Author Archive

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

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

The Creative Journey to a Smart, Sustainable Home

Aerial View of Linsley Home

By Leslie McDonald

Last month we highlighted Michael and Nancy Linsley’s indoor greenhouse in our blog. Now you can see their artful home – site, landscape and all – featured in Boulder County Home & Garden magazine. “The Creative Journey to a Smart, Sustainable Home,” tells about our client’s co-creative process with some amazing photos: the driveway in the shape of a musical note, the meditation garden’s spiral water feature, and interiors that serve as the Linsley’s portfolio and art gallery.

Read the article online here.

“We like to describe the co-creative process as a dance,” said David Barrett. “With the Linsleys…our role of architects more closely resembled that of a juggler rather than a conductor. The glue in the project was everyone’s shared commitment to creativity, beauty and listening to the land, with a healthy dose of humor and goodwill.”

July 8, 2015 at 11:08 am Leave a comment

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