the architect, builder, and tradespeople we work with, or does the client have any of those individuals in mind?
Building from the Ground Up: Some of the most basic but important information is how big is the client’s family. Are we designing around children, pets, teenagers, and extended family?
Home Away from Home: Is this the primary residence? Often, a secondary residence has a much more regional touch than a primary home, which is influenced more by personal style.
“Inspo” Board: What inspires you in a home? Do you have a preferred palette or dislike any particular color? Is there a defined style you favor? It’s one thing to say, ‘I want contemporary modern,’ but that, in and of itself, is open to interpretation. Bringing images of what you love helps define your expectations. However, one may say they like an image of a room, but they only like the light fixture. We want to know how the picture makes you feel. What is it about that room that you gravitate to?
Curated Collections: It’s imperative to know about collections — anything from fabulous art to objects of world travel to something as simple as a family portrait. A collection will need to fit in with the overall design. The importance of pieces in the group is gathered during exploration and gains its hierarchy in the design factor.
Furniture Refresh: If we are melding home furnishings, it’s important for the design team to know what is expected. Is this chair to be left untouched? May this sofa be reupholstered? Melding furnishings is an art, and it’s a nod to the best design firms. Furniture carries memories, and often clients want to blend certain pieces into a new design. Working around a piece of furniture and harmonizing it into the design makes for a great design.
Cost Management: Having a prospective client’s budget moves the project forward quicker. As a design firm with a long history in Jackson, being most efficient with our billable time to select products at a client’s price point is more beneficial than spending hours proposing items that don’t work with the client’s budget. We have so many great resources we can help achieve a look for less with good communication on budget.