Midwest Nest Magazine

Midwest Nest Magazine

Culture, Entertaining, and Home Design

Midwest Nestled [ Roy Lake, Minnesota ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Scott Amundson Located on Roy Lake near Nisswa, Minn., this weekend getaway is a trompe l’oeil dream home that would pique anyone’s interest….

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Scott Amundson

Located on Roy Lake near Nisswa, Minn., this weekend getaway is a trompe l’oeil dream home that would pique anyone’s interest. Once deemed an unbuildable lot, the site was one of the last lots available in the Gull Lake chain, and not without reason. Never one to turn down an impossible project, the homeowner’s hometown friend and college roommate, Chris Hawley of Chris Hawley Architects, gladly accepted the challenge.

An Uphill Battle 

For CHA, turning an arduous hill into an award-worthy design took a bit of architectural mastery. “We were able to design this on a really steep site with some crazy topography and only 100-feet of lakefront. Getting the septic system and everything else to fit was a real challenge,” said Hawley. “There are basically four levels; the roadside where the bridge is, the lower level platform which is the main house, then the fire pit level and the last level down by the lake. They’re all tiered, so the fire pit is somewhat buried in the hill – it’s quite the perch where he can take in some awesome lake views.” To distinguish the varying levels, the team used split-stone, boulders and retaining walls.

In order to navigate the hillside, CHA had to do a lot of topography and the bridge became necessary to the design. “If you were to measure where the setbacks are from the lake, and look at the buildable area for the site, you would find about 16 feet of grade change from where you would typically have a house from the front to the back,” said Hawley. “To make this an efficient design, we had to tier it just to get the parking to work and make sure it still looked like a home from the roadside.”

If you sat down and made a list of all of the things this home needed to have, then told someone how much space they had to do it in, most people would politely decline the challenge. “It seems like an impossible task, and we certainly pushed the constraints of the lot lines, but it worked out so well and achieved everything he wanted with a really seamless design,” said Hawley. “It also helped that the homeowner was so open-minded, he loves great design just as much as I do.”

Bridging the Gap

If you’re lucky enough to be invited, you’ll have to walk the plank…so to speak. As a visitor, guests park in the driveway, walk over a charming cedar bridge and enter on the second floor.

“Guests have their own little entryway and there’s two bunk rooms and a secondary master bedroom. His mom and dad stay in the secondary master with a murphy bed that can be converted to an office,” explained Hawley. “When the homeowner arrives, he pulls into the garage and walks down the stairs to the main level where his master suite and the main living areas face the lake.”


The extraordinary exterior ties contemporary grey steel and black metal panels, with warm cedar and naturally rusting elements like the corten retaining walls and fire pit. The roof line is a gable with a pitch-break which was altered mid-way through the build to accommodate a bump-out for the second level rooms. The bump-outs gave them an additional two feet for the murphy bed on the second floor and the bunk beds. From left lakeside is the master bedroom, kitchen and great room, all with a remarkable view of Roy Lake.

Architectural Interior

“A really cool feature for guests is when they’re walking over the bridge, they can see all the way through the window to the sputnik lighting and the lake,” said Hawley. “Then you come downstairs and you’re struck with the larger view of the lake. Spatially, it’s a really fun space to be in. I love how three-dimensional his home is – it’s not like you are on an upper or lower level, you are living in a spatial volume. The interior is pretty wild when you consider how all of the rooflines fit together. ”

Throughout the lake home, reclaimed wood extends to accented areas from the great room ceilings to the powder room, master bedroom and sliding barn doors. Giving the home a modern and minimalist flair, the homeowner chose heated concrete flooring, mid-century modern lighting, colorful artwork and industrial metal elements to define the spaces.

A fun find for guests is the reading alcove underneath the stairwell. If you follow CHA’s work, you’ll recognize the cushion and upholstery work which is always done by Chris Hawley’s mom.

The fireplace in the great room is wrapped in steel-panels with four symmetrical boxes including wood storage, fireplace and media storage.

The stairwell to the second level bunkrooms feature vinyl plank treads with steel risers to coordinate with the raw steel paneled fireplace wall.

Intimate Efficiency
“The idea was that the homeowner wanted a really intimate space, but the irony of the design is that even though the rooms are on the smaller side, he can still have up to 40 people over and they will all have a place to sleep,” said Hawley. “In the upstairs alone, he can have 12 people between the bunk rooms and secondary master. Then he has additional space like the alcove under the stairs, living room and main level of the garage which can serve as an overflow room.”

Park at the Top, Party on the Bottom… 

For CHA, one of the project requirements was to create ample lake storage. What you see from the roadside is actually a pre-cast two-story garage, and the roadside represents the top floor. The homeowner parks on the precast deck, just like a parking garage made for two cars.

Below, on the lakeside, the main floor of the garage acts as storage and an occasional entertaining space. “His garage, facing the lake, can have 20 to 30 people there for entertaining and it becomes kind of a party room with heated floors and a sauna right next door,” said Hawley. Here, you can take a sauna and run straight to the lake. The homeowner loves cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, so this is a year-round lake destination for him with plenty of storage for his outdoor hobbies.

“It’s a classic Minnesota way of thinking to build a lake home and then want a Morton building for storage across the road. With this precast garage, we designed it connected to the house and it just looks much better since it’s integrated into the home’s design,” said Hawley. “It’s basically a concrete box, but a huge, practically indestructible space for him to store everything he needs.”

“You have to pour concrete to build a garage like this, and in most cases, people will work really hard to cover it up. We thought it was an awesome raw finish, so let’s just let it be the finish. It’s very contemporary, but I think it works well with this design,” said Hawley.

“He has a nice condo in the city, but he tries to spend as much time at the lake as possible, so this is more of his weekend home right now,” said Hawley. “We made sure to design it so that down the road, it can become more of a year-round residence. In my mind, his lake home is the best of everything, but it’s nice because nothing is super fancy, there’s not a lot of high-end finishes – it’s just really well put together.”

Find the Finishes:

Architect – Chris Hawley Architects

Builder – Vercon, Inc. (Baxter and Menahga, M.N.)

Landscape architect – George E. Prine III, DIG Garden Design
Landscape designer – Jamie Lipke, Backyard Reflections

For more information, contact:

Chris Hawley Architects

2534 University Dr #3, Fargo




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Optical [Design] Illusions – Inside the New Aspire Optical Co. of Fargo

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography When we heard Trever Hill was collaborating with Grain Designs on the design of the new Aspire Optical Co., we…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography

When we heard Trever Hill was collaborating with Grain Designs on the design of the new Aspire Optical Co., we couldn’t wait to contact owners, Ashley and Gillian Freeborn. It didn’t take long to see that guests at their stunning eyewear boutique were destined to get the VIP treatment, complete with an integrated guest experience right at their fingertips. With over 30 eyewear lines and 2,000 frames and sunglasses ranging from high-end designer to affordable and stylish, their eyewear begged for the perfect backdrop and distinguished displays. Take a tour with Midwest Nest as we check out the custom displays with a few unexpected design twists that will make you want to kick back and bury your toes in the sand.

Visualizing a Dream

The Freeborns moved from Canada to Fargo five-years-ago, relocating for Gillian’s residency at the VA Hospital where she now works as a Psychologist. With a new business and baby number three on the way in early August, the Freeborns have a life they are passionate about.

“I have worked in the optical field in sales and marketing for the past 13 years in Canada, and this has always been a dream of ours,” said Ashley Freeborn. “It was my job to work closely with accounts on the brands, inventory and marketing, which is now a culmination carrying over to my own optical boutique. I took note of all of the good things my accounts were doing and ideas that I had spent years counseling them to pursue. It’s really exciting to be able to bring that experience forward and finally open the doors.”

Optical Design Illusions

To come up with their design inspiration, the Freeborns spent late nights and many hours scouring Pinterest. “We brought everything together for the boutique’s design and decided to work with Trever Hill Design who was fabulous at making our vision come to life,” said Gillian Freeborn. “Trever chose all of the furniture, countertops, lighting, wall coverings and accessories. We love the furnishings that he chose, they’re beautiful, but also extremely comfortable and well-made. You can really see the detail in the stitching. Our contractor was Rogness Contracting and they were phenomenal to work with too; I would recommend them to anyone.”

“I knew from talking to Ashley and Gillian that I needed to add in multiple textures and keep the overall space cohesive, yet still distinguish the stations and unique spaces,” said Hill. “I also worked closely with Grain Designs to create the concepts for the freestanding and wall displays where I needed to figure out function and storage, texture and wood finishes. It was such a pleasure working with Aspire and Grain Designs on this project. I love anytime a project starts from a dirt floor to the last accessory being placed,” said Hill.

