Category: Industry News

Food, Form & Function: How to Craft Stand-Out Design in a Booming Restaurant Industry

Food, Form & Function: How to Craft Stand-Out Design in a Booming Restaurant Industry

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In the last decade, Denver has become a boomtown—strewn with bustling restaurants, award-winning breweries and plush lounges. 2018 brought more than 230 new restaurants, bars and coffee shops to the Denver metro area. But, in the same year, nearly 100 closed their doors. In this increasingly competitive market, everything matters: food, drink, service and space. So how do you create an environment that works?

Our Head of Interior Design, Kristen Tonsager, speaks to designing for the service industry and how to create authentic spaces that function as well as they feel.

The brand story of Wild Blue Yonder nods to owners’ shared background in the Air Force. Subtle details in the architecture and interior design of the space invite conversation and provide a direct connection between guests’ experience and owners’ vision.

Touchstone: Brand Story

With restaurant design, it’s particularly important that the architectural elements align with the brand story. This cohesion creates authenticity and a sense of place.

Whether clients come to us with a well-developed brand story or we go on that journey with them, we’ve learned that meaningful design requires clarity of vision. Once defined, this vision can be realized throughout the space—in both literal and abstract ways. Restaurant projects often hold the dreams and ambitions of our clients. It’s a very personal experience to see their vision come to life.

By centralizing the primary kitchen at Tribe Market, we streamlined restaurant cooking operations while inviting intimate guest interactions with various open air food stalls surrounding the core area.

Think: Function

In space planning, the focus is always on function first. We have to understand the equipment and adjacencies required to accommodate the primary functions of the space: cooking, brewing, serving, bartending, etc. It’s easy to get caught up on the public side but efficiency is what makes a space successful and allows for exceptional service experiences.

The primary seating area at Wild Blue Yonder stretches between bar and brewery operations so guests are continually invited to interact with both.

Design: Interactions

Elevated service industry design involves thinking through not only how but also how much interaction occurs between guests and primary service functions. In Denver, we’ve seen an increased openness in guest services: open kitchens, brewery tours, tableside service, extravagant cocktail prep. But this visibility isn’t right for every concept. We work closely with clients to create thoughtful service interactions tailored to their clientele, staff and brand story.

We also used decorative lighting fixtures to create various zones or vignettes throughout the space. From a distance, all fixtures play into the cohesive brand story, but take a closer look and you’ll notice that each zone offers a unique character and guest experience.

Curate: Details

Much of the brand story is revealed in the details of a service industry design—palette, lighting, furniture, texture. Yes, it’s important to select durable, cleanable, abrasion-resistant materials. But it’s equally important to consider what emotions are evoked, and whether or not those emotions fit the character of the design.

Year in Review: Our 2018 Highlights

Year in Review: Our 2018 Highlights

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At Clutch, we’re dedicated to “creating the incredible,” and this year has been a testament to that. We bid 2018 adieu with residential and commercial projects that have bettered Colorado’s design landscape and given us a greater appreciation for our craft.

Here, we salute to this year’s victories, inside and outside the office, because as Coloradans we DO know how to get outside and play.


Clutch Highlights



We knew this project provided an incredible opportunity when our client stated, “I’m not interested in designing just another building.” After several years of planning, designing and building, 50 Fifty set sail this winter. Located in the Denver Tech Center, the Class AAA, 12-story office tower offers 185,000 square feet of elegant design elements and world-class amenities. Our vision was to evoke the feeling of being on ship deck and looking down at the hull as it cuts through the water.


Wild Blue Yonder

As a team that thoroughly enjoys a pint or two from time to time, designing and executing Castle Rock’s newest brewery was especially rewarding. Its elevated-yet-comfortable farmhouse-inspired interiors were designed to encourage community gathering for a busy corner on Main St.


Team Highlights


Kristen Tonsanger, Head of Interior Design

Kristen crossed some grueling mountain bike races off her bucket list this year. She was the third female finisher in the Colorado Trail Race, a 545-mile and 84,000-foot gain trek that she completed in eight days. She also tackled the 100-mile Bailey HUNDO course and took home second place in her age bracket.


Robin Ault, Director of Design

2018 took Robin around the world. He rang in the new year in Rome, hiked the Na Pali coast of Kauai with his wife and daughters, listened to the Boston Pops Orchestra on Nantucket Island, and skied 40,867 vertical feet in one day at Beaver Creek.


Mark Bourne, Principal/Architect

In addition to bringing the 50Fifty project to completion, Mark’s highlights include celebrating the birth of his second daughter, Calder Grace, and teaching her big sister, 4-year-old Hailey, how to ski.


