Designers to Watch

An L.A. Native Brings Her Passion for Color to Colorado and Beyond

Designer Emily Tucker
Emily Tucker founded her Boulder, Colorado–based firm in 2016 with just one client. Since then, she has built a following with her virtuosic use of color and knack for creating interiors for mountain homes that aren’t necessarily “mountain style” (portrait courtesy of Emily Tucker). Top: The living room of this Denver family home features a light blue sofa from Lawson-Fenning and a navy channel-tufted sofa by Roche Bobois. The chair is by De La Espada. Photo by David Lauer

Emily Tucker attended the University of Colorado Boulder as an undergraduate, majoring in architecture, and although she loved the school and the city, she realized after graduating that she didn’t want to be an architect. Back home in Los Angeles, she plotted her new course. “I really wanted to be a prop stylist for Domino [magazine],” she says. “That was my dream, but I graduated in 2009 , the same year they closed the magazine, so instead, I harassed all of my parents’ friends to introduce me to their designers.”

Her persistence paid off, and she landed a temporary gig with Brad Dunning. “He needed help on a one-week install, and at the end of the week he said, ‘I’ll see you on Monday,’” she recalls. “After that, I worked for Kelly Wearstler for a hot minute, and then Ruthie Sommers.” 

It was Sommers who insisted that Tucker — if she really wanted to be a designer — needed to relocate to New York City and work for a top-tier firm there. Tucker followed her advice, moving across the country to work for Steven Gambrel for four years. “He’s an amazing talent and also the kindest person,” Tucker says. “That’s where I learned the bulk of what I know.”

While in New York, Tucker met her now-husband and the two, looking for a more outdoor and balanced lifestyle, plotted their return to the mountains. She says she opened her eponymous studio in Boulder in 2016 with just “one client and one project.” Now fielding far more, Tucker still found time to sit down with Introspective to talk about her colorful sense of style and life in the mountains.

Where does your inspiration come from?

A lot of my inspiration comes from my clients. I usually ask them for one or two pictures of something that they really love. It could be a room, a piece of art or a piece of clothing. I can get a pretty good sense of how their house should feel: Is it really lively or minimal or comfortable or a little fancy? That feeling gets dictated by the house and the people who live in it. 

neutral toned living room and kitchen in Vail by Emily Tucker
This Vail, Colorado, home, with its neutral tones, clean-lined furniture and warm wood accents, is a prime example of how Tucker caters to her clients’ desire to live in the mountains without mountain-themed decor. Photo by David Lauer

You don’t use a lot of mountain or western motifs in your designs.

It goes back to our clients. A lot of them are transplants from San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York, and they’re not really looking for a mountain style. Most want a colorful and fun house. They love being in the mountains, but they go outside to experience the mountains. They don’t need to have mountain flair inside.

Is Boulder your dream place to live?

It’s a university town, so it’s got culture and great restaurants. It suits us and it’s a really nice place to raise our family, but someday I’d love to move back to New York, maybe when we’re at retirement age and we don’t want to take care of a house anymore.

Is there a particular style of house you love to work on?

I love working on historic houses. Boulder was a mining town before it was a university town, so there are a lot of Victorian homes here. The other style that’s exciting is the Denver Square, which is a cross between a craftsman and a Victorian. It’s a style of architecture that’s pretty specific to Denver and Boulder. 

White bedroom with red millwork by Emily Tucker
In a bedroom of a historic home, Tucker employed one of her favorite design secrets: painting the trims a color other than white — in this case, Benjamin Moore’s Million Dollar Red. The center table is draped in Dedar fabric. The beds are custom; the benches are from 1stDibs and covered in Soane fabric. Photo by Laura Murray

What’s an underappreciated design idea that you champion?

I like to paint trim all sorts of different colors. That’s something I’m always encouraging clients and friends to do because it’s a really fun way to add color to a space without it being overwhelming. You don’t have to paint a whole wall, but you can paint your crown, base and door and have a pop of red or purple or whatever.

Do you have a favorite furniture designer?

I love Tyler Hayes of BDDW for his attention to small details like the backs of cabinets and the interiors of pieces, plus his mixing of materials, specifically bronze and leather with wood. It all has such a beautiful weight to it and feels really unique. I also love Paolo Buffa. His pieces have elegant legs and beautiful details that make wood seem so delicate and feminine. 

What about an artist?

I have one piece by Shawn Huckins and I’m looking to get more. He’s a classically trained artist, so all of his paintings are technically very good, but they also offer political commentary on America. He’s really interesting.

blue and green study by Emily Tucker
Tucker chose a Farrow & Ball blue for the cabinets and millwork in the Denver Home’s study and furnished it with a Kravet sofa upholstered in Martyn Lawrence Bullard fabric. She designed the ottoman, which was made by Rooster Socks Furniture. Photo by David Lauer

You’re known for a colorful style. Do you have designers you admire for their use of color?

Right now, I’m really into Sophie Ashby and Summer Thornton. One thing I love about both of them — no surprise — is their use of color. Summer just goes for it, especially with paint and finishes, and Sophie really leans into color with textiles, rugs and art. Both of them have built successful businesses while also staying true to their own styles, and I really admire that. 

green living room with red, blue and yellow sofa by Emily Tucker
Tucker feared that this Kravet sofa, custom upholstered in Holly Hunt fabric of various shades, might not work in the Denver home. She was relieved to find that it looked just right with the Living room’s dark green walls and carpet. Photo by David Lauer

Have you ever worried that one of your colorful ideas would flop?

I had a client whose style was over the top, don’t hold back, go for it. We did a color-blocked sofa for them in yellow, orange and blue, but when I got the photo from the upholsterer, I thought I was going to be sick. It sort of looked like a disaster, but once we got it in the room, which has dark green walls and a dark green rug, it just worked. It ended up being really, really cool.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

Every time I get a call from a client to do another project, I feel like that is such a point of pride. Half the projects we’re working on now are for repeat clients. It’s an intimate thing to work on someone’s house and get to know them and their families and how they live.

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