Ray-Ban Red? 

“I actually felt bad for Trever – initially, this space was going to be a lot different. Think Ray-ban red in one area and a man cave in another area. There was going to be so many competing concepts and he somehow, very tactfully, toned it down and changed my mind,” laughed Ashley Freeborn. “He took all of those ideas and managed to distill them into what you see now. Our partnership with Grain Designs was formed through Trever and the idea of that rustic and refurbished wood was always something that I feel like we wanted, but he really facilitated that for us.”

Display Design  

Within the boutique, each display needed to be custom-designed to suit the space and provide optimum storage and shelving. For a clean look with a reclaimed appeal, Hill and Grain Designs chose a white pine with a distressed finish, sourced from a 1880s church. Metal bases, trays and shelves were powder-coated along with industrial plumber’s pipe to give the displays sleek function with rustic style. Their team also custom built the free-standing displays and two digital monitor displays with touchscreen technology.

At the LED-lit counter, Hill chose a textured, stone-look wall covering as the backdrop for Aspire’s laser-cut, metal sign by Grain Designs.

On the back wall, Grain Designs built a slat wall featuring reclaimed wood with interchangeable metal shelving. “We wanted a wall that you could manipulate and change the display so that it’s a different feel for the customer every time they come in,” said Ashley Freeborn. “It’s kind of a take on an old slat-wall concept using reclaimed wood and powder coated metal shelving. It was an idea that I had, but really it was Grain Designs that developed the concept into what it is.”

The Interactive Guest Experience

With so much in-depth information behind their brands and lenses, Ashley Freeborn designed this touchscreen display concept to create an interactive guest experience right at your fingertips. “We realized that the younger generation focuses a lot on social and corporate responsibility – they want transparency,” said Ashley Freeborn. “With brands like Toms, you can see their collection, the lens features and also watch a really dynamic video on their charitable work across the globe. This really helps us to communicate what is generally a lot of information about each brand.”

Ashley Freeborn found the 1900s barber chair, originally from Toronto, Ontario, in an old optometry practice in Winnipeg. “We loved the chair, so we took it to Audubon Upholstery to refurbish the piece – we think it weighs around 350 pounds,” said Ashley Freeborn. “It’s a really fun chair to sit in and everyone who comes in comments on it.”

Paddleboard Paradise 

Distinguishing the sunglass displays are three paddleboards affixed on the wall with integrated shelving by Grain Designs. The boards were a fun idea that Ashley Freeborn had envisioned from the start, but worked with Hill to perfect.

“Ashley had originally wanted multiple zones for clients, but I was a little concerned about how busy it may be if all of those zones had a different design and varying bold colors. I thought he was on the right track though, so we did incorporate many of his ideas, but we made the colors more cohesive to unify the space,” explained Hill. “So, instead of going with the red paddleboards like he had intended, we changed the boards to white which helped unify the design. This also created a crisp, clean slate for the sunglass display.”

“You’ll see even with the wallcovering and leather on the furniture, we chose similar materials throughout the space to pull those areas together,” said Hill. “The wall covering is from the Phillip Jeffries collection at McNeal & Friends, while Weyer-For-Hire did the installation.”

At the Blink of an Eye

A competitive advantage over online shops, Aspire Optical Co. has over 2,000 frames, cuts their own lenses and is able to process common prescriptions often within the same hour or quicker. Their team of five, including two opticians, are all trained to find the best frame and fit, usually opting to have two team members assist every guest. This fall, they hope to bring an optometrist on-site to complete their team.

Seeing in Style

Aspire Optical Co. truly has something for everyone, but being located in a neighborhood that lends itself to luxury, the Freeborns have taken note and pride themselves on the array of lines from affordable and funky to high-end designer and exclusive frames.

“Right now, I believe we carry more designer lines than any other area boutique,” said Ashley Freeborn. “We also have our own Aspire Collection which starts at $189 with a single vision lens and anti-reflective coat, which is really competitive to most online offers. The idea was to allow people to stay on budget yet still purchase multiple pairs. We need eyewear for so many different tasks now, compared to what it used to be. Here, you can find a great designer pair of glasses and then also find something that would be more of a daily lifestyle choice.”

Aspire Optical’s Brands:

Coach, Swarovski, Vaurnet, Maui Jim, Ray-Ban, Tiffany & Co., Kate Spade New York, Oakley, Jimmy Choo, Rag & Bone, Polo, Guess, Alexander McQueen, Vanni, Prada, Toms, Gucci, Fendi, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Kliik Denmark, Tom Ford, Michael Kors, Monoqool, Evatik, Derapage, Etnia Barcelona, Fysh and many more.

Find the Finishes:

Contractor – Rogness Contracting

Interior Design- Trever Hill Design

Shelving, display and wood fabrication – Grain Designs

Furniture – McNeal & Friends

Accessories – SCHEELS Home & Hardware

Laser-cut logo sign – Grain Designs

Herringbone wall tile – sourced from Floor to Ceiling Carpet One

Countertops – Northern Stone

Cabinetry – Braaten Cabinets

Lighting – Noir, Perigold

Wall coverings – Phillip Jeffries, McNeal & Friends

Wall covering install – Weyer-For-Hire

For more information, contact:
Aspire Optical Co. Fargo
3265 45th Street South, Suite 104, Fargo
Follow @aspireopticalco on Instagram and Facebook
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Built for Family, By Family [Krueger Construction]

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography For the Krueger family, making dreams come true is all in a day’s work. Founded by Greg and Bonnie Krueger…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography

For the Krueger family, making dreams come true is all in a day’s work. Founded by Greg and Bonnie Krueger in 1984, today their custom home-building team is spearheaded by all three Krueger siblings and their spouses. Kristi Krueger-Roscoe and Clayton Roscoe, Corey Krueger and Kim Krueger-Tehan with her husband Jimmy Tehan. This month, they took us on a tour of their recent model home in the beautiful Rocking Horse Farm neighborhood of West Fargo.

The Style

A custom home-builder by trade, it’s rare that the Krueger team builds the same home twice, but this is the second time they’ve built “The Lila” plan as a spec home. Model homes are meant to be shown, but the first time they built this particular plan, it sold before it was even listed, so it never quite got its time in the spotlight. “All of our homes are completely custom, so this is a great example of a larger footprint rambler,” said Krueger-Tehan. “The plan itself was originally designed by Jimmy and my dad, then Kristi selected the finishes. We love it because it’s a little out of our traditional wheelhouse. Kristi did an awesome job with more modern finishes and features like the floating vanity, flat cupboard fronts, waterfall island, five-panel doors and a horseshoe staircase design. I think it’s a great mix of styles, I don’t think it’s too stark or modern. That was kind of the goal when Kristi set out to design this – she wanted it to have modern elements but still be warm and inviting,” said Krueger-Tehan.

“Modern and edgy is a different style for us. We were used to building in a more traditional and craftsman style like our own homes, but it’s fun to do something like this with more of the geometric patterns incorporated,” said Krueger-Roscoe.

Shiplap Envy

In the open concept main level, the living room offers 11-foot coffered ceilings, contemporary built-ins and large-plank shiplap. This accent wall gives the room a more modern focal point with high-design using bold neutral tones.

Mid-century Modern Dining

The Krueger’s kitchen design centers around a nine-foot island with a stunning, waterfall-edge, quartz countertop. The team worked with Wendt Custom Cabinets to lend the kitchen a more modern appeal with high-dimension details like the raised hexagon backsplash tile. Mid-century modern lighting and waterproof, laminate flooring extend through to the remainder of the home for a unified design approach.

“Although many homeowners are buying their lighting online, the Krueger team has done their research, finding competitive pricing locally from Valley Lights in Fargo. “It’s really beneficial to have the company right here in town. They deliver it to the house, take care of all of the bulbs, and if something’s wrong with it they come and pick it up and warranty it,” said Krueger-Roscoe.

Mudroom Magic

Typically, we see mudrooms which are designed to accommodate just the homeowner with a location only accessible to those entering from the garage. With Krueger’s unique corridor design, this mudroom can be accessed from both the garage and the front entrance. As a custom design by Corey Krueger, vice president of Krueger homes, it offers the locker and cubby space homeowners want with barn doors on each side to close off the space. This design also eliminates the need for a separate coat closet near the main entrance. Krueger worked with Wendt once again to create the mudroom and drop zone cabinets in a black-stained poplar.

