Populus debuts interiors

Populus, a carbon-positive hotel in Denver that opens next summer, has unveiled its nature-forward interior design by Wildman Chalmers Design in partnership with Fowler + Fowler Architecture, D.P.C. Developed by Urban Villages, a real estate developer and environmental steward, and managed by Aparium Hotel Group, Populus’ interiors are designed to celebrate nature and pay homage to the Mountain West with a warm color scheme, natural materials, undulating forms and an Aspen-tree inspired design that complements the building’s distinctive architecture by Studio Gang. The thought-provoking art collection, curated by artist and environmentalist Katherine Homes, further adds to the hotel’s biophilic ethos, extending beyond eye-catching visuals to encompass a full sensory experience inspired by the feelings evoked by sitting among an Aspen grove.

Populus’ interior design vision was conceived by Wildman Chalmers Design, an architectural and interior design firm that specializes in commercial, residential and hospitality projects, and is helmed by Principal and Design Director Heather Wildman with support by Associate Principal Elizabeth Usnick and team. The interiors are designed to align with the building’s overall reverence for nature and instantly recognizable Aspen-tree architecture—starting with the ground floor lobby and restaurant, filled with warm browns and woods reminiscent of a forest floor; moving up through the trunk and branches of the main floors where the guestrooms and suites reside; and leading up to the rooftop restaurant, bar and hospitality suites, which represent a celebration of color and natural light, mimicking the lush canopy of a tree. Wildman Chalmers Design carefully utilized natural woods, textures and finishes that embrace the imperfection found in a forest and bring warmth to the building’s bold architecture and exposed concrete core and ceilings. All interiors, from the materials to the furniture and art, are designed with sustainability at the forefront to minimize the building’s carbon footprint through innovative, consciously sourced materials. Many design elements and custom furnishings were brought to life by New York-based Fowler, which is led by Emma and Michelle Fowler, and partnered with Wildman Chalmers Design on the interiors of Populus.

“For Urban Villages, it was crucial that we pair Populus’ stunning architectural design—destined to forever change Denver’s skyline—with remarkable interior design that could seamlessly marry the building’s sculptural form with warm, welcoming interiors while extending its nature-inspired ethos,” said Jon Buerge, president/partner, Urban Villages. “We are very proud of our commitment to make Populus the first carbon-positive hotel in the country and are thrilled that the dynamic interior design and art program deeply represent this commitment to the environment and our locale, all while enhancing the guest experience.”

As the country’s first carbon-positive hotel—according to the company—Populus’ embodied and operational carbon footprint is being offset through forest and agricultural collaborations that sequester more carbon than the building emits throughout its lifecycle. Already, more than 70,000 trees were planted in Gunnison County, CO in partnership with One Tree Planted vis-a-vis the United States Forest Service.

“Our mission at Aparium is to create distinctive hotels that embody the unique character of their destinations, and Populus is a perfect example of this,” says Mario Tricoci, CEO/founder, Aparium Hotel Group. “The hotel’s nature-forward design and art program bring the great outdoors directly into the thriving urban center of Denver, offering guests and locals the best of the Mountain West in a memorable, inspiring way. Populus’ exceptional interiors, coupled with our considerate approach to programming, will ensure that it is a must-visit destination for 2024 and many years to come.”

“We approached Populus’ design vision from an experience standpoint first—thoughtfully curating colors, textures and shapes that not only look beautiful, but appeal to all of the senses and emotions, just as a walk through the forest would,” said Heather Wildman, principal/design director, Wildman Chalmers Design. “By taking cues from nature and partnering with local artisans, we hope to create a strong connection between the design of Populus and the earth and its surroundings. The result will be a hospitality experience that’s warm, welcoming and uniquely Colorado.”

Arrival experience on the “Forest Floor”

Designed to holistically mimic a forest floor, the first floor of Populus provides a calming arrival experience and a welcoming reprieve from the bustling street outside. Upon entry, guests will be greeted by a double-height lobby featuring varying Aspen-eye windows up to 30 ft. high with a lively bar and restaurant to the left and a sculptural grand staircase and coffee bar to the right. Above the entryway and restaurant hangs an eye-catching sculpture—The Reishi Tapestry—constructed from nearly 500 sheets of Reishi, a revolutionary leather alternative by MycoWorks engineered from the root structure of mushrooms with their patented platform Fine Mycelium. A feat of nature, art, and science, the sculpture doubles as a light source, casting a warm glow on the space while adding to the forest-inspired look, feel and even smell of the lobby. Meanwhile, the brown-stained concrete floor features exposed aggregate with irregularity in scale, similar to pebbles scattered on a forest floor, while distressed wood slats on the ceiling—sourced from reclaimed wood snow fencing in Wyoming—add layers of warmth and rawness to the space. The reception area creates a darker “nook” as if carved into a tree and features a wood-shingled wall, repurposed from beetle kill trees—a significant problem in Colorado’s forests—and a sculptural, locally sourced Rio Grande Cottonwood log desk by The Urban Woodworks. The coffee bar provides a space for guests to enjoy a drink and bite at the countertop or to-go through the walk-up window, while the all-day bar and restaurant serves as a vibrant, design-forward community hub.

