The Elegance of Just Enough


One of our all-time favorite clients and homes hit the spotlight in Denver Life Home+Design magazine’s feature: Homes with Character. Matt Cotham is a young emergency room physician (above, fully enjoying his relaxing retreat) who told us “I can’t imagine building another house, because mine is perfect.”

Read the article here.

These photos further illustrate some of the specifics in the article.


Recycled barn siding clads the exterior which blends seamlessly into the tree dominated site.


Here’s the bifold glass wall that opens up the house to the riverside experience.


One of the best parts of starting a project…camping on the site!
In the role of Project Manager, Sam sets up the temporary drafting table for the BSA Mobile Design Studio.


Matt says “…the loft feels like I’m up in the treetops in the summer.”



See more of Uncompahgre Retreat on our website.

July 6, 2016 at 10:17 am 1 comment

The Seasoning of an Architect

Rich-Nick Combo

Rich Keilman, Architect, 17 years                                      Nick Cecere, Architect, 5 months

Like most prospective architects, Rich and Nick’s careers began with the pursuit of an educational degree. Between the two of them, there are two Bachelor of Architecture degrees, a Bachelor of Environmental Design, and a Master of Architecture. With all that schooling, you’d think they would be architects right out of the gate.

Not true. No one leaves school as a licensed architect. It just doesn’t work that way.

In order to become a licensed architect, and use the protected term “architect” on your business card, or even introduce yourself to others as an architect, you need a minimum three years of experience under a licensed architect. Anyone who calls himself an architect right out of school is a fibber. In Texas, an unlicensed practitioner was fined $200,000 for having the word architect in his business name.

Once you have all your field experience hours logged and approved by NCARB, the governing authority, you can begin taking a series of seven exams on every aspect of architecture. Each exam division takes 4-6 hours to complete. To stay sane, people usually space out the exams over months or years, wildly studying in between. After you pass them all, you can apply to become a licensed architect. Nick was out of school for 9 years before starting the exams, but feels the additional work experience was invaluable to his professional growth and ultimately made him that much more prepared to sit for exams.

Rich Keilman passed his exams 17 years ago. Nick Cecere passed five months ago.

Nick may be our newest architect, but he’s no greenhorn.

When Nick got the email notification that he passed his final exam, he was overjoyed. Tears were shed. An overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment. Shots of 1942 Don Julio tequila were in order. This was the culmination of his longest term goal ever…an affirmation and attestation of his life plan. Celebration ensued and an epic vacation was planned as a fitting reward.

Architectural registration may not be required to work in the field, but passing up the achievement was never an option Nick gave himself. The license gives you credibility with clients, raises the qualifications of the Studio, and gives you the ability to stamp architectural drawings. But ultimately, the only way to increase your skills in architecture is to keep working and learning from every job and from the people around you.

For the past three years Nick has been our solid go-to guy for architectural production work at Barrett Studio and we look forward to the coming years ahead. Here’s one custom home he’s been working on recently:

Blessing Renderings

Now meet Rich, our 17-year seasoned architect.

A few months ago we hired Rich Keilman who came from his own private practice in Carbondale, CO.

Rich tells a tale of the first huge job he was entrusted with when he was only seven years out of school:

The firm he worked for in Cleveland, OH had won the job of executive architect for the Akron Art Museum. After the first meeting with the client where Rich was introduced as the Project Manager, the client pulled a Principal of the firm aside, privately whispering “THIS guy is going to lead the project???”

That was the beginning of a four-year endeavor that Rich said, “posed some of the greatest professional challenges of my career.” It’s an impressive piece of architecture designed by the internationally acclaimed firm Coop Himmelblau of Vienna, Austria. No youngling should have had his hands around it, but Rich stepped up and stretched his abilities to coordinate a global design team, implement highly customized building systems and materials, and break into BIM 3D modeling (now standard in the field.)


So what did this architect learn in his “seasoning?”

Lesson #1: Understanding the client is paramount.

A beginner approach: Start designing immediately!

A seasoned approach: First and foremost, find out where the client is coming from. Clients often have difficulty verbalizing what they want, or why they want it. What do they understand about the design process, if anything? Have they ever seen a design rendering and know how to interpret it? Have they built a house before, or interacted with architects and builders? This kind of inquiry establishes common ground at the beginning of the project and can make the difference between the project being a drag (or worse, a loss), or your best work ever.

Lesson #2: Know when to stop designing.

A beginner approach: Draw every detail and design EVERYTHING.