Master Suite + Functional Flow

With a larger footprint than the average rambler, the Krueger team was able to accommodate a more functional flow through the master suite. This layout leads the homeowner on a full-circle walk from the bedroom to the master bath, walk-in closet and laundry, which is then connected to the back entry and mudroom. “We do this a lot in our two-stories, but most of our model ramblers end up being under 1,800 square feet. It’s nice when we have more square footage where we can incorporate some of those interesting elements for a more convenient flow,” said Krueger-Tehan.

Why Rocking Horse Farm? 

“This is a really unique neighborhood in terms of character; people have really liked the different approach that Ken and Jan Promersberger took with their planning. Most standard lots are 80×120 but their standard size is 90×140,” said Corey Krueger. This is the sixth house their team has built in Rocking Horse Farm in West Fargo. They currently have two models in this neighborhood and a handful of other lots here that they’ve either optioned or purchased. “I think we just feel like this neighborhood is a good fit for the types of homes that we build in this type of community. There are a lot of great amenities and site planning. We also love the architectural review process through Chris Hawley Architects that they offer with each new build. Ken and Jan have been great to work with,” said Krueger-Tehan.

Transparency in Numbers 

“The majority of the homes we build are in the $450,000 to $600,000-plus range. This home is a model home and is listed at $374,292 plus the lot price of $67,700,” said Krueger-Roscoe. “Our pricing breakdown is meant to be very transparent and breaks down different finish upgrades based on what type of home it is and where you choose to build. We can do any type of custom finish, but since most of the homes we build are pre-sold, we really focus on staying within the homeowner’s budget.”

All in the Family

“We have been working with my dad since we were little kids,” said Krueger-Roscoe. “We scrapped sites, we cleaned for a long time then painted. We all went to college for something else but eventually came back to the family business. We each have our own areas of expertise; I work on the finishes, layout and interior design. Kim’s greatest strength is that she’s very meticulous, which is perfect for her role as a realtor and director of sales and marketing. Kim’s husband Jimmy is our project manager and came on board with an aviation background and masters in business. My brother Corey is our vice president and has become our top seller as a realtor – people really enjoy working with him. My mom also used to work in the office, but these days, being a grandma is her main priority. So, I think we all have something different and unique that we bring to the table.”


Find the Finishes:

Builder – Krueger Construction

Interior Design – Kristi Krueger-Roscoe

Staging – Kim Krueger-Tehan, Kristi Krueger-Roscoe

Mudroom, bathroom and kitchen cabinetry/countertops – Wendt Custom Cabinets

Flooring and tile – Imperial Flooring

Accent wall paint color – Black Fox, Sherwin Williams

Lighting – Valley Lights


For more information, contact:

Krueger Construction

1133-A Harwood Drive, Fargo




MLS #: 18-2025


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Happy Camper Overhaul [Somethings Borrowed]

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography Overlooking Hoot Lake in Fergus Falls’ Godel Park, mom and daughter-duo, Kim Olson and MacKenzie Anderson, set the perfect summertime…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Overlooking Hoot Lake in Fergus Falls’ Godel Park, mom and daughter-duo, Kim Olson and MacKenzie Anderson, set the perfect summertime stage. With their wedding and event rental company, Somethings Borrowed, the two spotted this old camper online and knew it would be the perfect addition to their business. Spending six weeks on renovations, with their family’s help, their old pull-behind is now a charming conversation piece. Mix in a dash of fun chalk art, a sprinkle of vintage decor along with their family’s favorite Key lime pie, and these two have stirred up a recipe for success.

Borrowing Bliss
When the Olson family had three daughters get married in a two-year span, they found themselves sitting on a gold-mine of wedding decor. In the aftermath of wedding bliss, an idea for renting out their inventory was sparked and their new business Somethings Borrowed was born. “We rent out a lot of decor and centerpieces for events and we also decorate for weddings,” said Olson. “With three weddings over two years, we had all of this stuff so we thought we could either get rid of it or do something with it. So, we have it all on display at Olson’s Furniture in downtown Fergus Falls, making it convenient for brides to go in and choose what they like.”

Vintage Camper Overhaul
Coming across a fixer-upper camper on a buy, sell and swap site, the two decided that a vintage camper-overhaul might be the perfect addition to their rental business. With the help of their husbands, Keith Olson, Kris Anderson, and Anderson’s brother, Brandon Olson their camper flip was completed in a mere six weeks. Now, they have a working sink and proper wiring for lighting.

“When we finished work on the camper last July, we named her Martha Barnaby and decided we wanted to be able to rent it out for mostly private events like weddings. It can be used as a bar, candy or ice cream stand and photo booth,” said Olson. “MacKenzie and Kris, at their wedding, had an ice cream truck. It was a novelty and something different, so we just wanted to be able to offer something unique and fun to our clients. Since then, we’ve done birthday parties, weddings, a dental office summer party and we’re looking forward to being the ticket booth at Junk Market in West Fargo this September. We’ll also be at Shop, Move and Groove in downtown Fergus Falls, which we did last year as well. Currently, we don’t have a food or liquor license, so private events are much better for us.”

Summer Vibes
“When we decided on making Key lime pie, we correlated our lake setting with limes and lemons to add that summer vibe,” said Anderson. “We also wanted to include some greenery and some flowers for summer – fresh flowers and greens add such a great pop to any staged event. We also have a beautiful collection of assorted china dishes that we’ve accumulated for wedding rentals. We used old wine barrels for the pie display and created a coffee table out of wooden boxes for something a little more interesting and whimsical.”

Chalkboard Art
“A really good friend of ours and artist, Vera Carlson, does the special chalkboard writing for us. If any of our clients request something written on a chalkboard, we usually contact her – she does a phenomenal job,” said Olson. “Since she’s located in Alexandria, Minn., we take the chalkboard to her and get it picked up so the bride doesn’t have to. We have three of these large chalkboards available for rent.”

Sharing a Vision
When it comes to decor and events, Anderson and Olson rarely disagree. “My mom and I work really well together, we can pretty much finish each other’s sentences,” said Anderson. “She can be thinking something, and without speaking, I can step in and finish it – we just get the same vision. There’s not much that we disagree on as far as how we think something should be set up.”

“When we work together to decorate a wedding, we’ll work for hours, straight through and kind of feed off of one another and finish each other’s projects,” said Olson. “It works out well because MacKenzie has a full-time job and I just retired from my career, so I can more easily take time to go meet with a bride or run out and pull things together for the event.”

Need to Know!
Although their camper can be seen at events all around the area, most people don’t know that the two also specialize in wedding decor and have a vast inventory to rent. “In most venues, you cannot get in until the morning of because a lot of places have been double-booking,” said Anderson. “Friday weddings have become a big thing, so we come in the morning or day of the event and get it decorated while the family is getting ready for pictures. Also, a lot of people don’t realize that they can rent the camper and we’ll bring it to them and pick it up after the event, so they don’t have to deal with it at all. We really want people to see that vision of what it can be. It can be a really fun central space for people to gather at during social hour for any type of event. We see it as a great conversation piece, photo booth, a serving bar, a candy bar – really anything you can imagine.”

Just completing their work on Martha Barnaby last spring, you’d think a vacation would be in order, but these two have already started their second overhaul. “We have another camper that we’ve already gutted, so we’re getting ready to take on a new camper remodel,” said Olson. “I’m going to turn this one into Cousin Camp for the grandkids. It’s in pretty bad shape right now though, so we have a lot of work ahead of us.”


Summertime Key Lime Pie
“This is a recipe that I’ve probably had for 20 years. It’s really simple but delicious – we make it all summer long and the whole family loves it,” said Olson.

1 – Shortbread crust
1 – can sweetened, condensed milk
1/2 – Cup lime juice
8 – Ounce extra creamy Cool Whip
2 – Teaspoon lime zest

Mix together and fill crust.
Garnish with lime zest or slices, then refrigerate.


