[Plains Art Museum]
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography
Hosted by Plains Art Museum, the Fourth Annual Progressive Architecture Dinner has quickly become one of the area's most captivating events. This year, on August 29, two flights of 30 tour-goers captured the last of summer's grace, enjoying local cuisine while experiencing the fusion of art and architecture. Outside of the museum's walls, three stunning homes led us on a socially-distanced adventure from Oxbow to Downtown Fargo, and finally to North Fargo's hidden treasure, Highland Park. We'll take you inside the homes, introduce you to the owners, and find out how the architects and designers made these extraordinary visions come to life.
Art + Architecture
In its fourth year, this highly anticipated event was once again curated by Sandy Thompson, Director of Development, and Andy Maus, Director & CEO at Plains Art Museum. The two have a proven knack for finding the unusual and sophisticated, most often the environments that many of us could only dream of residing in. These are the homes that push the envelope to reinvent the norm, creating something that needs to be experienced in order to be understood.
The three-home tour was designed to introduce the community to the concept of applying art into architecture; honoring artistry outside the walls of Plains Art Museum. Every home's tour lasts roughly one hour and ends with a conversation between the homeowner and the architect, offering an open forum for guests to inquire. All proceeds from the tour sustain PlainsArt4All, the Museum’s free general admission initiative.
Scaled Down & Socially Distanced
To provide appropriate social distancing, Thompson and Maus split the 60-person tour into two flights of 30, even providing care packages with sanitation essentials. Masks were required, and sanitation stations were placed in each of the three homes. For dining, guests were allowed to remove their mask, but were given individual portions of every course, with plenty of outdoor seating to stay safely distanced.
This year's event was all about pushing boundaries; boundaries in architecture, location, and our country's current state. "We wanted to be really clear about the health issues so that's why we created the goodie bags to provide hand sanitizer, masks, and that six-foot length of string to give people a really good idea of how far six feet is. We also included a notebook that's been designed and printed by one of our artists, Amanda Heidt."
Tour #1: Ruki Modern + Brandi Youngmark Interior Design + Radiant Homes | Oxbow
About the Home:
This contemporary home near Oxbow's Country Club was an architectural passion project for homeowners Jamie and Nate Evenson. They're both able to work from anywhere, so they've spent the past few years splitting their time, living and working between their Las Vegas and Fargo home. To reflect their personal style, their goal was to merge inspiration from the contemporary mountain homes they loved in California, with a high-style version of Vegas glam.
The contemporary exterior was designed by Ruki Modern using durable, commercial-grade, and low maintenance materials such as architectural metal panels and a wood-look aluminum. "We were designing in a neighborhood that's somewhat restrictive - so we scaled our roof design back to appease the covenants," said Brent Behm of Ruki Modern. While it is definitely more contemporary than the neighboring properties, it's not jarring, visually."
During construction, the Evensons were only in Fargo a handful of times, so almost all of the home's design and build came together based on a couple of in-person meetings for design, then ongoing email communication. To complete their vision, they relied on Radiant Homes, Ruki Modern, and Brandi Youngmark Interior Design.
Inside, the home's contemporary vibe centers around Ruki Modern's sharp architectural and multi-dimensional lines, starting with a floating staircase and concrete tile fireplace in the great room. Expansive windows bring the outdoors in, thanks to elements like the limestone hearth that extends from the interior to the outdoor patio and pergola. To the left of the fireplace, custom canvases were created by the homeowner, Jamie Evenson.
The team worked with Straightline Design to create an architectural staircase that leads to an office, loft and guest room. Connected to an exposed structural beam on the second level, the stairwell uses 4-inch thick, solid maple treads and is held in place by a c-channel frame.
Youngmark helped the couple outfit the impressive and minimalist kitchen, designed with flat-panel, stained charcoal cabinetry from Braaten Cabinets, wiscon white granite, a sapele mahogany island, and glass backsplash. The stunning backsplash consists of back-painted glass panels surrounded by LED lighting, which emits a glowing border; a feature carefully installed by Radiant Homes.
"Eliminating excessive drawers and hardware gave the cabinetry more of a furniture feel; reminiscent of a large armoire or something you would see in a skyrise loft in New York," said Youngmark. "It was important to them that we bring a mountain lodge aspect, yet contemporary feel to the kitchen - I think using more natural stone and wood finishes helped achieve that."
"In this design, all of the rooms function in such a way that the scale is appropriate to the use," said Behm. "There was a really strong consideration about live/work space in this house."
Throughout the home, the Evensons display original artwork, a combination of Midwest and Vegas-based artists like Kat Anderson, Karla Gallager and Daniel Arenas.
"It's homeowners like Jamie and Nate that I was seeking, projects that would really give more of that architectural edge to our area, and bring out my passion for interior design," said Youngmark. "This tour shows that something like this doesn't need to be daunting, and it can be really enjoyable if you work with the right experts and the right team."