A seasoned approach: Knowing when to stop designing, and when to stop documenting, is a long, slow learning process. The reality is, one could design and draw much more than is necessary to complete a successful and beautiful project. If you have a strong team of consultants and a savvy builder, you don’t need to overly document a project. Let go a little. Lean on the trust you have developed with the client, the consultants, and the contractor.  Doing so will bring out the contributing strengths of each, realizing the best results for the client.

Lesson #3: Find your true confidence.

A beginner approach: Overly confident.

A seasoned approach: Truly confident. In addition to designing and documenting, an architect is often the leader of a diverse project team. Effective leadership of a team and a client requires confidence from the architect. The cliché ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ creates a sense of confidence, but one that is usually false and transparent. True confidence is authentic and is born over time through focused attention and clear communication. It is about knowing and leveraging your strengths while also understanding when to bring other resources to bear on a project.

Jennifer Bridges, Director of says: “From my perspective, someone who is seasoned has been through all forms of project trials and tribulation, survived to see another day, and carries this knowledge and insight from their experiences forward with them. They see the end result of something many times before it begins and are willing to share, coach and mentor those around them.”

We couldn’t think of a more apt description of Rich, and that’s why we invited him to be part of the Barrett Studio family. After his move to Boulder and joining the Studio, he said, “I see potential all over the Boulder area. The people here are my kind of people.”

June 29, 2016 at 10:45 am Leave a comment

Choose Love, Not Fear


David Commencement Composition

Photo by Stephen Cardinale

By David Barrett, FAIA

Maybe it should be considered one of those bucket list experiences. However it is categorized, I was definitely honored to give the commencement address for the University of Colorado’s College of Environmental Design at the historic Macky Auditorium recently.

What does an archigeezer like me have to offer in the way of words of wisdom?

What to pass on to these enthusiastic designers as they take their next strides into an uncertain future?

My beginning reference was to go back to words even older than me to describe the condition that we find ourselves in today. In 1859, Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with…

     It was the best of times,
     it was the worst of times,
     it was the age of wisdom,
     it was the age of foolishness…

One doesn’t have to look far to see all of these conditions in all their glory. My encouragement to these young creatives was to pay attention and wake up to the larger world around them. Know that, as nature teaches us, nothing operates in isolation. Our lives are influenced by the times and the context that we are functioning in.

The challenges are being defined around us. As problem solvers, these environmental designers are going to be presented with problematic material on which to direct their brilliance. It is “the best of times” in that there is no lack of potential, possibility, or opportunities in what needs to be done. There is so much possibility in this exploding system of entrepreneurism and design thinking that encourages breaking the mold and creating new pathways and forms for living, working and playing.

A sustainable future must not only sustain our environment, but also retain and celebrate our humanness. It will be an age of re-creation, invention and integration. Not that this will be easy, but non-action, stagnation and old stale answers will lead nowhere. Be part of the wisdom and reject the foolishness coming from the mouths of fools. Design spaces, landscapes, cities and architecture that puts the human experience at the center. Balance technology with the “high touch”, as we encourage quality experience and interactions.

Again, I referenced the wisdom of a timeless past in the words of Charles and Ray Eames, the midcentury multi-disciplinary designers who taught, “See the big things in the little things, and the little things in the big things.” I suggest this can serve in two ways.

First, as a design perspective, think holistically. Observe this lesson in interrelationships in nature, and apply this lesson in design. On another level, never think the problems are too large that one can be effective and influence the big issues at hand. We can make a difference as our apparently small acts ripple into the world around us. Do good work and it will contribute positively to that context we are embedded in. Empathetic design is where our intentions and actions go beyond our egos to those we are designing for, and with. It is an act of community. My word of caution is to reject the tendency for isolation and detachment and the “look at me” impulse of the Selfie and technology addictions. Nature knows no Selfie. In the interactive nature of nature, there would only be “Wefies”! Look beyond yourself and act.

My conclusion was simply to be open to imperfection in design and in how we see ourselves and our work. Certainly rigor is a necessity in seeking design resolution, but don’t get stymied in one’s process by the fear of imperfection. As the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi teaches, there is a beauty in imperfection. Free yourself of the bonds of self-judgment. Lighten up. Take risks. The trap of perfection mentality is procrastination and creative paralysis. More important is to live, and design more from a place of improvisation since we are constantly being confronted by change–tinkering, side trips and spontaneous riffs that are more effective than rigid plans and fixed definitions. Surprise yourself! Live and design with conviction and vigor.

My only guiding light in all of this is the awareness that as we choose, we are always coming from a place of fear or love. Every breath, every design decision, is coming from a place in ourselves that is either contracted or expansive. Just observe your motives and your roadblocks.