Matt Robertson, President/Architect

Despite a hectic schedule, Matt found time to take 10 trips (mostly long weekends) this year, coinciding with 10 years of marriage to his wife. From jaunts to Mexico, Miami for the Ultra Music Festival and New York City for the AIA Conference with the Clutch team, Matt’s adventures were nothing compared to experiencing life through his two-year old’s eyes.


Christopher Campbell, Principal/Architect

Completing the Wild Blue Yonder Brewery project was among Chris’ top 2018 highlights, as was spending quality time with his coworkers in New York at the inspiring AIA Conference. On the homefront, he enjoyed watching his son start violin lessons and begin his journey to becoming the next Joshua Bell.

Introducing Tribe Market

Introducing Tribe Market

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In the past five years, Denver’s dining scene has seen a rapid resurgence of an age-old concept: food and market halls. But these trendy hubs have yet to address the prevailing issues within the American agriculture industry—until now.


Enter our latest design project, Tribe Market, an urban marketplace that will put sustainable agriculture and holistic dining at the forefront. We are honored to be working with founder Todd Colehour, who is known for his popular Denver Highlands bars Williams & Graham and Occidental, to design a sprawling European-style market and high-end restaurant all under one roof.




The historic Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, Spain, inspired the general concept and design of Tribe Market.


Each year, Colehour takes the Williams & Graham staff on a team trip to experience other cultures, unwind and regroup. While in Madrid a few years ago, they wandered into the Mercado de San Miguel—a historic market brimming with local produce, pastries, seafood, and freshly butchered cuts of meat, all within a beautifully designed space.

Colehour was so inspired he decided to launch this concept in Denver.


A high-end restaurant is slated to be situated at the heart of the design. Live trees and greenery will be added to bring the outdoors in.



Tribe Market will feature an upscale restaurant at the center of its design, with an open-air market circulating around it. Stalls will include a butcher, baker, root cellar, seafood monger and a pantry area, all with fresh recipe-driven ingredients harvested from local farms owned and operated by Colehour, as well as other regional growers.


For the design, our team at Clutch aims to echo Tribe Market’s holistic philosophy by mixing sustainable, organic materials with modern forms and urban-inspired style.


The market will include several seating areas where guests can enjoy coffee or lunch. High ceilings, open architecture and live plants will be implemented to make guests feel as if they’re wandering through an outdoor street market.



We are only in the beginning phases of this innovative project. Check back soon for updates on the design process, and follow us @clutchdesignstudio to watch the vision come to life. For more information on commercial architecture services, visit our website.

A Fortress in Favignana

A Fortress in Favignana

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Two miles off the coast of Sicily sits a small island in the Mediterranean that’s rich in Italian heritage. From turquoise waters and coastal cliffs to ancient history and architecture, the island of Favignana is home to few, but plays host to many, including the 2018 Young Architects Competition.


Titled “Art Prison,” the competition brief challenged participants to transform the Fortress of Santa Caterina, a long-abandoned prison atop the island’s peak, into a centerpiece of contemporary art.


Robin Ault, Clutch Design Studio’s Director of Design—architect and artist—has a deep appreciation for Italian culture thanks to his previous studies in Rome. He channeled this love into his competition entry, creating a wholly unique design defined by purpose and place.


Since the fortress itself had long been abandoned, Robin turned the ancient structure into its own art exhibit using a circular design that would give visitors 360° views of the old prison.


“The structure is hundreds of years old,” says Robin. “I wanted something to circulate the historic buildings without interacting with them too much.”



The design includes plans for a gallery, luxury hotel, restaurant, lounge, spa, pool, helicopter pad and all of the high-end luxuries demanded by the world’s most prestigious centers of art and culture.



Tourists and locals alike can walk around the ring and engage with the exhibit, hotel and conference center, all while taking in new perspectives of the existing fortress.


“I wanted a clean, minimalist design that preserved and heightened the historic quality of the fortress through 21st-century contrast.” By juxtaposing views of antiquity with those of contemporary, Ault was able to bring new life to the old prison.



When asked about the biggest challenges he faced during his design process, Robin replied that it was the atmospheric vacuum that architecture competitions create. “You don’t get to bounce your ideas off of people,” he says. “I like to talk with clients about everything from the program to the materials, and in a competitive environment, asking too many questions is a double-edged sword. Ask too few and the task at hand is unclear. Ask too many, and you’ll give away your direction.”


Despite many upsides—beautiful scenery, historic surroundings, different cultures and the like—working internationally has its challenges as well. “Most international projects use the metric system, for one,” says Robin, “and visualizing in millimeters and meters is different than feet and inches. It’s like a switch in your head that you have to turn on and off.”


The other big hurdle Robin faced? The language barrier. “No matter how good a translation is, there is usually something that gets lost. But I stand by the saying ‘Good design is good design;’ it’s a universal thing.”