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One might assume that when professional designers have the chance to personalize their own homes, the process is as simple as cherry-picking favorite details from projects they’ve completed in the past.
But not for kitchen designer Mikal Otten. When the owner of Exquisite Kitchen Design decided to overhaul the Greenwood Village home that he and his wife, Lisa, had recently purchased for their new life chapter as empty nesters, he wanted something entirely original.
5280 Home August/September 2022
“I tell my clients, ‘If you just do what’s current right now, it’s going to be outdated soon, so you’ve got to push it a little bit,’ ” Otten says. But to follow his own advice, he felt he’d need a push of his own, so he called on longtime design collaborator Beth Armijo, “whose soft touch was what I was looking to bring into this home,” Otten says. “Our lives are busy, and I really wanted this space to be a calm retreat.”
But before adding a thing, the duo considered how to strip away some of the dwelling’s tired Tuscan style, which clashed with Otten’s contemporary taste. “There were some bones we could work with and some we couldn’t,” Armijo explains. “We removed some of the ceiling arches and stair railings but kept some of the fireplaces and solid wood doors—because I find that if you go all one way, it becomes pretty typecast to a certain time period or style. Our approach was very European: Keep the old bones, but put modern things in it.”
In the family room, the original fireplace’s carved stone surround was replaced with a chevron-patterned limestone-tile accent wall that abuts new, built-in eucalyptus cabinetry. In the kitchen, an original stone fireplace stayed, “but we brought the eucalyptus millwork around it to modernize it,” Otten says. “I’m not a traditional guy, but I love [the old fireplace] in there now. It strikes just the right balance.”
When reimagining the rest of the kitchen, Otten embraced his contemporary proclivities, topping a steely gray island with Cristallo quartzite and the walnut perimeter cabinets with a dramatic dark marble. He mingled streamlined bronze and brushed-brass hardware with stainless-steel appliances, and above the Wolf range, he designed a custom hood that incorporates the same tile used around the family room fireplace. “I think the more layers we can add, the more life the space is going to have,” Otten says of his approach. “Twenty years ago, all we needed was cherry cabinets, granite countertops, and stainless-steel appliances. Now, we need a lot more to keep it alive.”
“Mikal approaches texture in his kitchens the same way I use materials in other rooms,” says Armijo, who was tasked with giving each space an understated yet elegant style. “I like to mix them, creating a tactile interest. All of Mikal and Lisa’s fabrics are wools and linens and leathers—super durable but also soft.”
Armijo’s choices merge timeless materials with clean lines. There’s the family room’s smartly tailored sectional that wraps around a teak coffee table with crisp corners; a grasscloth wallcovering surrounding the powder room’s sleek brass vanity; and a branchlike blown-glass chandelier that hangs above an ultramodern dining table. To this mix, she added accents of ruby red, ochre, and teal, and a few carefully chosen patterns, including the family room rug’s modern take on a Ralph Lauren plaid.
“My immediate thought was, ‘No, I don’t do plaids,’ ” Otten says of the latter. “But then Beth showed it to me in a room and I said, ‘Wow, that’s so cool.’ ”
“I love that kind of innovation that Mikal and I achieve when we work together,” Armijo says. “It’s fun because he’s willing to take risks and not copy what’s out there on Instagram. We’ve been doing this longer than a lot of influencers, so it’s nice to do things differently.”
Innovative as it is, the design feels perfectly tailored to Otten’s style and new way of life. “This was about Lisa and me,” Otten says. “It was the time when we got to do something just for us.”