Choose love and make beauty.


This is the full text of David’s Commencement address made on Saturday, May 7, 2016

“Thank you and first congratulations to the class of 2016. It’s a pretty exciting time and one of those benchmarks you will always remember. Share it with your parents and your family and as Hillary Clinton once said ‘it takes a village.’ I know I shouldn’t say something political so I guess I have to do something “huge” now to balance that. Really everyone contributes to this success and you contribute to one another. I think that is the nature of studio design programs. It is a rare form of education and we’ve heard from everyone speaking tonight that studio education gives you feedback loops and opportunities to co create and I can tell you that that is what the world of architecture is going to be like. That’s the fun of it. It is an ongoing process of learning and discovering new things.

As the ‘archi-geezer’ tonight; 40 years ago I was sitting in your seat. I was sitting here as a graduate of CU after being at Kent State University in Ohio where on May 4th, four of my fellow students were shot and killed for protesting an unjust war in Vietnam. Those are the kinds of things that shape a life and shape a practice and for me I’m going to challenge you to look at the world as it is today, and find what it is you can make a difference on. It seems like a simple thing but it’s not. I came to CU for graduate school. It was the last time we had an architecture graduate school in Boulder, in 1976. I studied solar energy at a time when we were just learning to talk about something that was not even called ‘green’ yet. It was an impulse to follow nature’s clues and that’s what we’re still trying to do and I hear that and see that in your work. To me, I am really proud of CU because there is something of a higher order that nature has a place here, it’s in your consciousness now and you’re going to take that forward and create from that place.

My senior thesis was a film called ‘ReGenesis’ and it was about bringing the city back and re-energizing it and that has been a movement now that has happened in this country. We now have livable cities again; we have an impulse to move together again instead of continuing to sprawl. Those kind of things that happen outside of yourself, pay attention. We can use Charles Dickens The Tale of Two Cities, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a time of wisdom and it was a time of foolishness.’ It doesn’t take much observation to see all of that happening before you right now in the world. I’m excited, I trust the future because of you. My son is 22 and a design student, so I live with your generation as well and I’m excited for the world because of you. This became my mantra; try to do things even if they’re little things because here I am in Boulder. I have a practice, we have been 7 people to 17 people; we have been relatively small but passionate like you are right now. Don’t lose that passion. The danger is, you get absorbed into the system and you lose the light you’re carrying right now, don’t let that light go out. Challenge authority and bring good ideas to those firms and those opportunities you’re going to be presented with but don’t back down and become something you are not. Often I go to nature for my wisdom. I guess I’m supposed to have wisdom at 68 but truthfully nature has always been my guide; so I was going to just give you a few patterns in nature, lessons in design but aimed at you and your careers.

This is your design problem right now; design a happy life, design a meaningful life. Let us use the process you learned and try to reframe things. Scale is one of them. Scale is a wonderful thing in nature and there is an elegant dance between the size of the parts and the aggregation of the whole. We see it all around, so keep hiking, keep sleeping on the ground, keep listening to nature for these clues. Human scale will tell you that little things do matter. I’ve confronted this over and over as ‘does anything I do matter’? Does it matter? We are little voice in this big world that we now inherit and we see daily on the devices in our hands. What you do does matter. Charles and Ray Eames had a wonderful quote that we lived by in my studio and that was ‘See the big things in the little things and the little things in the big things.’ That is certainly a design view but it is also a life view of realizing the little thing you do; It’s the interaction you have with another human being, a client you are listening to, be careful around the selfie mentality right now. Nature would only be ‘wefies’, self doesn’t exist in nature and so be careful with that. Love yourself, love your technology but I think you’re going to be the keepers of humanity. How do you keep humanness when you design? How is it in the devices? How is it in the buildings? How is it in the neighborhood? How do you support life as a human? Take that challenge on.

Homeostasis, a great word, is the ability to sustain balance in the face of inevitable change. As Kevin Krizek mentioned, change is all around us and it’s coming on so fast that you have to be careful that you don’t sink your heels in and get stuck in something that no longer has any relevance. Be flexible, be resilient. Learn about re-creation because it’s always going to be available to us. Never give up on learning. Again as the ‘archi-geezer’, the thing I loved about my career is that everyday is a new adventure in learning something. We never know it all, you can never know it all. It’s like climbing in the west. You climb a mountain and you have a false sense of an ascent of a peak and you realize there is a whole other bench beyond me before that peak. This is one of those benches but don’t take this as the peak. The joy is finding those places along the way.