For more information, contact:
Somethings Borrowed
Kim Olson, MacKenzie Anderson

Martha Barnaby
Somethings Borrowed
Chalkboard Art
Vera Carlson
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A Sweetly Simple Life: Three Square Meals with Shayla Knutson

Words by Shayla Knutson, Tracy Nicholson / Photography by M.Schleif Photography When Midwest Nest asked me to contribute to their spring issue, I decided to plan out a full day…

Words by Shayla Knutson, Tracy Nicholson / Photography by M.Schleif Photography

When Midwest Nest asked me to contribute to their spring issue, I decided to plan out a full day of meals using fresh, healthy ingredients and a few tips from my Sweetly Simple Life food blog. These dishes had to be simple, spring-inspired and full of flavor. To provide an elegant backdrop, Radiant Homes offered me a stunning kitchen in their new model home in the coveted Edgewood Estates neighborhood of North Fargo.BODY:pic 2

Zucchini & Carrot Cake Oats
This is one of my favorite oatmeals for breakfast. It’s pretty healthy and it only uses two tablespoons of pure maple syrup. There are no other sugars added, but it tastes like cake – it’s so good. You can also keep it in a crockpot, warming for 6-8 hours overnight and then it’s ready for you in the morning. It’s just really easy, throw all of the ingredients in there and let it cook.pic 7 & 16

Poppy Seed Chicken-Salad Sandwiches
I love that this is a healthier version of chicken salad, but doesn’t skimp on the taste. I’ve tried to look for a good, pre-made chicken salad at the stores, but when I read the ingredient list with a ton of additives and heavy mayo, I quickly changed my mind. A typical chicken salad would call for around two cups of mayo – as a compromise, I used only a 1/4  a cup of mayo, then substituted the rest with greek yogurt. This is a really versatile recipe in terms of diet and preferences. My husband, Cam, doesn’t eat gluten, so he prefers to make wraps using butter lettuce, instead of bread or croissants. I, however, love a good whole wheat bread from my go-to source, Breadsmith.

Enchilada Zucchini Boats
This is one of my husband’s favorite dinner dishes and I love Mexican food. We probably make this recipe once a week. It’s pretty spicy, so if you’re not someone who enjoys spicy food, you can easily tone it down by avoiding the chipotle peppers. If you skip the chipotle, this is also a really kid-friendly and fun recipe. Lure them in with the process of carving boats out of zucchinis and they might just be tempted enough to eat their veggies.


A Sweetly Simple Life:
Growing up in the small town of Hazen, N.D., we didn’t have a lot of options for dining out, so naturally, I learned to cook every meal with my family. Today, I live in Downtown Fargo with my husband, Cam Knutson. I work for Ami Baxter Interior Design and I’ve had my cooking blog, Sweetly Simple Life for a couple of years now. This is how we cook several times a week – pretty healthy, gluten-free, or at least with a gluten-free option, and always delicious. Cam loves to take the leftovers to work, so even though it’s just the two us, we always make a little extra. Living with a husband who’s gluten-free means we lead a pretty healthy lifestyle, but I still make time for my guilty pleasure – baking. I love baking!

Where do I get my inspiration? I do a lot of searching on Pinterest, but I don’t follow the actual recipe at all. I gather several different recipes and create my own; which is always a struggle when people ask me to share recipes with them. However, there is one place you can find more of my recipes – find me @sweetlysimplelife on Instagram or on Facebook.



Zucchini & Carrot Cake Oats
  • ½ C. steel cut oats
  • 1 ½ C. almond milk
  • ½ C. finely shredded carrots
  • ½ C. finely shredded zucchini
  • ½ Tsp. cinnamon
  • ⅛ Tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ Tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
  • 1 Tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • ⅛ Tsp. salt
  • ½ C. toasted pecans
In the crockpot:
The night before – spray your crockpot with oil. Combine all of the ingredients except the pecans in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Top with pecans and enjoy!
On the stove:

Combine all ingredients except the pecans. Cook covered for 15 minutes. Top with pecans and enjoy!


Poppy Seed Chicken-Salad Sandwiches

Chicken Salad 
  • 4 C. rotisserie chicken cubed
  • 1 ½ C. finely chopped celery
  • 1 ½ C. quartered grapes (red or green seedless)
  • 1 C. toasted walnuts
  • ¼ C. avocado oil mayo
  • 1 C. greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 4 Tsp. poppy seeds
  • 1 ½ Tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tsp. salt
  • ½ Tsp. pepper
Combine all the dressing ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
Add chicken salad ingredients and toss until the dressing is thoroughly incorporated.
Serve on croissants, butter lettuce, wraps, or your favorite type of bread. Refrigerate for one hour before serving.
Enchilada Zucchini Boats
  • 4 small zucchini
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 med. yellow onion
  • 1 Tsp. chipotle pepper sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • ½ Tsp. pepper
  • 2 Tsp. salt
  • 3 Tsp. cumin powder
  • 1 Tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 – 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • ½ C. corn (fresh, frozen or canned)
  • 1 C. water
  • 1 lb. ground turkey or beef
  • 1 – 7 oz. can diced green chilies
  • 1 ½ C. shredded cheese (Cheddar or Mexican blend)
  • ½ C. greek yogurt
  • 1 to 2 Tsp. powdered ranch
  • Cilantro
  • Sliced scallions

Preheat oven to 400℉. Brown ground meat and add all other ingredients besides zucchini. Let this cook and simmer on medium-low for 15-20 minutes. For the zucchini, use a spoon or melon baller. Scoop centers from halved zucchini while leaving a ¼ “ rim to create boats. Drizzle with ½ Tbs. olive oil and bake until zucchini is almost tender (approx. 8-10 min). Spoon the mixture into the zucchini boats and top them with cheese. Bake until cheese is melted and golden brown. Top with yogurt mixture, scallions and cilantro.


To see more of Shayla Knutson’s Sweetly Simple recipes, follow her on Facebook or Instagram @sweetlysimplelife

About the Model Home:
Contractor – David Reid, Radiant Homes
Architect – Meland Architects
Interior Design – Brandi Youngmark Interior Design
Cabinetry – Designer, Kristi Foell, Braaten Cabinets
Appliances – Rigel’s
Flooring – Carpet World & Design Direction
Plumbing & lighting fixtures – Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery

Radiant Creative Homes

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Shane Balkowitsch [Preserving the Process of 1800’s Portraiture]

Words by Jessica Wachter / Black and white photography by Tom Wirtz /Color photos courtesy of Shane Balkowitsch It’s never too late to follow your true calling or passion. As…

Words by Jessica Wachter / Black and white photography by Tom Wirtz /Color photos courtesy of Shane Balkowitsch

It’s never too late to follow your true calling or passion. As an artist, nothing makes me happier than seeing others chase after their dreams; which is why I’m so excited to introduce you to Shane Balkowitsch of Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio. He is an artist who couldn’t stop himself from following his passion. What’s even more intriguing is that his passion executes the extremely rare artform of wet plate ambrotype photography dating back to the 1800s. Follow me inside Balkowitsch’s unique, natural light studio in the prairies of Bismarck, N.D.

Balkowitsch is a wet plate artist, mastering a technique that is considered one of the earliest forms of photography. Although it was once common in the mid-1800s, it’s practically unheard of today. We are in an era where we can easily snap hundreds of digital photos in minutes, and as a result, wet plate photography has become a lost art. In fact, it is believed there are less than 1,000 wet plate photographers in the entire world. What a treat to have one right here, in the Midwest!

A Painstaking Process
According to Balkowitsch, a wet plate photographer makes a film base on a piece of glass or metal using collodion, submerges it in a silver nitrate solution to make it light sensitive, and then exposes the photograph usually in an old-style, wood bellows camera box and antique brass lens from the 1800’s. The process is called wet plate because during the entire process the chemicals on the plates must remain wet and cannot be allowed to dry.

The end result is a one-of-a-kind, archival object of art that will last many lifetimes. “There are wet plates of Abraham Lincoln that look just as good today as they did a century and a half ago,” said Balkowitsch. “Every day the world is filled with millions and millions of digital photographs that have no value, character, significance or physical form, that is not the case with each and every wet plate. The wet plate process is magical and the end result is tangible and precious.”

Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio
To properly execute his artform, Balkowitsch needed a studio to suit his unique process. Finding a perfect location in his own backyard, Balkowitsch got to work designing his studio space on the prairie.

“The studio took two years of planning and eight months to construct,” said Balkowitsch. “It is the first natural light, wet plate studio built from the ground up in North America in over 100 years.”

“The windows were custom made from a greenhouse manufacturer. Modern-day glass would not work for this project because it has UV protection. I need UV to make a proper wet plate in the historical process, so to solve this dilemma, I figured out that the greenhouse industry was the solution,” explained Balkowitsch. “Greenhouses are an industry that wants as much natural UV into a space as possible, and that is the solution I came up with. The glass is specialty glass that allows 95% of the natural UV light from the sun to enter the creative space. I even took the window size and pitch from a Dr. Felix Raymer, who wrote a book in the early 1900s on how to build the best natural light studio.”

