Ben And Cristi Dozier Share The Surprising Story Behind Building Roots - Exclusive Interview

Good architects know that good design requires a sense of place — a home that looks stunning in one location may look comically out of place in another. A design that proved attractive and comfortable in one place may turn out to be totally wrong for the climate and local culture somewhere else. For architects and designers, having a deep understanding of the place in which they're building, and the people who already live there, is a definite plus.

For married designers Ben and Cristi Dozier, an understanding of the environment of their adopted hometown in the mountains of Colorado is not only a guiding principle, but their central inspiration for their designs. In their new HGTV show "Building Roots," the Doziers work with families to help them build their dream homes. While each family and home they work with is different, all their designs are inspired by Colorado's natural beauty and make use of local, often recycled natural materials. In this exclusive interview, the Doziers share their unique creative process and their unexpected journey to TV stardom.

The Doziers discovered their flair for design by accident

First of all, how did you get into design and building?

Ben Dozier: We started as a landscape company in Austin, Texas when our first child was born. She was nine months old and we started as a landscape design build firm out of our living room with our first of four kids.

Cristi Dozier: And your first client was your grandma.

Ben: My first client was my grandmother, and one thing led to the next, and 20 years later, now we do architecture, interiors, landscapes, the whole nine yards, but I've always had a gift or a talent for drawing and seeing space and depth and dimensions and rearranging things. It's a gift I really didn't know I had. That's how we got started.

How did you collaborate and work as a couple? Who does what in your projects?

Ben: I do all the initial meeting with clients and what we call envisioning, listening to the client's needs and wants and whatever their dreams are and take that back and really start sketching from napkins to sketchbooks, to on my whiteboard. I have a 120-something-year-old barn down by the river that's got a little corner in it that has a view out to the river. I sit in there and sketch, and then we have a great construction team that takes the designs to reality. 

Cristi comes in and turns these sketches and these ideas into a home, and really puts the finishing touches on all the decor, the textures, the colors, the feels, the vibes, the mood, all that stuff. Lots of it starts with a conversation most of the time over a coffee, because we own a coffee shop and that conversation turns into a vision and it goes from there. [It's] a lot of fun.

Cristi: I help with a lot of the finishes and then a lot of the furnishings and décor and paint colors. Occasionally, I come in and look over his shoulder and have some type of random idea to tweak something. Sometimes it works on the design, but not always. Neither one of us [has] a formal education in design. It's all been make it up.

Ben: Make it up as we go.

Cristi: That's what Ben likes to say, we make it up as we go, but [we have] a little natural knack and talent for putting spaces together.

The Doziers had no ambitions for a TV career

How did "Building Roots" come about? How did you manage to get the show?

Ben: It's been a little bit of a process, but it started out with an invitation on Instagram from a production company that reached out. We've [had offers] before, but you could tell this lady really read a lot of our story online and some of the things that we've done in life and tried to do things a little different. I say, if you do what you've always done, you'll be what you've always been. We like to take new risks and do new adventures and not too many of our projects are alike. She's really connected with our story and with our family, and I appreciated that. An Instagram message turned into an email, turned into a phone call, [then] turned into a sizzle reel. We were real apprehensive. TV makes people feel weird and fuzzy.

Cristi: Right. It wasn't something we pursued whatsoever. We really did like Bridget, who reached out to us. We loved the conversations we had with her. We kept taking the next step in the whole process. Honestly, we kept enjoying the people we were working with along the way. It went from Instagram message to email to sizzle reel to pilot and then series. We kept thinking, "Oh, this is going to go away. This will be a fun story," and it hasn't gone away.

Here are some of hallmarks of the Doziers' signature style

Wow, that's exciting. I've noticed that your designs seem to be very much inspired by the Colorado landscape. Are there any particular features or details that you consider characteristic of the area?

Ben: A lot of natural woods. We use a lot of reclaimed timber on a lot of our projects from old barns, old cabins in the area that have been torn down or collected. There's always a sense of that somewhere on a lot of our projects, and then native stones, natural woods that are in this area, if they're not reclaimed wood.

Cristi: Raw steel.

Ben: Yeah, we do use a lot of raw steel, which I know is not a native material, so a lot of our materials are very earth toned. We don't do a lot of real loud colors. They're all very cool, warm-toned colors, very subdued, natural, real inviting, warm. She really does this at the end with the pillows and the blankets and the different things on the table. You'll see a lot of them are very subtle, neutral, natural tones that make a space very warm and welcoming. 

That's what we shoot for. There's an appreciation of Colorado and the mountains and the landscape, the pine trees and the aspens and the river. We really try to tie into that with that natural, warm, welcome feeling when you come here to Colorado.

Cristi: I should say that we're both born and raised in Austin, Texas, and we've been coming to the Colorado area for 30+ years, but moved here full time in the last five years, and really changed around the way we did business. We maintain some clientele in Austin. It was something about that shift in our story that caught the production company's attention too, of up and moving from a downtown Austin office to a barn by the river. Through telling some of those stories on Instagram, it struck a chord. 

We ended up all of a sudden doing more projects in Colorado, [where] it used to be the [opposite] where we were doing more in Texas. That's a little more of our background in that we're not from this area. It's pretty new to us, but we've been familiar with it for years. I love it.

Ben: I appreciate it, and you see that now in our designs.

The Doziers love working on forever homes

How do you find the clients that you are working with on "Building Roots"?