Coopetition is another favorite pattern in nature in that we ride this edge between competition and cooperation. Nature does that all the time, it’s finding a balance. I feel we take coopetition mainly from the side of empathy, passion, community. Again it’s not the selfie it’s the ‘wefie’. There is so much work to do for others out there; the danger is that we only serve the rich, which has been a challenge in Boulder. The truth is there is a whole world out there in need of design. So be bold, go out there in the world, travel, sketch, meet people, try out other cultures in design and look for opportunities to make a difference.

In eastern philosophy ‘wabi-sabi’ is imperfection, the beauty of imperfection. I think that one of the great dangers in the world, it certainly amped up with the world of technology and the computer, is the computer in design. Imperfection is beautiful so don’t expect to have the perfect answer. That’s the fuel for paralysis by analysis. Lighten up, take risks, free yourself and lead by action.

Improvisation. The idea of improvisation is that what goes on in the world of design. We tinker things into existence. The beautiful things don’t happen by one grand brilliant moment. There are those moments but typically it’s tinkering and trying things out and getting the feedback loop. Taking side trips, spontaneous rifts that occur because you have gone out on a limb. Be open and allow yourself surprise, have a good time. I think it’s too easy to become overly serious in design. It’s hard work. It’s like baseball, you fail two out of three times and you’re in the hall of fame. Design is very much like that, we fail often but then the work eventually leads us to a solution.

Celebration is the last one I’ll talk about and that is what we are doing today. You see it all through nature, the celebration of the aspen grove and the colors that one sees. My sense is that we have to pay attention by actually listening to nature and now the selfie occurs. Go walk in nature, hike, lay on the ground, fall in love over and over. Biophilia is a good thing, very good thing. E. O. Wilson, the love of the living, it’s all about love.

One final thing as the ‘archi-geezer’ who has been in Boulder for 40 years, so I’m putting my cards on the table. That idea that every moment, every design decision is a nano second series of decisions where you’re choosing between love and fear. It’s true. Try it out, watch yourself in the decisions you’re making. Am I coming from fear or am I coming from love or we might call it trust. Have a good time, love a lot and I look forward to the world you’ll create.

Thank you.”

June 3, 2016 at 9:40 am 5 comments

In the Blink of an Eye: The Accessibility Demon Rises


By Sam Nishek

It happened so fast.

Only two blocks from home, I was finishing an enjoyable five-mile ride on my brand new fat tire mountain bike when it all went down. I don’t exactly know what happened, but suddenly I was lying on the ground staring at my foot that was gruesomely twisted 90 degrees to the right.

My ankle was shattered. It took 11 screws, one steel plate and some good drugs to put it back together.

One small patch of ice on the road turned me from able-bodied to disabled, in the blink of an eye.

Many architects are less than enthusiastic about the architectural requirements of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and I was no different. Of course we comply with these standards, but until I was on a knee-scooter and crutches with a 10-week prognosis, I just didn’t realize how difficult getting around could be.


Here I am on a borrowed knee-scooter that helped me get around the office when I was forbidden to put any pressure on my ankle. 

Ha! Our office bathrooms are not even close to ADA standards. After getting myself as close to the entry as possible, it was hop, hop, hop (backwards), grab the sink for support, and then attempt to hit my target.

I could feel my perspective changing as days turned into weeks and I experienced more and more building types. Here’s what I found:

  • Transitioning to a building from my Uber ride or my wife’s car (my #1 chauffeur) in the middle of winter was really difficult. Maintenance of walkways is key, but more careful design would consider ways to keep ice from forming on walking and riding surfaces to begin with, creating smooth transitions for those less abled.
  • Required in commercial spaces, handrails on both sides of a staircase should be adopted into residential design. When you can only rely on one handrail, one way of the up-down experience is going to be a little scary, especially when a particular side is needed to aide and keep pressure off a certain limb. Long sets of stairs with no landings in between were particularly daunting.
  • With no requirement in residences to have grab bars in bathrooms, at a minimum, all bathrooms should be designed with the ability to quickly and harmlessly install grab bars when needed.
  • Trying to fit a temporary shower seat into a small shower and bathe oneself, and then get out of there, stepping over a shower curb, crutches on one side of the curb or the other, was a navigation that literally caught my breath.
  • Non-ADA bathrooms are a pain in the butt! Transitioning from crutches into a small space with nothing to grasp, turning around and sitting down, not to mention trying to get back up on one leg – those moments were lessons in humility and compassion for individuals whose disabilities are permanent.