Inside the Studio

Meticulous Modeling

I had the honor of doing a photoshoot with Balkowitsch last year, on my birthday. What a pleasure to experience his process, firsthand.

It took Balkowitsch over an hour to set up for the shoot. This mindful and meticulous preparation is an important part of his artistic process. This included, among many other things, preparing the lighting, adjusting my positioning, and preparing the wet plate. The wet plate is a piece of glass where the image from the photoshoot will eventually appear.

In a dark room, the light of the camera shone on me, and while illuminated, I had to sit perfectly still. Compared to how quickly photos are taken in our current times, I felt as though I was sitting there for an eternity. Once that was complete, I got to watch him bathe the wet plate in various liquid chemical solutions. This is where the image started to come to life.

Embracing the Unexpected 

It wasn’t until the lights were on, that the final product was revealed. And I found out that the final product may be very different than what was originally expected. Why? For many reasons. For example, there could be imperfections in the wet plate itself. Or, it’s possible for solutions to interact differently with the wet plate than anticipated. There are many different components that affect the final composition.

The artform shifts, very quickly, from relying on meticulous planning to letting go of all expectations. I found this fascinating. The way wet plate photography preserves moments that not only stand the test of time but embody thoughtfulness and beauty. Balkowitsch’s intent certainly aligns with the essence of his artform.

Leaving a Legacy
Balkowitsch’s work is finding a renewed appreciation all over the world as his pieces have recently been featured or requested in Native American museums spanning the distance from Bismarck to Arizona and India.

Behind his art, there lies a purpose, as Balkowitsch explained, “I hope I leave a legacy of kindness and understanding for my Native American friends. If I am able to achieve this goal of 1,000 original wet plates for that, I think I cannot ask for anything more. At the end of the day, it is all about the final piece, but it is also about the friendships that I am making along the way. I want to continue to use my camera for change.”

For more information, contact:
Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist
Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio
2703 Big Sky Circle, Bismarck
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[re]living The Art of Warfare

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photos by M. Schleif Photography As a prominent artist and ceramics teacher, Josh Zeis had once envisioned a life in medicine, as a physician’s assistant….

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photos by M. Schleif Photography

As a prominent artist and ceramics teacher, Josh Zeis had once envisioned a life in medicine, as a physician’s assistant. During a ten-month tour of duty in Iraq, all of his ambitions would change. Zeis would be tasked with the role of medic, traveling with a unit that searched for roadside bombs. Having little to no physical interaction and struggling to harness his emotions, Zeis’ state-of-mind began to unravel midway through his deployment. As a saving grace, he received a 15-pound package in the mail that would change the course of his life, feed his creativity and offer an outlet for his emotions. War would become his muse, using the reactiveness of clay to help him define and sort through the unexplainable confusion. Ten years later, we followed Zeis on his latest venture, an exhibition entitled, [re]living at the Plains Art Museum. This show would become an exploratory journey allowing him to relive and face his own emotions while helping other veterans find their voice.

A few months into Zeis’ tour in Iraq, he was beginning to feel removed, struggling to make sense of his emotions behind two inches of bulletproof glass and three inches of steel. “My brother Zach was taking a ceramics class at NDSU. After one of our phone calls, he decided to send me some North Dakota clay that had been donated to his class by Hebron Brick. It came in a parcel package and black garbage bag; it was a block that weighed around 15 pounds,” said Zeis. “I’d never done anything with clay before.”

“I remember when I opened it, I knew what it was and the meaning behind it. Coming from a farm family, having a tie to the land, and Zach mailing a piece of that to me – it was an amazing thing and really comforted me.”

Zeis didn’t know with absolute certainty that he would survive in Iraq, so he delved into the clay, learning about the process through books he ordered from Barnes & Noble. He started with a small sculpture that he and his squad leader, Kendel Vetter, worked on together. “Some people pick it up really fast, but it took me a long time to get things figured out; I was a slow learner,” said Zeis. “This was all brand new, other than the books I ordered and read.” Finding out he was only a month from returning home, Zeis contacted Dave Swenson at NDSU in the ceramics department. “I could go anywhere because I had the GI Bill, but I decided I might as well go to NDSU because that’s where the clay came from,” said Zeis.

Post War
Once home, Zeis realized that working with clay had left a permanent imprint on his life. Setting aside his dreams of medical school, he soon graduated from NDSU, receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. His next journey took him to George Washington University in Washington D.C., where he obtained his Masters of Fine Arts. Returning to Fargo in 2014, Zeis briefly worked with his brother Zach Zeis of Zeis Concrete Solutions and now has a career as a landscape designer and coordinator at Hebron Brick, coincidentally the same place that sparked his interest by donating the clay that was sent to Iraq. Outside of landscape design, Zeis is now a prominent local artist, a passionate advocate for veterans and a talented ceramics teacher at Plains Art Museum.

In the Raw
“When I tell people I am exhibiting raw clay, they give me this confused look,” laughed Zeis.
“I prefer to work with it in its rawest form. I don’t care deeply about the glazing or the firing. I do fire them sometimes, but working with raw clay is an opportunity to do something experimental and exploratory. I think there’s a spectrum for artists where on one end, they’re general practitioners and on the other end, there are theoretical experimentalists. It’s trying to find which part you want to be closer to and it kind of defines the work you make. Somebody who’s strictly a general practitioner of art, they are popping out the same work and selling it. It’s their livelihood and there’s not much room for exploration when you’re depending so much on making this one thing. If you want to lean toward the theoretical experimentalists, you get to really seize opportunities outside of your comfort zone.”

About [re]living

“The whole concept for this show came from me not having any documentation from my deployment besides a couple photos. My hard drive with all of my photos and videos was stolen, so I used this opportunity to find a way to recreate those experiences,” explained Zeis. This was one of two photos that Zeis was able to find.

Organic Mechanic
Zeis’ first installment will stop almost every passerby in their tracks. Extending out from the wall, nine fabricated, metal arms grasp unfired clay in its truest form. “I was thinking about my material experience with deployment and it was a really cold experience as far as there being no physical contact. My physical interaction was with steel, plastic and fabric. There were high-fives every once in a while. It’s weird to think about how that adds to the stress and anxiety in not having interaction with people. People need to hug more,” said Zeis.”I wanted to try and show how certain qualities of the clay interact with this cold, kind of imposing, scary, metallic design. This design is actually from a vehicle we would use to look for bombs,” said Zeis. “It has this mechanical arm that you operate from inside the vehicle and it scoops through the sand and looks for wires. Sometimes it pulls them up and there’s a bomb dangling about six feet from my face. This shape right here is sort of an extension of ourselves to that landscape and how we interacted with it. I was a medic and I think that Organic Mechanic is a different way of describing what my job was. It’s not so much as in a clinic, more like I’m out there and getting my hands dirty.”For Zeis, it’s the clay’s process and working with ceramics that he enjoys, not the glazing and the firing. “This isn’t actually ceramics, ceramics is when it’s fired just past 1,800 degrees and the structure changes from clay to ceramics,” explained Zeis. “That’s why these are cited as clay and not ceramic. I basically took them off the wheel, I set them on the shelf, and then I do my little surgery where I create a hole and use an endotracheal tube to do a controlled deflate. This pulls the air out until it flattens. Then I lay them on the steel and they get comfortable. I get to watch them change over a couple of days as they dry.”

Google Earth Warscapes
Across from his Organic Mechanic installment, Zeis discusses the row of Google Earth images, pinpointing the landscape and complicated emotions which they carry. “I was traversing the landscape in Iraq and using this actual software program – it was really interesting, the feeling that I got from it. I inherently knew the geography because of the routes that we’d been on over and over again – that ritual that we had every day. I could recognize places and remember events that happened that I wouldn’t normally remember. It was a really weird and meaningful experience,” said Zeis.

There’s a philosopher named Guy Debord; he founded the Theory of the Derive, which when translated, means Theory of Drifting. He basically gives odd instructions about how to experience a place in person – how to experience a landscape and how to get lost. So, I was sort of drifting with that mindset through these landscapes and pinpointing areas that really affected me. I took these images and made a little snapshot on the screen, then with the help of a very talented printmaker named Amanda Height, who also manages Hannaher’s, Inc. Print Studio at the Plains Art Musem, transferred the images onto copper plates using laser etching and an acid etch technique.”

