Midwest Nest Magazine

Midwest Nest Magazine

Culture, Entertaining, and Home Design

Las Vegas to Little Cormorant [ Sugar Island – Little Cormorant Lake, Minnesota ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography Fargo native Jack Lavelle is no stranger to creating hospitable surroundings. His company, PWI Construction, recently completed the remodel on…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Fargo native Jack Lavelle is no stranger to creating hospitable surroundings. His company, PWI Construction, recently completed the remodel on the last of 7,000 high-end hotel rooms on the Las Vegas strip. While he’s lived in Las Vegas for the past 18 years, Lavelle has since retired and headed home to the more serene surroundings of his lake home on Little Cormorant. Follow along as we take a tour of his “Sugar Shack” project that’s become a family affair.

Sugar Island on Little Cormorant Lake has been a prized getaway for Lavelle’s family for the past nine years. Returning to the area after an accomplished career managing the construction for a long list of high-end hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and prestigious boutiques, Lavelle wasn’t quite ready to hang up his hard hat.

The Making of the Sugar Shack

Four years ago, Lavelle’s family of contractors drew up a sketch and asked Designer Brent Behm of Ruki Modern to assist with the contemporary, lakefront build. Managing the project was Lavelle’s son-in-law, Eric Berg of Eric Berg Construction and son, Ryan Lavelle, of Invecta Construction Management. With a family of experienced contractors at the helm, Lavelle’s lake home became exactly what he asked for – an informal retreat centered around family, friends and fun.

From left, Brent Behm of Ruki Modern, Ryan Lavelle, Jack Lavelle (not shown, Eric and Jessie Berg)

Architectural Ambitions

“The whole front of the house is all public space and the bedrooms are just a minimal line of five bedrooms along the back,” said Behm. “It’s a super simple concept- everything is about the social aspect and communal space overlooking the lake. The form of the building really followed the program of the building – the lake view first and then the bedrooms being secondary in the purpose. This is what evolved out of that purpose.”

“Ryan and Eric really simplified the construction and kept the project at a reasonable budget. The guys didn’t have any grand vision of what the exterior should look like, this is just how it evolved after all of the plan elements were met,” said Behm. “The goal for this home was pretty loosely defined, it was mainly about providing as many bedrooms as we could and a large space to entertain. From the back, when you’re driving up, the house doesn’t look like anything extravagant, but it really climbs up toward the lake.”

“I think he’s got the right idea for how to live at the lake. Most people want their bedroom window overlooking the lake. For Jack, he said the opposite, ‘Why would I want my bedroom overlooking the lake? That’s where I sleep’.”

Brent Behm, Ruki Modern

The More, The Merrier

With three grown children and seven grandkids, Lavelle’s lake home is typically hopping with family, friends, kids and dogs. Between the home, the camper he parks in the side yard and the three sheds, his lakeside property easily sleeps 30. Not only does he not mind the crowds, he encourages them. Each summer, Lavelle throws a “Sugar Shack” bash for 150 of his closest friends and family, complete with a food truck and his son Ryan Lavelle’s band, Three Legged Horse, entertaining the crowds.

To accommodate the guests he’s happy to entertain, the bedrooms were kept modest and efficient, tucked away in a quiet corridor at the back of the lake home. “In terms of the bedrooms, it first started out as an idea for a separate building, but that’s kind of what it is,” said Ryan Lavelle. “The five bedrooms, two bathrooms, mudroom and laundry located in the back, can be completely closed off from the common space. Guests who are visiting for the day, usually don’t ever see that part of the home, which isn’t all that common.”

Sugar Shack Shakedown

Residing on acreage equivalent to three spacious lake lots, Lavelle doesn’t waste an inch. One-level living and a commercial-sized deck, with Western Sky rocks from Wyoming, wraps the entire front of the 2,996 square-foot lake home, stretching out to a massive front yard. Entertaining the crowds is made easier with a spring-fed lake on 400 feet of beach, a treehouse, volleyball court, pickleball court, guest sheds, fire pit and enough space to accommodate multiple campers and tents.

