Blain & Kelsi Mikkonen | Grant Koenig & Rebeka Stoll
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M.Schleif Photography
While it's not unusual for us to showcase Grain Designs' wood projects on the job site, at The Pines venue, in their workshop, or at their store, we've yet to show you a peek inside their personal lives. This month, we caught up with founders, Grant Koenig and Blain Mikkonen to see how their life's work relates to their own homes. From Koenig and his girlfriend, Rebekah Stoll's take on a modern, rural retreat, to Blain and Kelsi Mikkonen's version of farmhouse style in the city - we'll show you how Grain Designs' custom wood pieces find success in two contrasting styles.
House #1: Farmhouse in the City
[ Grain Designs: Blain & Kelsi Mikkonen ]
West of Sheyenne Street, you'll find the lovely home of Blain and Kelsi Mikkonen, in West Fargo's Eaglewood development. Still reveling in the honeymoon phase, their style is a love affair fusing Kelsi's farmhouse chic with Blain's rustic wood design.
Grain Designs at Home
The Mikkonen's residence is a charming, three-level townhome, built by Jordahl Custom Homes, with the added appeal of no backyard neighbors and pond views. Blain is an NDSU Architecture graduate who started Grain Designs in 2013 with fellow Architecture student and friend, Grant Koenig. He's originally from Frederick, S.D., while his wife, Kelsi is from Fullerton, N.D., growing up just twelve miles apart. Kelsi is currently the Event Coordinator and Office Assistant at Hatch Realty in Fargo. After their wedding, four-and-a-half years ago, they started building their life together, along with Kelsi's 14-year-old chihuahua, Halle.
Taking a tour through their current home, it's easy to see that the Mikkonen's home base tells a tale of Grain Designs’ first day to the current day - incorporating some of the very first pieces they made and some of the most popular today. While Blain has a preference toward minimal decor, Kelsi loves adding in touches of chic farmhouse accessories from a variety of stores, including their own Grain Designs Home & Office store, and their retail neighbor, Eco Chic Home.
Their dining room table was initially designed for staging in a model home and eventually went to a trade show; this is where Kelsi spotted it and immediately claimed it for their home. The table is designed with old Douglas Fir that had been whitewashed, so Blain and the team refinished it with a darker stain, allowing subtle remnants of the whitewash to show through.
The one-of-a-kind bar cart and custom TV stand were made with salvaged material from the old Quality Bakery. The cart is something Grain Designs has been able to recreate in various designs, making it a popular item in the store.
"Some of the pieces we chose to live with are sentimental because they were some of the first things we built, while others, our wives or girlfriends fell in love with and claimed against our will," laughed Blain. "The coffee table was the very first coffee table we ever designed. We built it in my apartment garage when we started in 2013. We didn't have a store then, and I think it went to a couple of different shows and didn't sell, so we ended up putting it in our house."
Function + Design
"We custom-built the laundry door and master closet door so that they're both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The functionality of it is usually what drives the project," said Blain. "We needed to gain more space for the laundry room, so a custom barn door just made sense. Also, our closet was starting to feel small and the door swung in, making part of the space almost unusable. When I took the door off and replaced it with a sliding barn door, we gained that space back and designed it with a full-length mirror feature; this is something I'd like to do in our next master bedroom as well."
"A lot of our designs are based on solving unique challenges or design solutions in our own homes. Rather than buying something off the showroom floor, we choose to make furniture or artwork specific to the space. This gives us the opportunity to test out the quality of each piece, over time with real-life wear and tear," said Blain.
This year, the Mikkonen's are getting ready to start a new chapter, with future plans to build a single-family home near Horace that will feature a variety of custom designs and finishes completed by Blain and the Grain Designs team; once again, planning to bring his life's passion home, where the heart is.
House #2: Contemporary in the Country
[ Grain Designs: Grant Koenig & Rebekah Stoll ]
Photography by M.Schleif Photography
Before photos provided by Rebekah Stoll
After four years of residing above Grain Designs' South Fargo workshop, Grant Koenig and Rebekah Stoll were ready to start the search for their new apartment. Little did they know, 48 hours later, they'd be buying a 1990 home in Horace, N.D., and starting an eight-month renovation. With a preference for modern and high-contrast styling, it was time to leave behind their city life and find a way to reimagine rural.
Before the Renovation
Grain Designs at Home
While Koenig and Stoll have been together for four years, buying a home was an adventure they didn't see coming. Koenig, an NDSU Architecture grad, grew up in Fargo and is a founding partner of Grain Designs, along with Blain Mikkonen. Stoll grew up in Dent, Minn., and is the founder of Lifted Content at Lifted Content Marketing. Together, they're a dynamic duo, who seemed to have mastered the art of renovation, on their very first try.
The couple closed on their home last April and started the demolition process that same day, tearing down all of the upper cabinets and taking out nearly all of the flooring. Investing their own sweat equity, the two worked together on nearly every aspect, finding ways to modernize the home while using Koenig's design expertise to handmake furnishings, art, shelving and decor. While some see Grain Designs work and relate it to rustic, Koenig and Stoll have their own take, creating a modern design that relies on the warmth of wood tones to contrast the dark modern lines and crisp gallery whites.
An area that was once home to a small coat closet and dark entry, is now a modern, welcoming foyer with clean white shiplap and an impressive half accent wall constructed of glass and custom metal. Although beautiful, it's also a functional feature that Koenig and Stoll designed to allow natural light to flow throughout the home. Before they could recreate the space, Koenig had to remove the existing French doors and reconfigure the path leading to the office and den. Each of the accents, like the reclaimed wood bench, coat hooks and wall-hanging shelf were custom created by Koenig or Grain Designs.