It had to be Copper…
Their next step was to transfer the Google Earth images on the copper plates to paper with a process that’s called Intaglio. “It had to be copper because that’s another material that I had an experience with. It was this really scary IED that was always looming over us called an EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator) and it was like a copper plate,” said Zeis. “When it’s shot at you, it turns into a molten ball and can pierce through anything. I saw what that can do to a vehicle. It would go through an entire engine block of a giant military vehicle and out the other end. It’s a nightmare. So, for me, it had to be copper.”

Pointing to the far left image, Zeis recalls the significance. “This is the first and probably the most important one – this is when I was driving a vehicle and a rocket went right in front of my window. We stopped the vehicle and there was a guy, who was the trigger man up over here. He got up and started running and our machine gunner shot him. We had to go in to confirm and I drove in this way and there was a trap set for us and a huge bomb went off under my vehicle. I was stuck right in here, I was cut off and our coms were out.”

“That moment right there is when I decided to rethink what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I’ve never felt so scared in my life,” said Zeis. “I was a really good soldier and did all of the training, but I never thought I’d panic. I didn’t know I was going to react that way. I totally panicked and I wasn’t even in control of myself, I was just scared – I didn’t know it was going to be like that. So, my ego or this idea I had of myself, was disassembled by this moment. This is the only photo I have of that.”

Deliberate Displays
“We have this arranged so you can stand here and look down the hallway, but you kind of have to watch where you walk, with the Organic Mechanic arms coming out towards your back from the other wall. What’s great about these Google Earth prints is that they call you forward and keep you safe from what’s behind you. So, it’s interesting how that worked out, creating a little bit of risk for the viewer that also emulates my experience.”

Fives and Twenty-Fives
In his third installment, Zeis reused the copper plates from the printing of his Google Earth Warscapes, to communicate and cope with the daily IED threats that he once feared while in Iraq. “It’s how I would picture the ground changing as an IED was blown out from underneath it. It’s something that I will never, ever get out of my head and I don’t want to,” said Zeis.

“I want to do this kind of work, to help me better understand it. That’s what this is – it’s a visual language that I don’t know how to describe. This is what I’m thinking about and this is what my thoughts look like. I’m just trying to find answers.”
Josh Zeis

“After the Google Earth Warscapes, the copper plates were destroyed. I had to heat them up so they became soft and then I ran the plates through a press that Dave Savageau from P2 Industries made,” said Zeis. “There was a risk with these, knowing that I can’t make more – it’s done. This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had working with clay. It’s just so intuitive, the way that this works. I throw this shape on the wheel, cover it with white slip, let it dry for about an hour, then I pick it up and just start pushing from the inside, getting that slip to crack and show a narrative of the forces that were exerted from within.”

Project Unpack
Even though Zeis has found ways to better understand his emotions, he knows that he needs to keep encouraging other veterans to share and cope with their experiences. He’s able to do just that through a program called Project Unpack. Founded in January 2016, this program is a collaboration between NDSU, veteran’s and their family members, and other community partners. Zeis is the lead artist who hosts ceramic, heirloom cup workshops with veterans and their families.

Using art as an avenue for creating dialogue, Zeis asks them to bring in meaningful objects like canteens, knives and medals – really anything which might represent pieces of their life during deployment. These items are then used to stamp or etch the clay, leaving a lasting imprint and taking another step toward sorting through complicated emotions.

Pointing out a cup that had been imprinted with a knife blade and named “Chavez Shank”, after the veteran’s friend, Zeis explains the process. “We use clay as a recording device. It’s about that experience that we had with a veteran at that moment, one-on-one, for however long it takes. It’s very therapeutic.”

“Sometimes when we go to retirement homes and talk to veterans, I feel like they might not have ever talked to anyone about it before. It can get pretty heavy, and I feel like this is probably the most meaningful work I’ve done,” said Zeis.

Healing Moral Injuries
“I definitely have PTSD. There are also moral injuries, that’s another thing that’s come to light,” explained Zeis. “During war, there are just things that people end up having to do and they become more complacent. They’re at war, so it didn’t matter then. But afterward, they have to live with it and deal with it. I find that I fall into both categories,” said Zeis. “I’m not going to try and forget about this. I’m going to remember as much as I can because it’s my experience and it’s my life. That’s what makes my perspective unique and hopefully, people learn from it.”

The Weight of War
On June 9, 2016, as part of Project Unpack, Zeis strapped a 100-pound block of ice on his back which he’d carved to resemble a military rucksack. Throughout the day, Dan Gunderson from MPR followed his entire 20-mile trek with a microphone, revisiting all of the stops Zeis went to in 2007, upon finding out he was being deployed. Re-enacted as performance art in the name of awareness, Zeis summoned his own emotions to help veterans ease the aftermath of war. “I am no longer afraid to make myself vulnerable – I know that there are people that I trust all around me,” said Zeis.

The Value of Art
Zeis is open to the idea of commissioned work, but he understands that his recent work carries more emotional than monetary value. When asked if he would ever consider selling pieces from his latest exhibition, he replied that it’s a topic that is open to discussion. Like every artist, he might have reservations about selling some of the more emotionally-driven pieces, but he’s also content in knowing that he can recreate it.image

Moving On
“I’m really excited to see what’s next,” said Zeis as he walked us through the museum’s ceramic studio. “I’m ready to take the work to the next level.”Later on this year, Zeis will be getting married. Despite his life’s inevitable changes, there’s one aspect which he is determined to stay focused on – his conversation with veterans. Recently, the Plains Art Museum has agreed to look into having him teach ceramic classes to veterans in their on-site studio. To make this happen, they will need donors. “It’s not even about therapy, it’s about something tangible, something that has noticeable results. You can see it right in front of you. I think that’s what a lot of veterans are lacking – we don’t have any results of what we went through, other than things that we can’t really touch. Clay is great in that aspect because it’s so immediate in its response to what you’re doing to it and you can just get lost in it,” said Zeis.Until then, he encourages veterans and their families to reach out, making himself available and unafraid to speak the unspeakable. Just as art has taught Zeis to embrace his fears, it is art’s more tangible path that he uses to connect with others, teaching veterans that vulnerability is necessary and that even the deepest wounds can heal.

Visit Zeis’ [re]living Exhibition

– Exhibit runs through April 28 –
Plains Art Museum – Xcel Energy Gallery
704 First Avenue North, Fargo
For more information, contact:
Joshua Zeis
joshzeis@gmail.comCeramics Classes for Veterans
To Donate, contact:
Plains Art Museum
Sandy Thompson
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Higher Education: Interior Design & Retail Merchandising

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography / Digital files provided by Sydney Fritz and NDSU Interior Design Program One of the first things I learned while…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography / Digital files provided by Sydney Fritz and NDSU Interior Design Program

One of the first things I learned while writing for this industry was the distinction between interior design and interior decorating. Last fall, I was introduced to an NDSU student by the name of Sydney Fritz. Although many may consider her an interior design student, I soon found out that her major was one that I was not familiar with; Retail Merchandising. It was perfect timing because Fritz had just completed a lengthy project for one of her required interior design classes. So, we headed back to school to find out how her area of expertise translated to the design world.

Meet the Student
Sydney Fritz is a retail merchandising student with an emphasis on interiors. She will graduate in the spring of 2019 with a degree in Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design, with a minor in Business at NDSU. Her major carries a heavier emphasis on the aesthetic side of interior design. Although the assigned project required space planning and construction documents, her retail merchandising emphasis does not rely on advanced qualifications to draw up construction documents like interior design majors. Regardless, this class will help her to understand this important aspect. Her degree is equally divided between interior design classes and business classes with over half the remaining classes taken in retail merchandising. With her retail merchandising major, Fritz is on her way to mastering the art of buying and merchandise planning, global retailing, promotion, global trade, consumer behavior, trend forecasting and the analysis of textile products.

The Project:
The Martin Residence
Assigned by NDSU Professor Ann Marie Ragan, this fictional project is a residential design assignment based on the needs of a retired couple, Clark and Ava Martin. The students were told that they had purchased a two-bedroom condominium in the 300 Building located in Downtown Fargo.

Project Requirements
The Martins requested the design of their home to have a more “urban” feel with Post War/Mid-century Modern influences incorporated throughout the home. Students selected a Post War/Mid-century Modern designer chair to incorporate into their final design solution.

Aging in place and universal design solutions had to be incorporated via finishes, furnishings, layout of the furniture, types and location of cabinetry and plumbing fixtures. As part of the assignment, students were told that sustainable design was to be an important component of the project. This would impact the material selection and use throughout the home. Students were asked to select and incorporated three works of art from at least one local or regional artist into the design.