Welcoming communal spaces and guestrooms

The second floor represents the understory of a tree and is home to a variety of meeting spaces, including the Library, Pantry, Living Room, The Hollow Bar, communal bathrooms and a variety of meeting rooms—all of which are public, but can be reserved for private meetings or events. While the color scheme remains neutral, pops of nature-inspired hues in the furniture and art build vibrancy from the forest floor, including coppers, clays, mossy greens and oceanic blues. On the guestroom levels, the juxtaposition of color and light sets a unique mood for each space, with the core or “trunk” of the building and its corridors dramatically dark and quiet, while the 265 guestrooms are bright and filled with natural light. Long drapes soften the exposed concrete ceilings and frame the Aspen-eye-shaped windows, creating a theater-like experience that sets the stage for city and mountain views, and carpeting made from recycled materials with subtle texture and pattern further softens the mood. The views take center stage as a part of the design, and depending on the room, provide sightlines to the heart of downtown Denver or the surrounding Rocky Mountains—uniquely representing Populus as both a vibrant, urban destination and one deeply rooted in the surrounding nature. In many guestrooms, the windows themselves extend into a curved, cushioned bench that provides a space for guests to intimately soak in the views and mimics the experience of relaxing in a hammock amidst nature.

The lush rooftop “Canopy”

Populus’ top floor will serve as a coveted public gathering place for hotel guests and locals to drink, dine and relish in the views, and includes a rooftop restaurant, outdoor bar, garden terrace, private dining room and a series of hospitality suites. Designed to further connect guests and locals with their surroundings, the terrace offers dramatic views that overlook the best of Denver’s architecture and the city center, including the Colorado State Capitol, Denver’s City Hall, and expansive Civic Center Park, while the hospitality suites provide picturesque vistas of Colorado’s iconic mountains. The rooftop is also designed as a celebration of color and light, inspired by the lush canopy of a treetop and how it changes colors throughout the seasons. The restaurant features more saturated colors, with green lime wash on the ceiling and green cork walls, complemented by earthy tones like soft brown, gold, and burnt woods in the furniture and accessories and a light fixture composed of wooden disks that playfully refracts light as if peeking through the leaves. Out on the terrace, the furniture is kept neutral to let the lush landscaping and unobstructed views shine. Designed by Superbloom, the landscaping includes a row of large-scale planters that outline the terrace edge and frame the views, plus an upper-level rooftop deck filled with lush, perennial trees and flowers that visually and functionally exemplify Populus’ green ethos.

Blending of biophilia and art

Curated by Colorado-based artist and environmental and wildlife activist Katherine Homes, the art at Populus is thoughtfully handpicked to reflect the spirit of Colorado and foster a dialogue between biophilia and art. Drawing from her unique background working with climate change, wildlife and conservation non-profits, and traveling to remote regions of the world to learn what drives people to connect to each other and the natural world, Homes specifically sought out artists for Populus who are committed to giving a voice to the wild and having a light environmental footprint. She selected pieces from local Colorado artists, plus talent from around the country who are also naturalists, educators, and environmentalists and worked closely with Wildman Chalmers Design to integrate the art seamlessly with the design.

Notable art highlights include a commissioned painting by Cheyenne and Arapaho artist Brent Learned, which tells a story of solving complex problems through active listening and peaceful communication of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes that once called Populus’ landscape home, and a sensory-evoking art experience in the elevator, which will be filled with local bird songs from Jacob Job, a Colorado-based conservationist and natural sound recording artist, who recorded bird songs in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. The songs will vary based on both time of day and seasonality to mimic the birds and weather patterns exactly as they are found in nature at any given moment.

“In curating Populus’ art collection, we were committed to ensuring that every piece selected has a meaningful story that connects guests both with the local culture and with the natural surroundings,” said Homes. “The more you connect with nature, the more you understand it and want to preserve it. Our hope is that Populus helps give a voice to the wild and inspires people to spend time outdoors with a renewed appreciation for the earth.”

Photography: Nephew, Studio Gang