Celebrating Mac McDonald 1948-2023

The Lasting Impression of Thurston’s Stephen “Mac” McDonald

Stephen “Mac” McDonald described his life-altering arrival in 1970s Aspen as an act of happenstance: A young man headed west for a sailing trip stops in the Rockies, quickly opens a lumber company with friends, and ends up staying for life. Not only staying for life, but he helped define the region’s design industry. In 1977, Mac went from lumber and cabinetry company owner to founder of Thurston Kitchen & Bath, a business providing integrative design services and access to state-of-the-art  kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, appliances, and storage systems.

Mac named the company Thurston for his middle name and the name of his maternal grandmother who ranched east of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Mac successfully grew Thurston into a vibrant company approaching its 50th anniversary.


(Left) 1980 ca. • (right) Aspen Showroom, 1983 ca.
(Left) Mac, training with an appliance manufacturer • (Center) Ken Jones, Mac, Mark Schmidt, 2013, • (Right) Mac, Cindy Hellgren at Holiday Party, 1995

Mac built Thurston with foresight and faith. He saw the timeless benefit of European kitchen and bathroom design early on in his career and was able to chart a path for bringing the highly-functional, cutting-edge systems to eager Colorado clients. In Aspen, he saw a design-minded clientele who was interested in living out the city’s Bauhaus-inspired modernism that had been set in motion in the mountain states in the 1950s.

“Thurston grew with the opening of the Eisenhower Tunnel and the population expansion of second- and mountain-home ownership that has powered the Colorado real estate industry over the past 50 years,” explains Thurston vice president Mark Schmidt. 

Mac wanted Thurston showrooms to be an inspiring design destination rather than a nondescript appliance storehouse. The approach was different from what had been done in the industry up to that point, and it reflected Mac’s dedication to creating meaningful, high-end design solutions suited for everyday living. “Thurston showrooms were designed to assist clients in experiencing European kitchen and bath design in the Mountain West,” says Schmidt.

(Left) Mac, Denver showroom photo for Entrepreneur of the Year Award, 1994 • (Right) Jeffrey Bledsoe, Cindy Hellgren, Mac in front of Denver showroom, 1998 ca.
(Left) Mac, Dave Hyde, John Guilliams, Kitchens At the Denver Showroom, 2014 • (Right) Michael Thomas, Kelly Jenkins, Mac, Mike Scott, Aspen Showroom, 2016

The showroom environments set Thurston apart from competitors, and gave clients the opportunity to see firsthand the size and scale of various products, consider finishes from an extensive samples library, and ultimately envision how a design might be customized for their own space. “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,” Mac reflected in an interview to commemorate Thurston’s 40th anniversary in 2017. “That will never, ever change.”

Headquartered in their original Aspen showroom, Thurston’s scope and reach grew as they continued to expand their offerings, necessitating several new showrooms. At its height there were 18 locations in 3 states. Today they operate seven Colorado showrooms, including offices in Aspen, Denver, Crested Butte, Telluride, Steamboat Springs, and Vail. At each design studio, clients are provided Thurston’s Define Your Design service, a comprehensive client-focused consultancy developed by Mac and Thurston design associates over the course of 40 plus years.

Mac, Telluride Showroom open house, 1986 ca.

An early adopter of new technologies and innovations, Mac is known throughout the industry for introducing exotic material finishes, new and emerging construction techniques, and unique design systems to the Colorado marketplace. In the last decade, Mac and his associates began enhancing their kitchen and bathroom designs with technical customizations like networked smart technology, touch screens, and integrated lighting. “We embrace technology, but the motivation is always human,” Mac’s colleagues recall him saying.

Mac’s expertise, combined with an affable and generous personality, made him a highly sought-after advisor for numerous manufacturers and industry trade organizations nationwide, and a recognized design leader in the Rocky Mountain West for nearly half a century. However, a more critical mark of Mac’s success can be found in his ability to cultivate workplace culture and grow a steadfast client base. Many of Thurston’s staff members have been with the company for over 20 years, and Thurston enjoys a large percentage of repeat customers and referrals. Both measures are a testament to Mac’s understanding that a company is made up of the people who run it and who they exist to serve.

Outside of Thurston, Mac had a vibrant personal life in which he enjoyed spending time with his three children and two grandchildren, traveling, going to the ballet, hiking, skiing, and taking pack trips. He is remembered as a great storyteller who loved to spend uninterrupted quality time with those he loved, whether at home or work. “Creating Lasting Impressions” has long been Thurston’s tagline—a fitting sentiment for the man behind it all: Stephen “Mac” McDonald.