According to Professor Ragan, students were also responsible for designing a custom light fixture for the Martins. “They began by sketching clothing from the same time as the Post War/Mid-century interior design style. These were provided by the Emily Reynolds Historic Costume Collection located at NDSU,” said Professor Ragan. “Students were responsible for selecting the furniture, finishes, materials, artwork, lighting, furnishings and window treatments for the project.”

In-Class Activity: Designing a Custom Light Fixture

Getting Started
“Getting this interior design assignment was really overwhelming at first; especially trying to figure out where to begin,” said Fritz. “The description laying out the project was pages and pages of details. We started with an empty shell, laying out where we thought bedrooms should go. Then we had to get more technical with our math, figuring out the square footage that we had to work with.”

Since Fritz has chosen retail merchandising as her major, it’s important to note that her major does not typically require this type of detailed space planning. Out of the 19 students in this studio course, only one other person shared her emphasis in retail merchandising. Regardless, the class itself and knowledge of the concept is required for her degree.

Challenges & Limitations
Before Fritz and her classmates could get started, they had to understand the requirements and limitations. “There’s an atrium in this project, so we had to make sure all of the plumbing was on a certain wall. The space planning was the most challenging side of this project,” said Fritz. “What I learned was to keep it simple. I initially wanted to do a lot of angles and curves, but I realized that these would have also made it difficult to place the bed, nightstands and lighting. Even though I wanted to be different, I learned to keep it simple and focus on creating an easy flow, not putting too many obstructions to have to walk around. Each floor plan takes many hours to complete with several hours to copy the rough draft onto the vellum. It’s kind of like a puzzle figuring out how each space should function with the given square footage.”

“I thought picking out the furniture wouldn’t be that challenging, but it was,” said Fritz. “We were limited to furniture that fit the room but allowed for space to move around it. We also kept in mind that the older tenants would require furniture that was firmer and it had to be in the required Mid-century Modern style. If the furniture was overly cushioned it would be hard to transition from a sitting position. Along with space planning, we each had to design our own custom island, custom light piece and custom drapery.”

Professional Presentation
For Fritz’s classmates, this interior design project required designing floor plans, elevations, custom cabinetry, light fixtures and room layout – along with design details like accent pillows, throws, wall coverings, lighting, drapery and flooring. According to Professor Ragan, students in retail merchandising complete all the same work for the project except for the presentation drawings used on the final presentation boards. “Retail merchandising students are not required to complete rendered perspective drawings since they are not required to take the course where the students learn how to do these drawings,” explained Professor Ragan.

Mid-century Modern Influence
“I wanted more of a classic and timeless Mid-century Modern design, instead of the bright geometric design most people immediately think of,” said Fritz. “The version I chose is more of an upscale take on Mid-century Modern versus the more casual bold colors. I did a lot of neutrals, then I would be able to add in the colors through my custom drapes and artwork. I chose a local artist, Jessica Wachter to represent the art pieces for the entire design. I chose brushed gold finishes and lighter wood flooring, knowing that the other wood finishes would be darker. We each picked an heirloom piece and I chose a wire chair piece which will be covered in the muted red fabric to coordinate with the blinds.”

Design by Lifestyle
Keeping in mind the profile of the tenants who were nearing retirement age, Fritz and her class were asked to create a space that would be accessible with a designated guest space for the tenant’s visiting parents. This apartment would be their primary home and last residence before moving into an assisted living facility. With this lifestyle in mind, Fritz designed her extra-large, walk-in, tile shower with a floor that would be level with the bathroom’s tile floor to avoid complications. She also kept this in mind when choosing the bed heights and space on each side of the bed.

Fritz and her classmates were asked to create bubble diagrams, adjacency matrices, and circulation diagrams. The primary purpose of bubble diagrams and adjacency matrices is to analyze the room/space adjacencies, while circulation diagrams consider the flow of the rooms/space.

For the research portion of the programming binder, each student compiled articles on Mid-century Modern design and universal design. Students completed annotated bibliographies about the articles and reaction papers on different businesses that were visited during the studio course.

Coordinating Color
“A lot of students chose different eras of Mid-century Modern, many of them focusing on the version with geometric patterns and bright colors like oranges and lime greens,” said Fritz. “I chose an era that I felt was more suited for this older tenant. I used a lot of sophisticated navy blues, darker olive greens with just a little bit of muted red and lighter blues. I added a lot of texture with my throw blankets and pops of more vibrant color with Jessica Wachter’s art pieces. I definitely used more accent or interchangeable pieces for the bold colors.”

Inspirational Mentors
When she’s not in school, Fritz works for a Fargo-based interior decor, furnishing store, and design firm, McNeal & Friends. This gave her the added benefit of accessing the store’s vast inventory of fabric and wall coverings. She also had access to their team of designers including, Trever Hill who suggested the concept of having the carpet inset into the living room floor, creating a level transition. “This concept worked to help make the living room two separate spaces even though it’s actually one large room,” said Fritz. “I also consulted with another designer at McNeal & Friends, Jayne Wilson about my drapery choice. Picking out the materials was definitely the most fun for me.”

Styling Spaces
For much of the furniture, lighting and accessories, Fritz opted for pieces by Restoration Hardware with additional pieces from Room & Board and Pottery Barn. “Since a lot of my furniture was in neutral tones, I had to be careful not to add too much color, but just enough to give it character,” said Fritz. “I found the wall coverings at McNeal & Friends and chose two different grasscloth textures by Phillip Jeffries. The grey-toned one is for the master bedroom and the lighter covering is for the guest bedroom. I thought the texture really gave it class and more of an upscale look. I also chose brushed gold hardware for a really authentic, Mid-century Modern finish.”

Objectives of the Project
“By showing this project, I want people to know how technical this field is, it’s not just picking out a cute bed frame or fun pillows,” said Fritz. “In our process, we need to understand how that furniture or kitchen island is going to fit and function for the space. It’s researching fabrics and coordinating textures as well as deciding the right amount of space between furniture for proper flow and function, all based on the tenant’s needs and lifestyle.”

“Some of the questions we ask ourselves are; can a wheelchair fit in between the furniture pieces and does the kitchen island allow for seating as well as ample walking space on each side? We also have to be aware of where all of our drawers in the kitchen are being placed. Should they be pull-out drawers or doors and does the client prefer soft-close options? ”

For every square inch of a home, there are endless options to choose from, so for this project, it’s Fritz’s job to really think about the client’s needs and figure out which of those options will work best for them and the space. “Sometimes that means adding things like pocket doors in place of a normal door to save space and provide better flow. We would also educate the client on the pros and cons, noting that this type of door might not keep as much sound out and discuss if that will be a problem for them based on the room,” explained Fritz.

The Final Project
The final project submittals included a detailed programming binder with an explanation of the design solution, programming information, diagrams and information gathered from research. This is where the students referenced specification information for the furniture, fixture, artwork, accessories and finishes. Detailed construction documents (floor plans, elevations, reflected ceiling plans, cabinetry sections and wall sections), study models and presentation boards were also required for the final design solution.

Reviews on Sydney Fritz’ Design Project:
“Sydney seemed to have a great understanding of the design style which can be seen in her furniture, material selections and in her programming information,” said Professor Ann Marie Ragan. “Her selections incorporated furniture pieces that were representative of the Post War/Mid-century designs and upholstered in rich colors and textures. Sydney’s selections of artwork provided vibrancy to the space and helped to connect the many interior design elements utilized throughout the space.”

A Student’s Perspective: Investing in Design
“If people are willing to put money into building a house, I think they should also set aside a portion of their budget for having the house designed professionally,” said Fritz. “If it’s done right, you won’t be buying new furniture every two years, you’ll be buying statement pieces or good, classic pieces that will last a long time and fit the scale of your house. Some people fill large spaces with furniture that’s too small and it can really diminish the space being used and limit the liveable space.”

“I think homeowners should also gain a designer’s advice on where light switches and lighting should go. The electricians will do what is most functional for them, but not always what is needed for you or the home’s design,” said Fritz. “Working with a designer can open up a world of new furniture lines and brands that most people have never heard of. Some of these lines are only available to designers and what they can offer can really transform a home. Designers work with many of the local and national stores to gain access to furniture, rug, drapery and fabric lines that can open up far more options than what you see in the stores.”


Interior Design vs. Retail Merchandising
“There are technically students from two different majors who currently enroll in the ADHM 251 Interior Design Studio I: Residential Studio course, interior design and retail merchandising with a focus in interior merchandising,” said Professor Ragan. “While these students take some of the same classes, these are very different majors, but both happen to be in the Department of Apparel, Design, and Hospitality Management.”