While the squeak of my crutches was a point of amusement in the office (no sneaking up on anyone anymore), my predicament was unanimously met with compassion. That’s how I want to be from now on when designing to meet, and possibly exceed, the ADA guidelines.

The feeling was so liberating when I let go of my clumsy crutches. Now that I’m walking on my boot full time, with just two more weeks until I can get behind the wheel again, I am nothing but thankful that my disability is temporary.

When will I get back on my bike again?

I already have. I needed to complete that failed bike ride. With boot on, I rode out to the exact spot of the accident, turned around and rode back home. Foolish? Sure. But now I feel like I can move forward and not look back (unless I’m squeezed into a non-ADA bathroom)!

March 17, 2016 at 9:24 am Leave a comment

Water-shed Revival: A Heartwarming Flood Story

Ben and Shannon share their heartwarming flood story

Clients Ben and Shannon share their story of loss “After the Big One,” and how they gained it back, in the cover story of Boulder County Home & Garden magazine.

Read their heartwarming flood story here.

Water-shed Revival Kitchen

Click here to see more photos of their beautiful home.

March 1, 2016 at 9:47 am Leave a comment

Our Favorite Things Vol. 19

Vintage Edison Bulb: The Buster

London’s design label Buster + Punch declares they have created the world’s first designer LED bulb. With the energy efficiency of today, the Buster Bulb lets your nostalgic flair flourish. The resin light pipe at the center of the bulb is where all the magic happens. It allows the bulb to create a subtle ambient light, while at the same time throw focused spotlight onto tables and surfaces below. This bulb consumes just 1/20th the energy of traditional bulbs.

Fake Cumulus Clouds

What are fake cumulus clouds doing in the MUDAM Museum in Luxembourg? They appear to have a life of their own, inflating slowly when the sun comes out. Within two minutes the space is filled with multiple solar-powered “clouds,” providing shade to the museum goers below. Studio Toer of The Netherlands is behind this ingenious design, also known for its Cumulus Parasol, a solar-powered cloud-like umbrella for your patio table.

An Experiment in Co-Housing

Winners of U.N. Habitat’s competition for urban mass housing, architecture startup Improvistos have designed an experiment in co-housing. Alfafar, Spain, suffering from a poor economy and high unemployment, was ripe for their humble plan to revamp 7,000 apartments with minimal structural changes. The goal: a time and space swapping redefinition of the usually hard and fast rules about what is mine and what is yours. Read more about this undertaking.

Wood Bike Hanger

Modern. Simple. Yum. Latvia-based Woodstick crafted this beautiful little wood bike hanger with its own special character. Named “Iceberg,” it is a pleasure to behold from all viewing angles. Like all of Woodstick’s products, it is fully handcrafted using natural materials, in this case Oak and Birch wood.

February 4, 2016 at 10:52 am Leave a comment

PODCAST: Architecture for Human Beings


CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA: Keith Struthers and David Barrett talk organic architecture, the Hippie days, Buddhist sensibilities, and take a stab at defining deep listening. NaturalsCool is South Africa’s up-and-coming producer of podcasts featuring innovative designers from around the world. In this 30 minute podcast you’ll hear two like-minded architects groove on the essence of their creative practice.

“I don’t like pure modernism when it seems to be devoid of possibility;

it’s locked into a moment.”

David Barrett


Listen to the podcast here.

A few words from NaturalsCool:

David’s passionate, integrated and warm hearted approach to design includes ‘deep listening’. This means quieting yourself down to become more present in the moment, with all your senses and awareness. To be in-touch with the site, your clients, your colleagues and yourself.

It’s a way of balancing and amplifying the relationship between our inner and outer realities.

Deep listening stands as a counterpoint to technology, which both speeds up our lives and encourages absence to our immediate reality. When talking or texting on a mobile phone, trawling Facebook, TV etc; our awareness moves out of our immediate environment and experience of time into a kind of timeless zone in cyberspace. It can sometimes feel like a form of hypnotism, where we are no longer present as self conscious individuals.

So the question we grapple with daily is, how do we engage with technology without losing our all encompassing and visceral relationship to nature, one another and ourselves? Can our method of designing embrace the complexity of our times without becoming one-sided, so that our buildings embody and support our full humanity?

“I’ve often felt that architecture is more built around experiences

than it is objects themselves.”

David Barrett

A generous THANK YOU to Keith Struthers and Shannon Flynn for inviting us into their NaturalsCool world.

NaturalsCool logo

October 1, 2015 at 4:32 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts

How to See our Work

Click below to get an email when we publish a new post!