"Our style would probably be considered heavy contrast - using a mix of black, white, wood and more natural tones," said Koenig. To achieve this vision, the two installed recessed lights to help modernize the space, as well as fresh coats of paint on every inch of the existing trim, crown molding, and doors. The heavily textured walls were scraped and sanded, making way for new paint in every room. They also tore out most of the flooring, replacing the main areas with Home Depot's LifeProof wood laminate.
At Home at Work
Anchoring the new office and den space, Stoll chose a rich hue of green to coordinate with Koenig's floating shelves, wall art, and artisanal furnishings from Grain Designs Home & Office. Koenig custom-built the desk and reclaimed magazine rack, adding in repurposed wall decor like the cut metal tile that came from a building on Stoll's grandpa's farm, complete with rusted bullet holes.
Modern meets Rural
Basing their design on a wide-open concept and gallery white walls, Stoll and Koenig created an ultra-comfortable living space with mod lines and personal flair. Setting the tone is a wood accent wall that Koenig installed using vertical planks of reclaimed Douglas Fir flooring. As a central gathering space, it's also home to custom Grain Designs pieces like the reclaimed white oak coffee table and the wood block pedestal side table.
Stoll created the living room's custom artwork, with each choosing a favorite recording artist, then photoshopping the image and enclosing them in IKEA frames. If you're unfamiliar with their choices, Koenig chose a Kanye West image, and Stoll chose Lana Del Rey.
You'll also find a few sentimental pieces like Koenig's North Dakota Bull Moose skull, a tag he was drawn for back in high school, and a once-in-a-lifetime, rare opportunity.
To complete the room, the two chose a Mid-century modern, upholstered side chair by Four Hands, a line carried at the Grain Designs Home & Office. "A lot of people think of Grain Designs as being somewhat rustic, but I think Grant and I are both a lot more modern. So, with the renovation, we wanted to show what it looks like when you put a modern style with their signature pieces," said Stoll.
Creativity in the Kitchen
Giving their kitchen a major overhaul, Stoll and Koenig removed rows of cabinets, replacing the overhead ones with white pine floating shelves. Stoll took on the project of refinishing the old cabinetry in a matte black finish, while Koenig built a new range hood painted in the same hue. The cabinetry was no easy task; they had previously been painted a dark grey, but the existing stain had already begun to work its way to the surface.
When they moved in, the existing tile and countertops had already been updated, so this was one area they did not need to invest in. They also saved money by ordering their lighting, cabinet hardware, hinges and chairs on Amazon. Much of the kitchen's accessories came from either Eco Chic Home or Grain Designs Home & Office, including the maple cutting boards.
Handcrafted for Gathering
Stoll and Koenig's dining room is officially open for gatherings. At the center of the room is a custom white oak table, built by Grain Designs to seat up to 10. Together, they've updated every inch, including replacing the lighting and handpicking accessories from the Grain Designs store and their retail neighbor, Eco Chic Home. Koenig even built the corner lamp, designed with copper pipes and a piece of grain auger from Blain Mikkonen's farm.
Creating a handcrafted cocktail corner, Stoll and Koenig built a multi-functioning sidebar that works the angles and creates a beautiful waterfall edge. Symmetrical placement sends the focus to floating shelves with custom-fabricated metal bars and a wine rack that is also a popular item in their store.
Mastering the Project
Koenig and Stoll have completed nearly an entire house worth of projects in just a few short months, keeping the master suite for the grand finale. According to the couple, this room is in mid-renovation, with plans in place to reconfigure the walk-in closet and bath over the next few months. Although, they couldn't help but take on a few epics projects, like the bedroom's paint, trim, lighting, reclaimed console, and accent wall headboard with inset, floating shelves. They've also brought in furnishings from Grain Design Home & Office and stools from Eco Chic Home.
Be our Guest!
Completed even before the master, Stoll and Koenig prioritized the guest experience, creating a unique and handcrafted room to make visitors feel right at home. While Stoll designed the cozy guest room in artisan-style, Koenig built the reclaimed platform bed, metal coat rack, drop lighting system, block side tables and mirrored barn door. To complete the retreat, they designed a white pine shelving unit, coordinating with Mid-Century modern furnishings from the store.
"We've said several times how lucky it is that we have the same style - there are a lot of things he'll come up with and ask my thoughts on. Thankfully, we pretty much agree on everything when it comes to style, which is pretty rare," said Stoll. "We've also spent a lot of time figuring out how we want to use the space, which has really dictated how we built it out. Cosmetically, we had a vision, but I think function before aesthetics, and she brings the aesthetics, so we kind of meld the two and work together really well," said Koenig.
"It's hard to believe that over the course of 48 hours, we went from looking for an apartment to buying a home in Horace. The location out here is so nice; it's just far enough away from the city and our neighbors have chickens, goats and sheep. It's also a straight shot west to The Pines, which is only about five minutes away. I even love the gravel road; I don't want them to pave it," laughed Stoll.
Crafting Curb Appeal
After every interior project is wrapped up, Koenig and Stoll plan to take on the exterior and detached garage with back gym, giving it high-contrast curb appeal with black and cedar siding features. This summer, they also have plans to replace the windows and roof, eventually addressing their landscape design on the 3/4 acre lot.
Grain Designs at Work
Beyond their personal homes and renovations, the guys of Grains Designs are busier than ever, running their South Fargo store, and designing furnishings and custom wood installations. Outside of their craft, their team is planning for over 10 corporate events and over 70 upcoming weddings, booked at their architectural, barn-style venue, The Pines. While last summer they completed the renovations on the property's farmhouse, with bridal suite and groom's lounge, this summer, they plan to complete the 17 acres of rural landscape. Visit, thepinesvenue.com, for more information.
For more information, contact:
Grain Designs Home & Office
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