of ASPEN DESIGN STUDIO
Story written by Jennaye Derge
Life is easier when everything fits into place, and there is a group of women in Durango who want to help you to achieve that feeling of ease. Aspen Design Studio specializes in designing high-quality kitchens, and they offer a wide variety of kitchen and bath cabinetry, countertop surfaces, and accessories to fit any home or business, no matter your lifestyle.
Aspen Design Studio began in 2011 when Durango native Leigha Natzke decided it was time to take her extensive experience in kitchen and bath design and open her own company. With a background in interior design and experience growing up around the building industry, she was destined for a future in home design. She didn’t fully realize her path though until she went to work as an assistant designer for another kitchen and bath firm where she fell in love with the trade instantly. She spent seven years at this firm putting in a lot of solo labor and keeping a watchful eye on other designers.
“I attribute a lot of it to the builders I work with because they all have a great eye for design and they’ve taken me under their wing,” Natzke said. After being in the industry for so long, she’s gained experience, respect and an eye for exquisite design and products.
She spent the first five years working independently which included a lot of heavy lifting, literally: unloading, moving and delivering cabinets by herself. Her beginnings were modest to say the least. She ran the business out of a spare bedroom with a little help from friends, but for the most part it was just herself loading and unpacking cabinets at clients’ homes.
“I did a lot of it by myself, but I physically can’t do that anymore; it killed my body,” Natzke said. So that’s when she decided to find help.
“I attribute a lot of it to the builders I work with because they all have a great eye for design and they’ve taken me under their wing.” – Leigha Natzke
Three years ago, Erin White Sinberg joined the Aspen Design team as a designer, and she now helps in sales and marketing. Before joining Natzke, Erin had spent about 15 years in the construction and design industry beginning with high-end windows, doors and hardware in 1998, then adding kitchen design to her repertoire while working for a local construction supply store in 2003. When the housing market crashed in 2009 she lost her job, but not her love for the building industry. Erin knew she still wanted to work in some aspect of building, and she already had Aspen Design Studio on her radar when Leigha was realizing she needed help at the studio.
“At that time I was working with my husband and I found out Leigha was looking for someone to help her. I always say I conjured my job at
Aspen Design, because I was thinking that I wanted to go talk to Leigha about a position, and literally she had a kitchen designer position listed in the paper the next week, before I even made it in to see her,” Sinberg said.
With only a loose connection through the grapevine of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado, Erin approached Leigha about working at the firm and after a short talk, it was a done deal. Erin has since taken the reigns on kitchen and bath design, working closely with clients to build their dream kitchens.
Her strengths help clients bring ideas to fruition when they may not otherwise know how to begin or where to go. She understands that whether you’re designing and building a new home, or just re-doing a single room, the project can be daunting. Erin loves working with clients to ease their workload concerns, cost worries or any other uncertainties they may have. Mostly, she wants the client to have fun and to know that at the end of it all, they can make their dream kitchen or bath into a reality.
“It’s not just people coming in, ordering boxes and picking a stock color, we’re really going to partner with the client. I like to know every single detail, such as the color of carpet in other rooms, so that I can give you something cohesive that goes with the rest of the house,” Sinberg said.
Erin’s award-winning kitchens are so recognized because she pays attention to both the details and the big picture. When she meets with a client, she gathers as much information as possible, including such details as color schemes and window placements. She wants to be able to make sure drawers open correctly or that the kitchen island lines up to the window in the next room so that, when possible, the client can have a view while cooking.
She brings her visions to life by using different medias, including a CAD design program that renders the design in 3D, allowing clients to walk through the room. Another website that she uses, “houzz.com”, is basically the Pinterest of interior design. The website lets clients create idea books with photos of their dream kitchens and baths, and Erin then takes that pool of photos and identifies commonalities including placements, color schemes and materials.
“We make it a point to give suggestions and help them make those decisions. A lot of people don’t even know where to start. And we really try to push that part of it; we’re hands-on that way,” Natzke said.
Leigha just brought another set of hands on deck this year, too. The firm’s newest designer, Duna Mazza May, is bringing a new set of eyes in all the way from Italy and New York. With 20 years of experience in kitchen and bath design in both locations, she ended up marrying a Durango native and landed right back in design, bringing her extensive talent and knowledge with her.
“It’s awesome because she’s going to be able to help out with what we wouldn’t necessarily know first hand because we’ve been [in Durango] for so long. It’s going to be a really nice broad variety, the three of us,” Natzke said.
It’s not just the three of them who make the design firm what it is though. With Leigha’s sister, Jodie House, managing installs and deliveries, as well as two full-time, highly skilled installers, it definitely takes a village.
“Our installers really bring the job home. It’s a process we don’t rush, lest we lose the integrity of what the client worked so hard to achieve. One of our installers, Durango native Ben Wheatley, attended a fine furniture school and is also a trained illustrator, and it shows in his attention to detail. Jesse House, my brother-in-law, is quickly becoming a builder favorite with his easygoing nature,” Natzke said.
The design firm works closely with both the client and the builder to act as a liaison between the two, bringing the client in to go over the design and then handing blueprints over to the builders and installers for them to begin the building process.
“We’re hands-on with the client. We spend hours of time on the many details of design with the intention of taking that 100% off the builder’s plate so they can comfortably send their client in here. We complete [the design] for them, send the completed package back to them and say ‘here you go, this is what the client wants’. We see ourselves as a partner,” Natzke said.
Which is exactly how the studio has gotten as far as it has while keeping quality high and costs in line with industry standards.
“The builders will come in and bring us their initial plans to let us get rolling on the kitchen, the bathrooms, ultimately helping them get budget numbers so they can steer clients in the right direction,” Natzke said.
Budget is just as important as quality, and with Aspen Design they have the trifecta of also being really fun and easy to work with. The women understandably run a tight ship, holding quality and customer service as their top priorities. They are all also lighthearted though and aren’t afraid to joke around a little too.
“It’s a lot of fun for us to get to know each client that comes in and be part of the process,” Sinberg said.
In addition to digging into design, a normal meeting with the Aspen Design gals will include a hefty helping of laughs, along with a stiff libation and a snack when required, making anyone who walks out the door feel like they’ve met a group of new friends.
“It’s a pretty kick-ass girl crew and it’s a really happy environment. We have a blast; we have a great time, we love what we do,” Sinberg said.
They want to continue to have a good time, too and remind themselves why they fell in love with what they do in the first place.
Leigha still loves to do the little stuff including volunteering with kitchen renovations for her child’s preschool, helping with other school renovations, and the Volunteers of America Southwest Safehouse.
“That’s where I’ve seen my heart going in the last year to two years. I love what I do and I feel very fortunate to do those nice elaborate kitchens, but I get a cool feeling and find intrinsic value in it,” Natzke said.
This might be why the group of women have been in the industry for as long as they have, because they give what they love and love what they give.
“And sell them some awesome cabinets,” Sinberg added.