Raw Creative is Right on Time

The one-stop design, build, and fabricate shop co-founded by classmates shows up skeptics and history

 

story: Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp

Mike Blea and Breton Lujan are control freaks in the very best sense of the word—their one-stop design, build, and fabricate shop named Raw Creative allows them to oversee every single aspect of a project.

Blea and Lujan met as undergraduates studying environmental design at the University of Colorado and connected again in graduate school while studying architecture. They co-founded Raw Creative in 2014 while still in graduate school. As their classmates were hunting for jobs at big firms, they were diving headlong into starting their own firm, something classmates found hard to accept. “We actually got ridiculed by some of our classmates,” says Blea in a fall 2016 Modern In Denver article. “They were like, ‘Oh that’s cute. You guys are starting your own firm.’ They didn’t really believe us.”

 

Mike Blea and Breton Lujan

In addition to skeptical classmates, Blea and Lujan were working against historical expectations. Until a few decades ago, according to Rick Sommerfeld, a CU Denver professor and founder of the CU Building Workshop, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) didn’t allow architects to build their own projects. But time and talent, along with devotion and a lot of hard work, belied Blea and Lujan’s skeptical classmates’ and history’s shortsightedness. Eight years later, Raw Creative is established, thriving, and working on commercial and residential projects across Colorado.

We recently caught up with Lujan who shared two projects with us that he and Blea are especially excited about: largescale, unique furniture for Gensler and OfficeScapes at One Denver Place, and a CCY Architects and Swiss watchmaker Hublot collaboration on a clocktower at the base of Aspen Mountain. We’ve added a residential project we love—stunning fireplace hearths—featured in a Denver home profile for our fall 2021 magazine.

At Denver Place, Raw Creative brought the outdoors inside in a clever, representational sort of way. Commissioned by BOOTS construction and OfficeScapes, they provided design-assist services and worked directly with contractors and designers using steel, wood, leather, and GFRC concrete to create public and semi-private workspaces throughout the main lobby. Hanging log tables and seating that resembles manufactured trees nod enthusiastically to the great outdoors. Circular seating areas with fins for privacy include workplace essentials like integrated outlets. “Not all furniture projects require so much engineering, but this one did due to the complexity and scale of each item,” says Lujan. The extra legwork pays off in an immersive modern, industrial, woodsy feel that is as much art installation as furniture.

 

Hublot Clocktower in Aspen Mountain's Gondola Square, courtesy of Hublot.

The clocktower installation in Aspen’s Gondola Plaza, at the base of Aspen Mountain Ski Resort, was an opportunity for Raw Creative to show off their artistic side in an extremely public way. A storied mountain, Aspen sees well over a million people during ski season alone. “The piece,” Lujan says, “was a combination of laser cut stainless steel and frosted acrylic lit with LED.” The clocktower for the Aspen-based architecture firm CCY, which counts the much-lauded Aspen Art Museum by Shigeru Ban among its recent projects, and high-end Swiss watchmaker Hublot began before the COVID-19 pandemic and wrapped up in late 2021.

Functional art and a focal point for passersby and locals, day or night, the clocktower is a landmark. Lit up, it’s a modern sculptural beacon that simultaneously encourages being on time and slowing down long enough to appreciate the artisanship. Aspen Snowmass shared a video of the installation, and we can’t stop watching it. The intricacies of the process are mesmerizing, and a reminder of how important being involved in all stages of a project can be for the final product—Raw Creative’s ability to do that well makes them a real standout.

Less public but equally artistic and functional are concrete fireplace hearths Raw Creative designed and fabricated for a home by architecture and design firm Semple Brown in Denver’s prestigious Polo Club neighborhood, which we featured in our fall 2021 magazine. Played beautifully against the walnut paneling above the living room fireplace, the concrete hearth’s gray hues and sleek lines radiate warmth and create visual interest. You can imagine spending hours—years—relaxing in front of it and still discovering something new to admire. That’s the power of extraordinary design brought to life by skilled artisans, it’s also what makes Raw Creative remarkable and right on time. Their stellar solutions for high-end architects, general contractors, and interior designers are impeccable. We can’t wait to see what they do next.

Raw Creative designed and fabricated the concrete hearths for this modern home with a mid-century aesthetic—in Denver's Polo Club neighborhood—that we featured in our fall 2021 magazine. Image by David Lauer.