[Chris Hawley + Mike Dawson]
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Architectural photography by Scott Amundson
Portrait by Dan Francis Photography
Fargo Architect, Chris Hawley, has spent the last nine years building an architectural legacy with his name and talent on the line. Earlier this year, Hawley, along with his partner, Principal Designer Mike Dawson, made a thoughtful decision that would help the company continue to grow beyond its namesake. What was once Chris Hawley Architects, is now known as Craftwell, carrying on their impeccable reputation as a united team of far more than one.
A Hand-Crafted Collaboration
At the start of this year's Red River Valley Home & Garden show, Hawley and Dawson's team debuted their latest designs and their new identity, making official the company's transition to Craftwell Architecture + Construction. From the early days of working out of the backyard shed as a sole proprietor, Hawley welcomed the change and co-ownership with Dawson. Today, the company has grown into an award-winning and diverse group of 13 creatives, complete with a newly refreshed office space. Fusing a common passion for innovative architecture and construction, it only made sense to evolve with the times, representing their work as a unified team.
The name may be new, but the company is still the same full-service design/build firm rooted in the hand-made designs CHA had become known for. Craftwell was a meaningful choice, referring to "Craft" as both the art of architecture and the skillful execution of construction. "Well" represents both the depth of knowledge and quality of experience that has grown within their team. Combined, the two words reflect an attitude of innovation, working toward exceptional design and construction, while using sustainable practices.
"I was always really uncomfortable having my name on it; I think I was that way from the very beginning," said Hawley. "I just didn't ever think the business was going to get as big as it has. Once it got to a certain size, it felt like false advertising; it wasn't just one guy doing all of this work and it hasn't been for a long time. It’s about the collaborative effort required to be able to pull off a full-service design/build experience. It’s about a group of people with a common goal to do something extraordinary."
Sharing a Legacy
In the early years, Hawley would handle the bulk of the design, but things have evolved through educating staff and mentorship beyond the capabilities of one person. "The genetic makeup of who we are is based on those first years, but we continue to expand," said Dawson. "Now, Chris and I both do the design work and the Craftwell team is who makes the project happen. Craftwell is more than just designers and project managers. With both commercial and residential projects between Fargo, the lakes area, Minneapolis, and Western North Dakota, we can do every step from start to finish - that's what we want to be known for."
"I did a lot of soul-searching relative to growth. About five years ago, I brought in a consultant and he asked me if this was something I run, then close the doors someday, or is this what you'd call a legacy firm. It was a great question, and kind of stopped me in my tracks. With the work that's been done, and how important that is, I didn't want to be shortsighted; it has the potential to be passed down and hopefully become a pillar of boutique architecture in this part of the world. There was this idea of planning to find someone to step into a leadership role, and for me, Mike is that guy. Even when he was an employee, he has shared the burden of running the company and he's earned his spot."
"From the very beginning, I interviewed in Chris' laundry room, I worked out of his backyard, and over the years, we've been through a lot," said Dawson. "I'm proud of what we do, but I'm most proud of the relationship with Chris. He and his family are part of my family, and I'm part of theirs."
"We are a boutique firm; we're probably not going to design and build the next school, or do the next government project, but, we will probably do the next badass commercial project," said Hawley.
"The Cantilever Distillery & Hotel in International Falls is one of our proudest moments; we had never done anything like it. It's a brand new building, but they wanted it to feel like it was original to Ranier, Minnesota, which is a small sister town," said Hawley. "It's a 36-room boutique hotel wrapped around a distillery, which came with a lot of safety concerns. Mike designed the interiors and I shaped the exterior envelope. In some ways, the design was inspired by The Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis."
"Because the hotel is designed around the distillery (basically explosive jet fuel), all electronics and fire separations were of the utmost concern. This is the type of challenge that shows our team's ability to tackle anything and everything."
This project was completed for Mike Dawson's brother; it's an extensive remodel of a Mid-century home on historic 8th Street in Fargo, that was intended to feel as if was always original to the house.
A single-level home in Minot that was designed to accommodate Chris and Sarah Hawley’s nephew who relies on a wheelchair for mobility. The challenge was to design a completely ADA accessible home without it being the obvious driver to the project, ultimately providing the freedom to roam with his brothers.
Craftwell may be based in Fargo, but they often commute to the lakes area, taking on projects like this lake home on Big Cormorant.
A modernized exterior remodel to the home's front entry and back porch addition, located in Fargo.
This Pelican Lake home was a complete design/build for the Craftwell team. “At the heart of what we do lies a love for listening to our clients and translating their vision, ultimately into a representation of who they are,” said Hawley. "This project is a great example of timeless design with classic materials like pine and rusted corrugated metal; it could be 100 years old or it could be a year old."
"There is a lot of detail and forever materials used in this home and it's the result of a continuous evolution of thought with designing and building the home from start to finish," said Dawson.
Architecture vs. Construction
"It isn't just about designing, it's having to make decisions in construction that might affect the design, and vice versa," said Hawley. "Being disconnected from construction can make for an awful designer. An architect is essentially a tool for others to build, but I've always felt like we needed to be the ones in control of both. Too often design gets ripped out of projects for the sake of meeting a builder's preferences, and that's something we try hard not to do."
"Given the day and age, styles are being blended and there's no shortage of example imagery people can search out," said Dawson. "If someone comes in with a Pinterest board or pictures, we don't copy and paste that design. We look at all of the images, and really try to understand the client and figure out how to blend those styles." Dawson and Hawley consider chefs and architects like-minded in skillset, both experts in figuring out unique ways to utilize the ingredients that are available to them. "The best chefs and architects know how to transform the simplest ingredients," said Dawson.
"Mike and I definitely have an artistic bend to what we do. We talk about it from an artistic and aesthetic perspective just as much as we talk about the technical requirements. We often get hired on projects to fix the work of others, making the design look like it was assembled in a way that was intentional. That, to me, is at the heart of what we do and I'm looking forward to taking a small step back so I can oversee more projects; become less of a player, and more of a coach. There is one thing that I will probably always do, and Mike does as well, and that's sit down, tape a piece of paper to the drafting table and do something from scratch."
When asking Hawley if he can explain some of his favorite designs, he quickly noted just a few of the standouts that consumed years of his career; Sky Barn in Downtown Fargo, the Fargo Laundry building, Governor's residence, Starving Rooster and the AT Lofts in downtown Minot. "People would ask Frank Lloyd Wright what his favorite project was, and he always said, 'The next one.' I think that's the greatest line ever."
For more information, contact:
Craftwell Architecture + Construction
Midwest Nest Magazine features home designs in its monthly print and online publication.