A Q&A with bulthaup Denver

bulthaup Celebrates 20 Years in Colorado

Kitchen Distributors has a reputation for innovation. Their decision to bring bulthaup to Denver launched mountain-modern kitchen design.

 

story: Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp

This bulthaup kitchen is in a mid-century inspired Denver Polo Club home designed by Semple Brown and Studio D Design that we featured in our fall 2021 magazine. Photo: David Lauer

High-end German kitchen manufacturing company bulthaup celebrates its twentieth year in Colorado this September, thanks to Kitchen Distributors (Kd.) who had the foresight to bring it to Denver.

After spending its early years in the Denver Design Center, bulthaup moved to its own building in the Golden Triangle Creative District in 2005. A stone’s throw from the Denver Art Museum, Clyfford Still Museum, and the Kirkland, the studio is a destination, and the luxe cabinetry on display is domestic art.

Kd. has a long and storied history leading local kitchen design. They were there at the beginning and have maintained a prominent role throughout the decades. In the late 90s and early aughts, they began looking for a premium European brand to offer clients, and bulthaup quickly rose to the top of their list. We chatted with Kd. owner Tom Hartman and bulthaup showroom director William Landeros recently about Kd.’s past, why they brought bulthaup to Colorado, and where bulthaup is headed next.

 

An early Geneva kitchen features bright colors and modern, unique design concepts such as a pullout table, floating cabinets, and stainless steel counters.
MID: How did it all start? What are some of the stories from Kd. and bulthaup’s early days that drove modern style and design in Denver kitchens?

Tom Hartman of Kd.: Pius George (P.G.) and Esther Hartman founded Kd. in 1953, and it all began with a loan from Estherʼs father paired with a GI Bill grant. P.G. was going to law school at DU and working at a local lumber company selling Geneva steel cabinetry. Geneva Modern Kitchens approached P.G. and offered him a franchise in their business. At the time, Geneva was an innovator in the kitchen industry. Their cabinets were very modern, constructed of steel, and painted in various colors. They introduced a textured steel finish and later brought out wood veneer fronts, all of which were cutting edge in the 1950s. Geneva had a commercial line for hospitals, schools, and laboratories as well as a residential line of cabinetry. Kd. and P.G. developed quality relationships with area architects and contractors leading them to expand their business significantly during the early years. Some of the commercial projects of note are the United States Air Force Academy, Presbyterian Hospital labs, and Denver Public Library. Kd. also did the personal kitchens of early architects Eugene Sternberg, James Sudler, and Victor Hornbein. Kd. then expanded its lines to include Mutschler kitchens, which produced a line of cabinetry designed by Paul McCobb.

Prominent mid-century designer Paul McCobb created a series of modern cabinets with a furniture look for Mutschler during the mid-twentieth century. This McCobb-inspired kitchen was in the Koin House in Cherry Hills, one of the most iconic modernist homes in Denver, and was featured in our fall 2011 issue. Photo: Crystal Allen
Esther and P.G. Hartman, founders of Kd.

I joined my parents’ company in 1974, when P.G. passed away unexpectedly, and have grown the business, opening two bulthaup showrooms in Colorado. The first bulthaup project was for a designer who worked primarily in traditional style. When she did her own home, she chose bulthaup with aluminum and bamboo fronts and paired that with a traditional LaCornue range and French antiques. While it was a different style than typical of bulthaup kitchens, the cabinetry stunningly complemented the French motif. Blending old and new is popular in Europe as modern furnishings fit perfectly in centuries-old buildings.

Esther and friends in a commercial laboratory with light blue cabinets and stainless steel countertops.
MID: Why did you decide to bring bulthaup to Denver?

