Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Imagine touring four spectacular homes on Pelican Lake, visiting with the architects and owners, then being offered an array of drinks and a spectacular catered course at every stop. This is your look inside Plains Art Museum’s Progressive Architecture Dinner. Join Midwest Nest as we recap their September 8th event which introduced us to an entirely new approach to lake home living, architecture, art and cuisine.

Art + Architecture

A concept dreamed up by Sandy Thompson of Plains Art Museum, this four-home tour is custom designed to introduce the idea of art plus architecture. Along the way, 50 guests were invited to dine on locally prepared fare and admire the space, art and stunning lake views. Although the original plan was to tour via a five-pontoon armada, the day’s wind and whitecaps kept the tour traveling by dry land. Every home’s tour lasted one hour and ended with a conversation between the homeowner and the architect, with an open forum for guests to intervene and inquire. All proceeds from the tour sustain PlainsArt4All, the Museum’s free general admission initiative.

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Tour Stop #1: The Dawsons
To kick off the tour, guests arrived at noon to the spectacular home of Georgia and Tom Dawson where the first course of Hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails were served by Chef Jeff Reitz of Urban Foods. Guests were allowed to tour every inch of the home while the architect, Terry Stroh of T.L. Stroh Architects, offered input regarding the home’s timeless and coastal design.

About the Dawson Home:
Tom Dawson’s grandfather purchased the site in 1958, which is where Dawson was raised. For 17 years, Tom and Georgia Dawson spent their summers in a 900 square-foot cottage near the property, before opting to design their year-round lake home. Nine years ago, they reached out to longtime friends, Terry Stroh of T.L. Stroh Architects and contractor John Gunkelman, to make their coastal vision a reality. In their first meeting, Georgia Dawson had the entire first floor drawn out on a yellow legal pad, leaving the remainder of the design to Stroh. Taking into account the early drawings, the design needed to include equally beautiful spaces for their growing family.

When in town, the Dawsons reside in a 90-year-old home with dark wood, historic elements. So, for their lakeside retreat, the Dawsons requested the opposite; bright and airy with spacious windows to capture the view. Between their gorgeous regional art collection, pine ceilings, white-washed elements and metal fabrication by P2 Industries, every angle of the Dawson’s home is perfectly molded to embrace life on the water.

Upstairs, the Dawsons display an oversized photo book by the celebrated photographer, Annie Leibovitz. The book contains a collection of photos once featured in Vanity Fair.

From the Architect, Terry Stroh:
“Working with Tom and Georgia was always fun. Their design was more about capturing the outside than anything; they wanted something that had a little more of a Floridian vibe to it. The floor plan was centered around family and creating the spaces that they wanted, not what I wanted for them – that’s really what it’s all about.””We have two houses on the tour, the Dawsons and Schlossman’s and they happen to be best friends. I think any architect would say this; you don’t come out with a great house unless you have a great client – they’re all people with great taste and also kindness.”

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“When we first started talking about doing this Progressive Architecture Dinner, something that I had done in California – I sat down with Chris Hawley and asked him if he thought we could do that here. We’d talked about different venues and places that might be interesting, but it was Chris who said, “We have to do the lake. We could do five years of these events just on Pelican Lake.” This is the second year now, and it’s been a joy to put together.”
Sandy Thompson, Plains Art Museum

“I really love the connection that this event creates with architects. Architecture has
a strong relationship with the arts and this gives the architects a chance to really talk about their work in a fun and comfortable setting while building appreciation for their designs. These homes really push people’s sensibilities when it comes to design and many of them have well-curated art collections that we love featuring.”
Andy Maus, Plains Art Museum
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Tour Stop #2: The Hansons

The second stop on the tour led us through a home built on the idea of sparking creativity, expanding the view and redefining traditional lake home standards. Welcome to the year-round lake home of Pam and Dave Hanson with the architect, Craig Helenske of Helenske Design Group. This is a creative and cozy home, almost completely devoid of right angles…read on and we’ll explain. At this location, guests were treated to a fall-inspired salad course presented by VIP Chef, Anthony Bachman.

About the Hanson Home:
The Hansons purchased a small cottage on the property in 1987 for a mere $42,500. Hoping to salvage the existing cabin, they explored expansion and renovation options; eventually deciding it was a better investment to start from the ground up. The couple’s year-round lake home was completed four years ago with architect Craig Helenske of Helenske Design Group and contractor, Jon Anderson of Dreambuilder. There were only two prerequisites given to Helenske by Dave Hanson; it was to have a modern cabin feel with no square corners – he just simply doesn’t like them.

