Thurston Kitchen + Bath Recalls Four Decades of Design Innovation

Modern In Denver sat down with Thurston’s founder and operations manager to find out how this firm has seen its industry change over 40 years — and what it took to remain successful.

Words: Kris Scott
Photos: Tim Murphy


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It’s a recognizable feat to mark the fifth, 10th or even 20th anniversary of a design firm and showroom, but few can attest to more. After all, the willingness and insight necessary to evolve with the decades doesn’t come easy. Unless you’re Aspen-based Thurston Kitchen + Bath, which recently celebrated more than 40 years in business.

The firm, in fact, isn’t resting on its laurels — it continued its growth with the recent acquisition of Kitchens at the Denver.  Once the two showrooms and staff were combined at the new location, they then reopened the store under the Thurston brand. The 761 Kalamath location joins the lineup of Thurston showrooms also in Aspen, Crested Butte, Telluride, Steamboat Springs and Vail.

Thurston’s growth is particularly astounding if you consider that, 40 years ago, founder/owner Mac McDonald had no plans other than some well-deserved downtime with friends. “As my memory serves, 45 years ago I got out of my military commitment in St. Louis and headed to the West Coast to go sailing with a friend. I stopped in Aspen to say hi to some other friends and within four hours I was shaking hands with someone to start a lumber business,” McDonald says, adding: “I didn’t know what a 2-by-4 was when I began.”

After selling lumber, cabinetry and appliances for three years, McDonald made the decision to expand to full-time kitchen design. Although this was also a small leap of faith, McDonald’s determination proved crucial. “I kept at it,” he notes, “eventually honing my skills and finding the right products and people.”

A prime example of that is operations manager Cindy Hellgren, who has been with Thurston for 27 years and seen the company grow in size and scope — today they renovate some of the most luxurious homes and vacation properties in Denver, Aspen and other Colorado mountain towns. She has seen the industry’s evolution in that time and notes that the greatest changes and strides have been in integration and personalization. “The integration of appliances has continued to change; you can really make appliances look like furniture pieces that completely blend into the room,” Hellgren says. “As far as cabinetry, internal components such as integrated lighting features, pull-outs and other conveniences are now a must-have.”

Another change Hellgren and McDonald have noted is the rise of design shows on TV — and the unreasonable renovation timeline that customers who watch them sometimes expect. With unrealistic expectations, however, come some benefits. “With the popularity of design TV shows and a brighter spotlight on the design process, our customers have become more educated,” says McDonald, “and this often means they’re more open to a dialogue and want to be educated on why we sell what we sell, as opposed to the products you may find at other retailers.”

And apart from evolving with the design trends over the years, Thurston has thrived because of its dedication to learning and adapting new, more efficient processes and sharing that knowledge with homeowners and clients. This, they say, helps make the remodeling process less invasive and alien, and helps customers develop realistic expectations.

Looking toward the future, McDonald is certain the kitchen design market will always involve technical innovations. “Things will get more complicated,” he says. “What we can provide now was unheard of 30 years ago, and the same will manifest in the next decades. Who knows what technologies will emerge?”

One thing, however, will remain the same. “I and so many others love the experience of going into a store, touching the product, and talking to a real person who lives and breathes design. That will never, ever change.”

Distilled down, this all amounts to a commitment to excellent customer service, something that McDonald says will never change.  “We embrace technology,” he adds, “but the motivation is always human.”

“We embrace technology but the motivation is always human.”