Entertaining well is a top priority for Jack Lavelle and his family. Not surprisingly, he’s even designated a theme song for his Sugar Shack retreat. “I lived in Vail for a year-and-a-half and became a fan of the band Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. I’ve decided our theme is, ‘I Need Never Get Old’,” laughed Lavelle. “Now, my kids listen to them and Ryan even learned one of their songs – it’s his band’s most requested song.”

Garden Shed Getaways

The Lavelle family built the three sheds four years ago and the grandkids named them the Eagle’s Nest, Bear’s Den and Butterfly Cabana – the Bear’s Den is where Lavelle prefers to sleep. “The Bear’s Den was originally a garden shed that we made into my bedroom,” laughed Lavelle. “In the others, there are two queen beds in each and they’re for guests and mainly the kids. Jay Ray from West Fargo, did the custom chainsaw carvings in front of each one.”

Swanky Interiors

“We knew we would have a heavy traffic flow in and out between the common space and the exterior space,” said Ryan Lavelle. “That was the factor that helped define this room to make it big, tall and provide the best view possible to see the sky and the lake.”

If the furniture looks familiar to you, chances are you’ve visited one of the hotels that Lavelle has built or remodeled. The majority of the furnishings and materials used in the house were salvaged from remodels in high-end, Rodeo Drive boutiques and swanky resorts.

Lavelle’s daughter, Jessie, and wife to Eric Berg, spearheaded the interior’s design with with assistance from her brother, Ryan Lavelle. Jessie chose all of the finishes including lighting, cabinetry, paint and fixtures, while Ryan added interesting features like the green-stained dooring throughout. Jessie was also tasked with the challenge of figuring out how to place all of her father’s salvaged finds and fuse them with newer decor items.

“Our dining room table came from a designer boutique on Rodeo Drive,” said Lavelle. “They had painted it shiny black, almost like a granite. We didn’t even know what was underneath until we got it from L.A. to my shop in Vegas where I had my guys strip it down and we realized it was wood.”

In the Lavelle lake home, even the kitchen makes use of some unexpected materials. “The granite came from a Las Vegas jeweler that had tried it out as flooring, but then changed their mind when they did the slip testing,” said Berg. “I worked with Granites Unlimited to template, cut and install it for kitchen countertops.”

Low-Maintenance Lake Living

Although Lavelle just recently retired, he still loves to travel, so for the exterior, durability and minimum maintenance was necessary. Everything on the exterior is done in a maintenance-free Azek composite material that was special ordered through Crane Johnson. Since this material had a little more natural variation of color like real wood, the team also used Azek as horizontal siding to distinguish the side entrance.

Due to the height and the way the roof pitches upward, the team used commercial storefront windows to achieve an unobstructed view. “Really, the best part of this design was bringing the outside in with that 30 feet of glass looking toward the lake,” said Eric Berg. “It had it’s challenging times, but it was really rewarding because our whole family now gets to enjoy it.”

Find the Finishes:

Design – Ruki Modern

Contractor – Eric Berg Construction, Inc.
Contractor – Invecta Construction Management

Cabinetry – Quality Cabinets

Chainsaw carvings – Jay Ray (jayraycarves.com)

Aztek siding and decking – Crane Johnson

Millwork – Simonson’s, install by Eric Berg Construction, Inc.

Countertops – install and template by Granite’s Unlimited

Tile – I’ll Tile & Stone

Carpet – Floor to Ceiling Carpet One



For more information, contact: 

Eric Berg Construction, Inc.

1257 3rd Street North, Fargo



Invecta Construction Management

Ryan Lavelle




Ruki Modern

Brent Behm




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Inside the 2018 Extra/Ordinary Gala by Red Brick Boutique [Thumper Pond, Ottertail, Minnesota]

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Shannon Rae Photography On June 16, Midwest Nest Magazine had the pleasure of attending and sponsoring one of the summer’s most anticipated style…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Shannon Rae Photography

On June 16, Midwest Nest Magazine had the pleasure of attending and sponsoring one of the summer’s most anticipated style shows, the Extra/Ordinary Gala. This year, the beautiful Thumper Pond Resort in Ottertail, Minn., hosted a sold-out audience who were pampered with the area’s finest cuisine, live music, shopping and a runway fashion show.