Tom Hartman: Kd. has always been on the leading edge of design trends. In the 80s, Kd. offered Poggenpohl, a German cabinetry manufacturer with looks and quality that were not available from domestic manufacturers. In the late 90s, I felt that overtly traditional and period design trends had run their course and Denver was ready for great modern and contemporary design. When William Landeros joined the company in 2001, he and I shared a vision to bring a classic and elegantly modern European line to Denver. At my suggestion, William visited bulthaup showrooms in Chicago and Los Angeles. Impressed, William urged Esther and me to visit the Chicago showroom, which we did. I had never seen such precision and quality in a kitchen manufacturer. Focused on Bauhaus principles, bulthaup was not a trendy product. They did not offer varying styles (like Poggenpohl or SieMatic). They only offered one door style.  But what they did, they did better than anyone else, and the precision and detail showed.  We knew bulthaup would be well received in Denver.  

This bulthaup kitchen in a downtown Denver loft was featured on the cover of our summer 2012 issue. The homeowner knew she always wanted a bulthaup kitchen; the entire loft remodel was designed around the new kitchen. Photo: Trevor Brown Jr.
The cover image for our summer 2012 issue featured the bulthaup kitchen from a different angle than the photo above.

Upon inquiry, we learned that bulthaup had select shops in major markets—Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Miami—that were corporate-owned. They had a small group of retail partners in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Salt Lake City. The partner in Salt Lake City was closing and offered the exclusive partnership to Kd. Kd. decided to open an exclusive bulthaup shop at the Denver Design Center and signed a lease on September 12, 2001. The Grand Opening was in February 2002.

A bulthaup showroom display kitchen we featured on the cover of our spring 2009 issue. Photo: Crystal Allen
MID: How have you seen bulthaup in Denver change throughout the years?

William Landeros: When I first opened the showroom in 2002, Denver was a smaller market for contemporary and modern design. bulthaup’s System 25 was a 2.5 cm product then. They switched to the b3 system around 2006 and a thinner 1 cm (3/8 inch) panel was an indication of the movement toward an even more minimalist style. bulthaup b3 was introduced at an aircraft hangar in Milan during Eurocucina 2004. Floating cabinets hung off steel wall substructure; fronts were 12 mm thick versus 19 mm, side panels were 10 mm versus 25 mm, and countertops were only 10 mm thick.

Jed Mackenzie came on board at our bulthaup showroom in 2004. He noted that Denver paved its own way toward a mountain-modern design that is both warm and sleek. Wood finishes combined with the classic German Bauhaus style show evolution to fit in with the rugged peaks of the mountain region.

This bulthaup’s system 25 kitchen in Monument, CO was installed in 2005. It’s a timeless design defined by thicker fronts and panels and preceded the current b3 system. Subtle colors and finishes tie in with the architecture and natural surroundings.

In June 2005, we purchased a building in the Golden Triangle Creative District. The building was in very poor shape and required total renovation. It had been a drug dosing facility. We moved into the remodeled building in spring 2006.

Since bringing bulthaup to Denver, other European lines have surfaced—Poggenpohl, SieMatic, Poliform, Boffi, Arclinea—broadening the modern design scene and creating competition; however, bulthaup has its own niche and following.

This bulthaup kitchen installed in a Denver home in 2017 shows how Bauhaus style cabinetry can be paired with transitional style to bring several different types of materials together.
MID: Where do you see bulthaup in the future?

William Landeros: As an international brand, bulthaup has a growing number of clients building second homes in Aspen and Vail, and that led us to open a studio in Basalt near Aspen to service the area’s homeowners, designers, and architects. Since opening the Basalt/Aspen showroom, modern design in the mountains has expanded exponentially, and we believe it will continue to do so with remote work expanding as well. We find we’re doing more and more repeat and referral work. We have done two or three kitchens for some clients. We also find our geographic market is growing. We’ve done projects in Scottsdale and Jackson Hole. We’re also doing more work for laundry rooms, mud rooms, bars, living rooms, and closets. We’re doing more personal kitchens for architects and builders—Alvarez Morris, Rusty and Sarah Brown, Charles Steckly—who recognize they cannot get the quality, finishes, and details from local shops or other kitchen companies. There’s a perception that bulthaup is expensive, but in reality, bulthaup is a great value.

bulthaup finds that they're doing more work outside of the kitchen, such as these floating media cabinets for a client's living room. They expect to be working outside of the kitchen more often in the future.