The Degree:
Interior Design

Distinguishing between Fritz’s major and interior design degrees, is the program coordinator for the interior design program, Dr. Susan Ray-Degges. “The interior design program is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). Here, students study design fundamentals, theory, process, communication, research and technology to identify and solve problems for a wide range of physical, interior environments for all individuals regardless of socioeconomic background or situation.”

Three Career Paths of Interior Design
As Dr. Ray-Degges explained, “There are three main career paths that are typically chosen by the design professional; residential, commercial and specialized design. Residential involves the design of personal living environments while commercial design deals with public and work environments. Design professionals may also pursue career opportunities in such specialized technical design areas as lighting, codes, product design or product representative.”

Sydney Fritz’s Major:
Fritz’s area of study is Retail Merchandising with Interior Merchandising focus in the Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design major. To explain Fritz’s focus, we spoke to the Apparel, Retail Merchandising, and Design (ARMD) program coordinator, Dr. Jaeha Lee at NDSU. “The retail merchandising option in the (ARMD) program provides students with a firm grasp of retail business strategy. Graduates hold positions as buyers, store managers, visual merchandisers, marketing managers, sales and account executives, and trend forecasters with many retail companies. The course of study includes classes on buying and merchandise planning, global retailing, promotion, global trade, consumer behavior, trend forecasting and the analysis of textile products. Students in the retail merchandising option can choose a focus in the areas of textile product merchandising or interior merchandising. If students choose a focus in the area of interior merchandising, they take several courses in interior design that provide the knowledge needed to enter retail interior careers.”

Interested in a career in Interior Design or Retail Merchandising?
Contact North Dakota State University, Fargo
Academic Advisor
Connie Eggers
E. Morrow Lebedeff Hall 270

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Edgewood Estates Elegance

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by M. Schleif Photography You don’t have to wait for an open house to see inside Designer Homes’ latest listing. Before guests arrived at…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by M. Schleif Photography

You don’t have to wait for an open house to see inside Designer Homes’ latest listing. Before guests arrived at our ribbon cutting, we took a quick tour through their stunning home in the beautiful Edgewood Estates of North Fargo. This luxury, craftsman-style rambler with finished basement, is a rare find in any well-established neighborhood.

Home Stats:
3708 Aspyn Lane North, Fargo
Square Footage: 4,080

Bedrooms: 5

Bathrooms: 3

  • Main floor master bedroom
  • Home is pre-wired for surround sound
  • 3-stall, insulated and sheet-rocked garage with floor drains and gas heater
  • No specials
  • Within walking distance of Edgewood Golf Course and Trollwood Park

With the open-concept layout of the main floor, the home’s great room boasts 10-foot-high ceilings with inset wood detailing. Designed to draw attention to it’s immaculate, craftsman detailing, the fireplace is surrounded by stone and crisp-white shiplap, a floating shelf mantel and custom built-ins for added storage and display.Perfect for a growing family or retirees, the main floor offers two additional bedrooms with two baths, mudroom, laundry and a custom locker system and message center, just off the garage entrance.

The master suite features custom wood ceiling details, a tiled shower, dual vanities and a spacious walk-in closet.

Designer Homes went above and beyond with this gourmet kitchen that’s custom-designed for both entertaining and daily function. A walk-in pantry, maple cabinetry, quartz countertops, subway tile backsplash and high-end appliances complete the space.The home offers a fully-finished basement with 9-foot ceilings, beautiful wood insets, stone accents and full-service wet bar. The lower level also features a theater area and two additional bedrooms with a full bathroom.

Want to attend an open house or request a private tour?
Office: 701.492.5057
Cell: 701.492.5055

See more photos and take a virtual tour at:

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A New Way of Redefining Value with Thomsen Homes

Words by Rebekah Stoll / Photos by Rebekah Stoll and Robb Siverson / Team photo by Dan Francis Photography Back from left: Heidi Toso, Britten Churchill, Shelby Gustafson, Josh Caroon…

Words by Rebekah Stoll / Photos by Rebekah Stoll and Robb Siverson / Team photo by Dan Francis Photography

Back from left: Heidi Toso, Britten Churchill, Shelby Gustafson, Josh Caroon
Front from left: Alyssa Asheim, Rebekah Stoll

The process of building your new home is an exciting time with a lot of decisions to be made. At Thomsen Homes, our goal is to make the building process fun and simplified, while still offering numerous selections. From the layout to the finishing touches, there are choices abound. When it comes time to decide on the selections that will turn your new house into a home, we have a professional team ready to help you make the decisions that best suit your lifestyle.

Wanting to ease the exterior design process by offering several curb appeal options, our Design and Studio Lead, Heidi Toso, Project Estimator Lead, Josh Caroon, and Architectural Drafter, Britten Churchill got to work. With the focus being able to present the client with different options, the goal was to introduce four new elevations for each of our floor plan offerings. These elevation options include a Modern, Craftsman, Colonial and Traditional style – the Traditional being the original style we offer.

The inspiration for this project came from multiple resources including the International Builders Show in Florida, common customization of client’s homes and upgrades of clients looking to have a more appealing or custom curb appeal. With both a challenging and rewarding task at hand, here were some of the obstacles these three faced.


“The most challenging aspect of the project was the task of coming up with a handful of visibly different elements for the designer to choose from while remaining cost-effective.
It’s a delicate balance between finding what people want and what they’re willing to pay for.”
– Britten Churchill, Architectural Drafter

“The first challenge was deciding on which three exterior options to design. Coming up with a Modern, Craftsman and Colonial elevation option, apart from our Traditional, was the goal. I wanted to present options that would appeal to any type of buyer. The second challenge was to make each floor plan its own, but to share common elements. I did this by incorporating different windows, materials, architectural details and colors.”
– Heidi Toso, Design and Studio Lead

“Trying to bring many of the details together from the design stage to a buildable product, all while keeping our ‘affordable luxury’ was the most challenging part, yet also most rewarding. We are expanding our product market and constantly innovating. This is one more way we are able to do that for the market.”
– Josh Caroon, Project Estimator Lead

Our Modern-style home is a favorite of many. The incorporation of a bold front door and black trimmed windows is an immediate attraction. The stark, clean profile of this exterior style gives it a contemporary feel. Bold, black garage doors with frosted windows containing clean straight lines create, yet another, major statement piece on our modern elevation. Featuring trimmed out doors and windows, our Modern-style homes give the feeling of being crisp, spare and sharp. The special finishes of this option include EFIS, which is similar to stucco, board and batten, upgraded exterior lights, and metal or wood accents.

Charming us with intricate, hand-crafted details, our Craftsman-style home is another new exterior option that has caught the eye of many. This style home features gable roof lines, overhanging eaves, exposed rafter tails and finishes that blend with the surroundings. A front door and porch that provides a gentle transition between the outside world and a cozy space inside. Reflecting a mixture of textures, these finishes incorporate elements such as shake, timber trusses, band accent details, and stone based or wood columns giving it a natural and hand-crafted feel.

Representing one of the most familiar styles of homes is our upscale, Colonial option. Using a decorative crown over the front door including a covered front entry supported by columns, our Colonial-style homes give the feeling of a “warm greeting”. The Colonial’s elements give these homes a fresh feel. Featuring multi-paned, double hung windows, corbels, shutters, window boxes, flower boxes and other small characteristics lead into the Colonial style.

The Traditional style includes a variety of elements such as upgraded LP siding and 4” band around all windows and doors on the front of the home. This style offers a classic appeal for any home buyer. White short panel garage doors, brick and custom window grids on the front of this home style for some great curb appeal.

Everyone has a style in mind when thinking of building their dream home. The challenging part is communicating that image, to watch it be brought to life. “These exterior options truly offer clients opportunities to turn their classic-style home into their own,” said Toso. To launch these new elevation options, Thomsen Homes built three winter models, two of them each featuring the Modern, Craftsman and Traditional styles. In a matter of just 15 days, all three sold. With the 2018 Spring Parade of Homes right around the corner, we have another great set of these elevation options waiting for you. No matter what your style may be, Thomsen Homes is sure to assist you every step of the way to achieve it, picture perfect. These elevation options are just the start of bringing that dream home of yours to life.

For more information, contact:
Thomsen Homes LLC
3168 41st Street S. Suite 1  Fargo
Facebook: Thomsen Homes LLC
Instagram: thomsenhomes

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