Each year, the founders of Ottertail’s Red Brick Boutique, spearheaded by owner Paula Thiel, spend months preparing for the festivities. Models arrive from all over the region, followed by hair and makeup experts who are ready to create a runway show worthy of New York Fashion Week.

Making a wild impression on guests were a few lemur and parrot friends from the Trowbridge Creek Zoo in Vergas, Minn. Staging the event entrance and decor was The White House Co. of Fargo.

Paula Thiel: Red Brick Boutique owner and event founder
“I love the production itself, it’s beautiful and meaningful. The whole goal of the show is to release the Summer Collection, of course, but something deeper than that always resonates with show-goers. I always hear from women in tears after the show, telling me it’s inspired them to pursue their best lives or to chase after a goal or change something that’s been hindering them.”

“My true goal in hosting this show is to inspire on whatever level I can. It’s funny how much of an effect music and fashion have on our lives in this tiny little town, but I love it.”

“This idea to bring fashion to the forefront has followed me since I was a child. So the idea behind the show is to put together outfits that actually work in our daily lives, not just in theory. Then we display them in a creative way that creates a fun, memorable night. Once you add live music, dance, food and shopping, you just get this dynamic that’s completely amazing.”


For more information, contact:
Red Brick Boutique
107 West Main Street, Ottertail, M.N.




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Dakota Vines Vineyard & Winery

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by M.Schleif Photography With life-long careers devoted to education, Deb and Bob Grosz have been planting the seed to pursue a passion outside of…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by M.Schleif Photography

With life-long careers devoted to education, Deb and Bob Grosz have been planting the seed to pursue a passion outside of the classroom. After 14 years of studying the art of winemaking, their dream would finally become reality in a soybean field near Colfax, North Dakota. On June 15, the Groszes gathered their 5,780 bottles of wine and opened the doors to Dakota Vines Vineyard and Winery. With Crooked Lane Farm neighboring their vineyard from across the river, they may have just created Fargo-Moorhead’s newest day-trip destination.

In their nearly 33 years of marriage, Bob and Deb Grosz had spent much of their lives consumed with the activities of three children and busy careers. Now, empty-nesters, they’ve refocused their spare time and energy into a longtime passion for winemaking. “We are thrilled that our kids and family have been so supportive,” said Deb Grosz. “Our son in L.A. and youngest son from Minneapolis came down for the opening while our oldest daughter who lives in Fargo has been out here helping us. A big reason why we’re doing this is that they were so active and we were so busy when they were younger – it all just comes to a halt when the kids are moved out, it’s a huge change.”

“Some people buy a sports car and we just took a hobby and turned it into a business,” laughed Bob Grosz.

Turn at the Wine Barrel
Just off of I-29 near rural Colfax, you can’t miss Dakota Vine’s cedar wine barrel sign. Built by Bob Grosz and his friend, Todd Johnson, the two created an inviting backdrop for the custom metal logo by Red River Metal Art.

On the Grow
Starting with an at-home winemaking kit, Bob Grosz became enthralled with all aspects of the science and process behind the wine. “We had some grapes that were frozen, some from Washington and some from California and we continued to work with that,” said Bob Grosz. “Then, we met Rodney Hogen at Red Trail Vineyard in Buffalo and I started working with him. The only thing I asked was that I get to take some of the grapes with me after I’d help him prune or harvest. About three years ago, we decided this was something we wanted to pursue, so I’ve been working on earning a degree in Enology, or winemaking. It’s a two-year associates degree through the VESTA program (vesta-usa.org) with classes offered through various universities and all of them require some type of a practicum. I’ve been in wineries across Minnesota and Wisconsin, along with lab work in Cleveland. We decided that if this is what we wanted to do, we had better be good at it before we take that next step.”