For the exterior, Helenske and Hanson opted for a green-black siding to give the home a robust contrast to the environment. They purposefully drifted away from the stereotypical, white and bright lake home. Their version is a simplified farmhouse style with a unique bow element on the front that expands the view from being a narrow 50-foot, to a panoramic view that’s nearly three times the lot’s width. In creating those angles, it allowed the two to shape several interesting environments within the home, like a quiet space for reflection and a separate space for socializing.

As president and CEO of H2M, an advertising agency in Downtown Fargo, Dave Hanson is a creative guru during the workweek and after hours. Throughout the home, guests enjoyed a collection of his own photographic art displayed on the walls. In the back guest quarters, Hanson, who’s also a musician and past sound technician, has his own recording studio located in the upper loft.

From the Architect, Craig Helenske:
“This was very much a collaborative experience between two stubborn creatives. Dave and I worked pretty closely and he had a vision of wanting to have a slatted acoustic, rosewood-style ceiling in here, so that became kind of the icon for the public space. Rather than a traditional lake or cottage-style ceiling that’s overused, the slatting gave the home a unique twist. When you take all of the furniture and people out of here, the home is just sheetrock and paint. It’s really Dave and Pam that put the character in this home, through their art, photography and music background. I was just given an opportunity to present their character through this design.”

“The lake experience is both inside and out; it’s about the wind, finding spaces to enjoy the morning sun – morning, afternoon and evening. There is a lot of opportunity for inside and outside living spaces, and we let those really shape the home. It was a great experience to exchange ideas back and forth and not just communicate ideas to the client. To have somebody that can respond back to you with just as much creative energy makes for a really positive experience.”

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Tour Stop #3: The Schlossmans

At our third stop on the tour, guests arrived at the extraordinary summer home of Mary and Bill Schlossman with the architect, Terry Stroh of T.L. Stroh Architects. For the entree, guests dined on Blackbird Woodfire’s specialty artisan pizzas. Chef Casey Absey and his team brought in their mobile woodfire oven and all were invited to choose one of their tried and true recipes or design their own woodfire masterpiece.

About the Schlossman Home:
Bill Schlossman grew up next door to the existing property, eventually purchasing the adjacent lake lot with small cottage from his brother. When it was time to rebuild, the couple contacted architect Terry Stroh, whom they had previously worked with on the design of their condo, as well as interior designer Lark Lomsdal. To mimic the yesteryear appeal of an authentic cabin or summer home, they opted for a design with more minimally-sized bedrooms and closets, leaving the majority of the square footage for post and beam communal areas.

Working through the details of the design with Stroh, Bill Schlossman had an idea to omit sheetrock in lieu of clear Douglas Fir siding and cedar ceiling beams. This concept would involve a labor-intensive process of perfecting each individual piece of wood, on every wall of the home, with no room for error. Kevin Pagel of Dakota Construction would do the painstaking fabrication with timbers sourced from Pierce Log Homes. Now 12-years old, the home’s extraordinary carpentry has maintained its original beauty and structural quality from day one.

Most of the photos throughout the home were taken by Bill Schlossman himself or influential locals like the late Fred Scheel Senior, a renowned photographer in his day. One treasured photo, framed high into the beams, is a sentimental image which inspired the lake home’s design; a photograph from 1928 with Bill Schlossman’s mother seated at the back of a small row boat, along with his grandfather and uncle.

“We love working with Terry. He originally came up with three different plans, but when we saw this one, it was fabulous,” said Mary Schlossman. “This was a great project for Bill and myself – we found out that we had a lot of similar tastes and it was really fun bringing those ideas to Terry. He found a really interesting book at Walker Art Center that had a lot of this style of house depicted in it and quite a few of our ideas were inspired by what we saw.”

“Working with a great architect like Terry on this project was critical for pulling together our vision,” said Bill Schlossman. “Some people are great designers, but Mary and I, as much as we enjoy looking at different things, can’t put it all together by ourselves. We also worked with an interior designer, Lark Lomsdal – she’s wonderful. She worked with Braaten Cabinets to design all of the cabinetry throughout the home.”

