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.
“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.”
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.”
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