Think Different

Angela Harris has built TRIO Environments into an award-winning interior design firm by pushing the envelope

For RiNo’s new Dylan apartments, TRIO’s goal, in everything from finishes to accessories, was to be bold and fearless in both public spaces and individual apartments. Harris stands next to a refurbished vintage candy machine at Dylan. Courtesy Adrian Tiemens Photography

Playing it safe is not in Angela Harris’s DNA. As founding principal and creative director of TRIO Environments, an interior design firm that does custom residential, model homes, multifamily and commercial spaces, with offices in Denver’s old Police Station No. 3, she “likes to deliver the unexpected.” Through positive word of mouth, the firm has grown to 17 employees, with projects not only in Colorado but also in Nevada, Ohio, North Carolina, Louisiana, New York and California (where TRIO just won Best Custom Home from the National Home Builders Association for a house it did in Palm Desert). “I love having a good reputation in the marketplace,” says Harris. “But our success says to me that our clients love not only the design we delivered, but also the process, the open communication, the customer service, the follow-up.”

In the Dylan one-bedroom model there is a custom-upholstered vintage armchair from Curation Limited. Courtesy Adrien Tiemens Photography

Were you always into interior design, even as a child?
“Yes, and I have my dad to thank for it. We lived in Denver off of old Belleview, and he took one of those TuffShed outbuildings, put it up in a corner of our backyard and skimmed the entire face off it. He put in real operable windows, added flower boxes, painted the front door …. And inside, I spaceplanned it, with a kitchen and a little sitting area. It was tiny, but I loved it so much. Also, the family business was a printing shop; he’d take me to work with him in the morning, and I’d do things like stuff invoices for my grandfather. The afternoon was playtime, and my cousins and I would go into the back of the shop and take these big cardboard boxes, cut windows into them and turn them into houses.”

The vintage armchair from Curation Limited complements a custom-upholstered wooden bench from Safavieh. The striking black, white and crimson palette is repeated in both rooms. Courtesy Adrien Tiemens Photography

You majored in marketing and management in college. How did you make the 180-degree career switch to interior design?
“Out of college, I started working for a small engineering firm here. I loved my boss, but I literally woke up one morning and said, ‘I need to find a different path.’ I didn’t like who I was dating, what I was wearing, where I was at, my career …. So I walked in that afternoon and gave my notice. I found an ad in the classifieds for an interior design job at a furniture store, and I thought, ‘That could be kinda fun—I’ll do that.’ It turns out they were starting to put together an interior design program, and I ended up working with a bigwig designer out of Chicago who taught me everything. That’s when I knew I was super passionate about design: I loved the furniture, I loved the CAD drawings, I loved space planning, I loved the accessories, I loved putting it all together. So I went back to school and did a two-year program in interior design. Shortly thereafter, I moved part-time to the East Coast and received my master’s in sustainable design at Philadelphia University.”

For the renovation of an outdated Morrison residence, TRIO wanted to create a high-impact, artful design. In the kitchen, GE appliances and Capco tile were embellished with Z Gallerie lighting and Masters chairs. Courtesy Eric Lucero Photography

So when did you start TRIO?
“I was a baby—in my early 20s. But I realized that I didn’t want to just design with furniture; I wanted to work with everything: tile and lighting and paint and trim details.”

How would you describe the firm’s design aesthetic?
“There’s not an overall aesthetic, but we position ourselves to be a boutique design firm. We work with a lot of builders and developers, and one of their best selling tools is their model homes. We don’t go into any of those projects and put together a mainstream design palette. If you’re looking for something safe, it’s probably not in our DNA. We like to deliver the unexpected; sometimes that means you either love it or hate it, but it’s very distinctive—unique to the community, unique to the demographic, unique to a builder’s brand.”

The living room includes furniture from the Phillips Collection and Restoration Hardware. Courtesy Eric Lucero Photography

Can you give an example?
“Dylan in RiNo is a great example. That’s a creatively charged demographic and community—the neighborhood doesn’t react well to large, big-box developers coming in and putting apartment complexes up. So we came in and said, ‘We’re going to deliver something totally outside of what other developers would do—we’ll be a fish out of water. We did a design concept based around the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, with black-and-white tile floors, a speakeasy, a vintage candy machine and a gallery wall of local artists. It was just the right amount of wrong. What I wanted was to spark curiosity around every single corner, because this was a community of creative people.”

With all this creativity, what’s the vibe in TRIO’s office?
“We have so much fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and I think our clients know that we’re never going to leave them high and dry—it’s a complete partnership and collaboration. We focus on five core values: communication, consistency, creativity, connection and collaboration. We work in an open bullpen area, and we collaborate all day long. There’s a lot of trust among the people there, so everybody feels comfortable throwing out ideas. I always say: No one is more important than anyone else; we all just have different roles. One of our mottos is ‘People. Process. Profit.’ We concentrate on people first.”

The master bedroom of the Willow Wood residence includes Restoration Hardware furniture, with Easter Accents bedding, Tuftex carpeting and Arteriors lighting. Courtesy Eric Lucero Photography

What’s the biggest compliment you’ve ever gotten?
“Multiple clients have told us that we are not an egotistical design firm. It means we’re very supportive of one another. A lot of designers come in and say, ‘This is the design and this is what we’re doing,’ and they’re not flexible. But we’re not designing for ourselves; we’re about finding the right design for a specific project and ultimately the end user. And that means that at the end of the day, we deliver a better design to our clients.”

Talk to us about your belief in giving back.
“We were playing with the idea of how to give back; of course, the first idea everybody thinks of is to develop a 501c3, but I thought there are so many great foundations out there already. So we came up with our 3 percent program, which means that 3 percent of our revenue goes to organizations we feel passionately about. Plus, we select one employee each year to do an overseas trip through Live Worldly. And then at the holidays, we carve out a day, and go serve meals during the day—one year it was at the Denver Rescue Mission—and then that night we do our holiday party.”

20 E. Center Ave.