From the Architect, Terry Stroh:
“The whole idea of doing a post and beam structure and the concept of combining that with other conventional construction made this a really fun project. We actually built a model with the contractor, John Gunkelman and he used it during construction because it had every detail within this house. We still have it in our office and we use it to show clients what we can do.”

“As architects, we don’t always get to see the home once it’s lived in, but both the Dawsons and Schlossmans invited us down to see their furnished homes. Seeing what they bring into it and how they use the space, is really what makes it a home.”

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Tour Stop #4: The Promersbergers
Our final stop on the Progressive Architecture Dinner did not disappoint. Led down a tree enveloped path, guests were delighted to find brilliance in color and design at the lake home of Jan and Ken Promersberger, with architect Chris Hawley of Chris Hawley Architects. Just when we thought our day could not be any brighter, we were treated to a dessert course, including six different cheesecakes by Pastry Chef Kayla Houchin of Indulgence Baking Co.

About the Promersberger Home:
As owners of The Promersberger Company in Fargo, Ken and Jan have spent the majority of their lives brainstorming creative marketing solutions for clients all across the country. Designing a lake retreat unlike anything else is simply a more personal outlet to foster their creativity. Beyond the barn doors of the agency, they’re known for spearheading a unique farmstead-themed community concept called Rocking Horse Farm; another collaboration with Chris Hawley Architects.

After being on the lake for many years, the couple found this 50-foot lakefront, which they purchased within 15-minutes of walking the lot. They’d always envisioned a white exterior with a high pitch, but once on the lot, Ken Promersberger found a bright Scandinavian design with three offset cubes he needed to explore. Presenting the idea to Hawley, each cube would be in a different primary color and have their own view of the lake. To enhance the concept, Hawley suggested having the roof the same color as the siding, which became a game changer in achieving their Scandinavian exterior. These days, the Promersbergers have heard just about every colorful remark about their home, which is often fondly referred to by neighbor kids and their six grandchildren as the “Lego house” or “Crayola house”.

“The Airstream on the property was part of the site plan from the beginning. It could be used as an extra bedroom, but we just use it as storage. I’ve been in the design business all my life and to me, an Airstream is a piece of art,” said Ken Promersberger.

Surprisingly, the interior of this colorful abode is a stark contrast to what most outsiders would expect. “We knew for sure that we wanted the interior’s style to be minimalistic; we liked the wood and white elements,” said Jan Promersberger. “We’ve always had that style with every house we’ve had. It is kind of a surprise to walk up to the red, yellow and blue, then come inside and see things calm down a bit. Tom Dawson’s son, Mike, is also an architect with Chris and spent quite a bit of time out here – Mike and Chris were both wonderful to work with.”

Within the bright white and pitched ceiling design, the Promersbergers and Hawley incorporated acoustic tiles to absorb and reduce noise in their open-concept floor plan. Their next project is to hang a mobile made entirely of white acoustic tiles.

“We wanted to have a screened-in porch but we didn’t want to lose the depth, so that’s why we have all of these windows that can open. We get quite a breeze through here just by opening the patio doors and a couple of the cubed windows on each side,” explained Ken Promersberger.

Continuing their minimalist lake living, the Promersbergers purposefully left closets out of the design, instead, adopting a more Scandinavian approach of using wardrobes. Interestingly enough, two out of the four featured homes do not have closets; the Hansons also keep their lake life minimalistic.

From the Architect, Chris Hawley:
“Ken sent me a photo of a Scandinavian fishing village that was a group of gables all lined up in different colors; that’s really how this idea got started. The lot is skewed and every cube touches the setback – there’s also a five-foot grade change from front to back. It’s really interesting that every cube has its own zone; one is the public space, one semi-public and one more private. There’s a six-foot offset between the cubes, but we were able to use the same truss all the way through. It was quite the game; anything we did on one side to a cube, we had to do on the other side and stay within the lot line.

“There are a lot of windows, but the way it’s designed, they can see far more outside than other people can see in. The discussion about the window placement and quantity was probably the longest conversation that we had when we were designing the home.”

Naturally, not everyone in the neighborhood fell in love with their creative expression, but one neighbor, who did admire their creative spirits, gifted them with a piece of art that spoke volumes; affirming their decision to keep pushing the boundaries of conventional architecture and design.

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Interested in attending the next Progressive Architecture Dinner? 

Sandy Thompson / Director of Development
704 First Avenue North, Fargo
sthompson@plainsart.org
701.551.6122
plainsart.org