Ben: Ee don't. They find us. We don't do much marketing or advertise or anything like that. It's all relationships. Someone knows someone and again, it often starts with a conversation over coffee, but they all reach out to us some way, somehow through a referral, a friend, a family. We're thankful for that. We have some of the best clients. many of these projects have a story. Even before the TV show, we found ourselves only doing projects that have a story. If it was a flipped home or return on investment or if it was a quick thing, I did not do well at those. I was not interested. I lost all type of motivation and inspiration, but projects with a story, when a client comes to us and it's not about timeframe or budget —

Cristi: It is, but it's not about "Let's finish this as quick as we can so we can flip it." It's more, "We want to do this and make it a space that welcomes us and fits our family." We seem to get more on board with those types of projects where the families are really passionate about their home and want to make it something special for themselves.

Nature inspires not only their designs, but their creative process

Could you walk me through your creative process where you're working with a client? You meet them with coffee and then what happens?

Ben: We meet with coffee and we [try to] understand their whole scope: What do they need, [and] how many people are coming to this space? Some are family camps, some are maybe a retirement home for a smaller couple. We talk about those high-level needs and desires and goals and dreams. Then, we'll visit the property and walk through that and learn about the surrounding area, if it's in Pagosa or a different town, wherever it may be [in] surrounding towns, and really know the area on what's inspired. How [did] this house come to be yours? What was the influence that it had? I love working with existing structures. I don't do a lot or hardly ever any new builds. I do remodels or restoration.

I love being inspired by the home itself, the surrounding area, and then the client's needs and wishes and merging all that together. [It involves] going on a long trail run, it's skiing, it's fly fishing. It's backpacking, it's whatever.

After I've gained all that information, there'll be some inspiration and experience that will eventually happen. That will give me an idea. Creativity's not a light switch that you turn on and off. It hits you randomly. When it hits, you run with it. Some nights, I'll spend all night in the barn designing, because I got to get this idea out of my head. I may wait, it may take me weeks to come up with an idea and my client's like, "Hey, you got anything yet?" I'm like, "Nope, don't have anything yet. Wait until it hits, inspires." That's where it comes from.

Cristi: Ben always likes to say he has nature deficit disorder, meaning sometimes he needs more nature. He needs, like he's saying, the trail run, the ski run, the fly fishing, something to get his brain working again, because he can get in a stuck place. When he gets outdoors, something starts the creativity flowing again, and then he'll come home and yeah, stay up all night, getting it out of his head.

Ben: I got to get it out of my head, because it won't leave me alone until I do.

The Doziers share what it's like working with clients on camera

What is it like working with your clients on camera? Is it different working with clients on the show than working clients off the show?

Ben: It is different, yes. There's definitely a different aspect to it, but especially being this first year, it has really made for some great conversations. We started this little hashtag amongst our group, and our daughter actually came up with it — #rootforeachother. That became this theme and our clients were rooting for us, and all of our team workers and everybody was rooting for us and friends and family.

Cristi: And vice versa, we were rooting for them.

Ben: It definitely is a different conversation [with] a non-TV client versus a TV client. It became a lot of fun. There was a lot of cheerleading and a lot of pushing each other and challenging each other, but all for the sake of a good story. That was the point of "Building Roots." We got to do a good job and build a great project for our client, but it was also what we did with, and for the people around us and involved the project, that became more of a story. That's what we really enjoyed. A different conversation with the client, but it was fun, they were fun conversations. It was definitely a different relationship.

Cristi: We knew this was going to be a lot on us and definitely outside of our comfort zone in learning how to operate on camera, where to face and how to hold your hands and not be weird, but then I have to send a huge shoutout of respect to the clients that took the brave risk with us to put themselves on camera and put themselves in a place of [discomfort]. We maybe had a couple clients that had theater experience, so they were like, "Oh yeah, I can come in and say that again," because nothing's scripted. Sometimes, the producers will be like, "Okay, we need to get that again, but we need it from a different angle. Can you just walk in from over there?"

Sometimes I would be like, "Oh gosh, are they going to be okay doing this?" for our client. They would be so on board with it. They just as much wanted to tell a good story as we did.

In the process, it has become more about the story of the project than the actual project itself. We coined a phrase that it started to become more about who we were building up than what we were building, even though they were equal. We wanted to build a good project, but it became so much more about the client and the story and their dream coming to reality.

Ben: This is less about what we built and more about who we built up.

Cristi: Right. I like that.

For the Doziers, relationships are the most important part of their projects

What do you enjoy most about your projects?

Ben: The people, that's what it's all about. The conversation, the relationship, the story — so many of these families had such neat stories. Joe Straub and his three kids, and [we] got some of our siblings involved on the show, and so many of them.

Cristi: Right, but it's not just the clients. It was also the construction crew. We have a really awesome group of people bringing the projects to life. On top of that, the production crew, we were so surprised at how awesome... not that we would expect anything less, but you don't know what to expect. The producers and the cameramen and the sound people and all the other titles that I didn't even know before all this started, but everybody that it takes to pull something like this off was, like my dad would always say, they were good people, and it made it a joy. No matter how uncomfortable it was, it was so cool bringing all these people together.

Ben Dozier: There's some cool projects. To put the people before the projects, Born Lake and — there was so many cool projects but the people, a small mountain town group of guys and gals, designers and workers and the production team, like she said, that was really neat, who it all brings together and what they can do together. That was the most joy. The projects are great and fun, but the people were — I can scroll back through pictures and look at so many laughs and so many memories. That was a lot of fun — more about people, less about the project.

"Building Roots" airs Sundays at 9/8c. Tune in to HGTV or stream episodes the same day on HGTV GO.