Charles Cunniffe is a true renaissance man. He founded and runs Charles
Cunniffe Architects, an 18-person architectural firm based in Aspen. He is one of
the nations premier architects and has won numerous awards for his work all
over the world. He’s also very active in the non–profit world in Colorado,
specifically in his hometown of Aspen.
Although his work and non-profit schedules are often grueling, Charles still makes
time to indulge in his numerous extra-curricular activities. He plays the drums, heliskies,
travels the world, plays golf, tennis and hikes and is a father of two active
twins. He’s a private pilot and a sculptor/ photographer/ designer/artist and
furniture maker. Frequently, he is commissioned to design elements in many of
the homes he designs, from lighting fixtures to custom-made furniture.
His off the charts activity level may have something to do with the fact that he
was raised in a very lively household in Massachusetts where he was the eldest of
eight children. “Our house was active at all times,” he says. “It was hectic and
wonderful and we’re all very close - and it was certainly never boring.”
At an early age, teachers singled out Charles for his artistic talents and he went
on to put himself through college on scholarships and working multiple jobs. After
graduating from Rhode Island School of Design and taking architectural classes
at some of the country’s top universities, including Harvard, MIT, and Brown,
Charles leapt at the opportunity to move west and help with the restoration of
the Hotel Jerome in Aspen. That was 33 years ago and he has never left.
Charles lives in a beautiful home with fabulous views and describes his life now as
very different from that of his childhood when he always shared a room with at
least two brothers. He credits his parents and upbringing with much of his
success.” My parents taught us basically to be good students, good people and
to follow our dreams, “he says.
Although Charles travels a lot, frequently throughout the west in aircraft he pilots
himself, he considers Aspen home, now and forever. “I love Aspen because it
one of the most beautiful places on the planet,” he says. “It has an unbelievable
climate, great outdoor activities, world renown cultural events, energetic and
creative people and some of the greatest artists in the world usually make their
way here at some point. Anyone who comes across Aspen finds it a special
As far as future endeavors, Charles says he feels he has already left a legacy
through some of his work. “I’ve created homes, communities and objects that
will outlast me; I feel like I do meaningful things on a daily basis. It’s an exciting
time to be alive; the opportunities are endless as far as how we can make a
difference in the world so I’m not really sure what’s in store next.” Watching my
two children grow, learn and explore will be a daily source of amazement and
What are your volunteer activities? I’m a Founding Board Member of Jazz
Aspen/Snowmass, the Aspen Art Museum, the Wheeler Associates and a
founding Board Member of Telluride’s Sheridan Arts Foundation. I’m former Vice-
Chair of the Aspen Historic Trust and former Trustee of the National Trust for
Historic Preservation. I’m a member of the Urban Land Institute and, in 1999, was
appointed to the US /UK Fulbright Commission. I also served on the film festival
selection committee for the Aspen Film Fest and am on the City of Aspen Civic
Center Master Plan Committee.
Which social event is your favorite? The Jazz Aspen/ Snowmass events because
of the music, social elements and educational aspects.
Favorite Restaurant: I have many favorites; there are just too many to choose
from. It really depends on the situation, my mood and the people I am with.
Who is your hero and why? A man named Ernest Kirwin, who was a principal of a
165-person architectural/ engineering firm in New England. He was my first real
mentor and employer and he entrusted a great deal of responsibility to me on
some fabulous projects and gave me my career. He gave me an opportunity
when there weren’t many opportunities in the field of architecture and had faith
Who is the most interesting celebrity you have ever met? I’ve had a number of
celebrities as clients but I really loved Goldie Hawn for her spirit, her energy and
the fun I had working with her.
If your life were a movie, who would play your part? Kevin Klein because of the
quiet intelligence and introspection of many of his characters. In many of his
roles, he has a perspective on life that I can identify with.
When you move, what will your home tell its next owner about you? That I was
simple, quiet and casual and that I enjoyed great views and understatement. My
house is very open, sunny and private.
What words describe you best? A good friend, talented and creative
What words would you like others to use to describe you? Same
What was your first job? I had a paper route, shoveled driveways, mowed lawns
and raked when I was around 8 or 9 years old.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Insecurity
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Dishonesty
What is your greatest indulgence? Spontaneous travel
What is your current state of mind? Open, seeking and a curious observer
What do you consider your greatest achievement? My children and my
willingness to explore and approach life with a sense of adventure.
What is your most treasured possession? My spiritual health
What is the quality you most like in a man? Genuineness, honesty, openness,
optimism, positive attitude
What is the quality you most like in a woman? Same
Favorite books / Writers? Stephen Mitchell, who wrote the Tao Te Ching and the
Frog Prince. I have read a lot of his work and he’s so diverse – he writes fiction,
non –fiction, poetry, translates anthologies, just a variety of great stuff. Also
Malcolm Gladwell and T.S. Elliott.
What is the best advice you have ever received? Believe in yourself. My parents
taught me that.