True North Dakota Wines
Since their vines are newly planted and won’t produce for three years, the couple has been sourcing their grapes from other vineyards and the University of Minnesota. “We will only offer wines from grapes that can be grown right here in North Dakota,” said Deb Grosz. “You won’t find a Cabernet, Merlot or Chardonnay here because those grapes don’t grow in this climate. So, even though we could have used any grape we wanted this time, we still wanted our wines to reflect what can actually be produced in North Dakota.”

“For our licensing, by year five we have to be using 50% North Dakota product, but our goal is to get there much faster. Our hope is that more local vineyards will open and start growing so that we can buy more local product,” said Bob Grosz.

Tasting Room
To kick off their opening summer, Dakota Vines is offering two spectacular reds, two whites and three fruit wines in apple, pear and plum varietals. For those who prefer their hops over grapes, the tasting room will also feature locally-made craft beers from Fargo Brewing Company and other local breweries.

In the tasting room, the Groszes offer guests small glimpses of their personal life, infusing the space with rustic and schoolhouse elements in cozy, country surroundings. “With both of us being educators, we thought school chairs were appropriate,” said Deb Grosz. “We found the barn door and school chairs at Habitat Restore. We just wanted to pull it all together and make it reflect our life.”

Bob Grosz designed and drew-up the entire winery, working closely with Wahpeton, N.D., contractor, Matt Kinneberg. Kinneberg was able to repurpose the Grosz’s old fence boards to create the focal point above the fireplace and the beams in the ceiling.

“It’s so much fun to be at this point now – we had this in our imagination and now to see it is amazing,” said Deb Grosz. “My step-dad, Duane Radeck, actually built the bar and wine storage for us. We wanted the traditional wine x’s. He and my mom, Carolyn, have been very helpful and they didn’t miss a single work session for bottling.”

ND Wine Time!
Wine tasting options consist of five samples for $5.00, by the glass or by the bottle. Prices range from $17.99 to $18.99 per bottle. With names reflective of their North Dakota heritage, guests will find wines like Roughrider, Prairie Sky, Mighty Bison, Lake Agassiz, County Road and Peace Garden.

Labeled on the barn door are descriptions of each wine and the grape variety or fruit, such as Marquette, Frontenac, La Crescent and Brianna. These grapes have been harvested from the University of Minnesota’s program as well as independent breeders.

Tasty Pairings
This summer, Dakota Vines will be offering small plates with crackers and cheeses for anyone touring or tasting. “We do have a very small commercial kitchen in the back, so as we expand and go into year two, we have a few ideas to create special dinner nights, possibly once a week on Saturday nights,” said Deb Grosz.

The Wine Wall
Near the fireplace, the Groszes have created their own “Wine Wall”, featuring and showing support for other local wineries and cider houses who have offered valuable advice throughout their winemaking journey. “It was amazing to me when we let the other wineries know that we wanted to do this, they were all in,” said Deb Grosz. “They were so excited and said, please do it. It hasn’t been a competitive scenario, really just a collaboration. I know there are people in this community who still don’t know there are any wineries in North Dakota. Hopefully, they see this wall and want to take a road trip.”

“We visited quite a few local wineries as well as an array of wineries in Napa, but locally, our friends at 4e and Red Trail Vineyards have been so supportive and helpful,” said Deb Grosz. “They’ve also given their time. We’ve had so many people out here helping us bottle; crews of seven to eight people for six days in a row. All we had to do was ask, and keep feeding them, and they just kept coming to help.”

“It’s like our friends at 4e Winery in Mapleton said, ‘When you have a winery, you don’t need a gym membership,'” laughed Bob Grosz.

“Someone actually said to us, ‘Not only do we want you to do this, but we want you to do it well,'” said Deb Grosz. “That really spoke to me. He explained that if our wine is the only North Dakota wine that someone has tried, it has to be good. We don’t want anyone thinking that North Dakota can’t produce good wine – so, it’s really important that all of our local wineries do well.”

The Gallery
Just beyond the tasting room, the space overlooking the river is penned “The Gallery”. The rentable room is designed to accommodate up to 40 people for nearly any type of gathering.

The Gallery’s crisp, white walls feature an array of patchwork quilt art by local artists and watercolor art by Barbara Benda Nagle and Bev Benda. “Years ago, Barbara was our daughter’s fifth-grade teacher, so we asked her if she would like to be our first art show,” said Deb Grosz. Throughout the summer, the couple plan to rotate in new artists’ work so guests will have a unique experience with each visit.

Outside of the gallery, the Groszes have designed a small patio where guests can enjoy a dose of country life, river views and wildflowers. In future plans, the Groszes are working to design a small gazebo or pavilion-like structure closer to the river, where guests can enjoy live music or relax with a glass of wine.

Across the River and Through the Woods…
Just across the river, Mary Jo Schmid and Brent Larson, owners of Crooked Lane Farm, have a beautiful event and wedding venue with a 1940s barn. “Mary Jo and I were in grad school together at UND and our kids were in theatre activities together, so we’ve known them for a long time and asked them if they’d ever want to part with some land. They have been super helpful and really saw this as a good companion business for their own,” said Deb Grosz. “We feel the same way about them; we can work with brides and grooms for their wine and we’ll be setting up a table to sell wine at their concerts that they host every other Thursday, all summer. This year, our time and effort will be focused on the tasting room and the concerts at Crooked Lane Farm.”

Open for Tastings & Tours!
Dakota Vines is now open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day weekend. Guests can tour the tasting room, gallery and production room with Letina tanks.

Once the snow flies, make sure to check their Facebook page and website for updates on special dates for holiday shopping events and exclusive dining nights. “For the holidays, we have discussed partnering with Crooked Lane Farm to do a sleigh ride which would bring guests back to our tasting room for a mulled wine and provide a place to warm up and enjoy the season,” said Deb Grosz. “With river right outside our door, it’s really beautiful here in the winter.” Next summer, you can expect Dakota Vines to open their tasting room as early as Memorial weekend.

Get to Know: Bob Grosz – Vineyard and Winery Manager, Winemaker
Bob Grosz has over 25 years of experience in public school education as a teacher, principal and associate superintendent. He has been the Associate Superintendent for the Fargo Public Schools for the past 10 years and has been an adjunct professor at North Dakota State University for the past five years, teaching classes to master’s level students. Bob Grosz has a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of North Dakota and is currently working on a degree in Enology (winemaking).

Get to Know: Deb Grosz – Sales and Tasting Room Manager
Deb Grosz began her career in 1989 as a 4th-grade teacher and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of North Dakota. She spent ten years in various elementary and middle school classrooms prior to her current role at Concordia College as the Director of Field Experiences where she teaches children’s literature and various seminars to pre-service teachers.

Hit the road for a North Dakota Tasting Tour!

4e Winery
3766 156th Avenue S.E., Mapleton, N.D.
Red Trail Vineyard
3510 142nd Avenue S.E., Buffalo, N.D.
redtrailvineyards.comMaple River Winery (Open year-round)
628 Front Street, Casselton, N.D.
mapleriverwinery.comRookery Rock Winery (New!)
3660 147th Avenue S.E., Wheatland, N.D.

Point of View Winery
8413 19th Avenue N.W., Burlington, N.D.

Wild Grape Winery and Kesselring Vineyards (Vineyard tours by appointment)
5720 160th Avenue S.E., Kindred, N.D.
kesselringvineyard.wordpress.comPrairie Rose Meadery
3101 39th Street S., Fargo, N.D.
prairierosemeadery.comDakota Sun Gardens Winery
955 73rd Avenue N.E., Carrington, N.D.

Bear Creek Winery
8800 South 25th Street, Fargo, N.D.

Prairiewood Winery
12443 68th Street S.E., Lisbon, N.D.

Cottonwood Cider House
14481 25th Street S.E., Ayr, N.D.

Wild Terra Cider & Brewing
6 – 12th Street North, Fargo, N.D.


For more information, contact:
Dakota Vines Vineyard and Winery
17355 County Road 4, Colfax, N.D. (I-29 toward Abercrombie – exit 37)
(Open for tastings and tours through mid-September)
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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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