Meet the Homeowners: Jamie & Nate Evenson
While Nate Evenson works for Microsoft, Jamie Evenson is the founder and CEO of Najaxa Software. They were happy to be part of the tour; recognizing the need to show others what was behind the design of Ruki Modern, Radiant Homes and Brandi Youngmark. "We loved the work that was done - it's very unique for this area, and we wanted to showcase that," said Jamie Evenson. "We're honored to be part of an event like this."
"There are a few architects in the area that are pushing boundaries, but I think Ruki is one of the best. It all worked because Radiant was willing to take on the risk of building a home like this, and Brandi's design really pulled it all together," said Nate Evenson.
Meet the Architectural Designer, Interior Designer & Builder:
Brent Behm had worked for design offices in Phoenix and Houston before he returned home to Moorhead, Minn. Four years ago, he started his own architectural design practice, Ruki Modern (Design + Build), focused on regional home and commercial design that meets the demand for durable and sustainable solutions.
David Reid is the President/Owner of Radiant Homes, located in Downtown Fargo.
For the last eight years, he has worked with homeowners in and around the Fargo-Moorhead, Ottertail County (M.N.), and Becker County (M.N.) regions. Reid has a degree from NDSU in construction management and is an East Tennessee native.
Brandi Youngmark was born and raised in North Dakota and has lived in Fargo for over 20 years. She earned her Interior Design degree at NDSU, then worked for various builders in residential design before starting her own firm, Brandi Youngmark Interior Design, five years ago.
Tour #2: Stahl Architects & Dave Uhlir | Eddy Court, Fargo
About the Home:
Matt Weis' home would be a stand-out in any neighborhood, but it's even more so in its well-established, older neighborhood near Downtown Fargo. The previous owners, Mitch Hoffart and Karen Olson, had purchased two lots, tearing down the rundown bungalows with help from an incentive program to rehabilitate the neighborhood's distressed properties.
To complete the 1,925 square foot home, the couple recruited Phil Stahl of Stahl Architects, and his former colleague, Dave Uhlir. Although a contrast from the neighboring colonial homes, it somehow melds perfectly into the surrounding landscape with subtle design elements reminiscent of rural barns.
Inside the home, a mosaic of industrial and uncommon materials merge to create a truly unconventional living space, ripe with architectural appeal. Weis' home is one of the first in Fargo to use Hardie board siding on the exterior, as well as formaldehyde-free materials on the interior. The kitchen cabinetry is composed of clear-coated ApplePly®, a material valued for its more uniform appearance and premium hardwood qualities.
The home makes an artistic expression of high-contrast elements like exposed ductwork and bolts, raw concrete, Homasote panels made from recycled newspapers, and unfinished, reclaimed Douglas Fir beams. Although a much smaller footprint, it's designed to feel expansive thanks to both 16 and 27-foot ceilings and space-saving sliding barn doors. Well-designed visuals include walls laid out in a Mondrian-inspired grid, a lofted library, and a studio that diffuses light through acrylic panels. Window placement may look abstract, but each one is placed to provide a view, whether sitting on the couch or moving throughout the space.
This bedroom easily transitions to an office space thanks to a custom Murphy bed and acrylic desk design by Chris Hawley, back when he worked for Stahl Architects. Windows were deliberately placed toward the floor to provide backyard views while the original owner practiced yoga.
Since the home is slab-on-grade, the master bedroom includes a unique safety feature they refer to as the "vault"; a smaller concrete box Weis can use for a storm shelter that doubles as secure storage.
The previous owner, Mitch Hoffart, is a mixed-media artist, and his influence can be seen throughout the home, from the art studio cube to the original door painting leading to the garage.
Weis has since added his own artwork from Bismarck-born artist, Jonathan Twingley, who's now based in New York.
Meet the Homeowner: Matt Weis
Working in the area, Matt Weis saw the home when it was first being built and was immediately intrigued. As luck would have it, the house went on the market last year and he jumped at the opportunity, moving in this past February with his Jack Russell, Maggie. "I had followed the project for some time, but when I finally saw inside, there was far more attention-to-detail than I thought there would be," said Weis. Since moving in, Weis has only made one update - repainting the exterior, insisting on not making drastic changes that might alter the original design he loves.
Meet the Architects: Stahl Architects & Dave Uhlir
Dave Uhlir currently works as an architect in Minneapolis, but his earlier designs are rooted in Fargo, working alongside Phil Stahl of Stahl Architects. Stahl was unable to attend the tour, but Uhlir represented both of their contributions to the project; walking guests through the design elements that made this home a true passion project.
"The goal was a single-family residential, but they wanted that industrial, loft living," explained Uhlir. "At the time, they were living in the Freighthouse Flats downtown, so they wanted to bring that feel to this; that really helped inform a lot of material choices like the heated concrete floor, steel structure, stairs and heavy timber. We didn't want hard drywall surfaces everywhere, so we brought in different ideas like having the walls laid out in a Mondrian-inspired grid pattern, which also helped absorb sound. The lofted library was a challenge to design, but it was a way to utilize all of the possible space above the closets that otherwise might have been wasted."
Tour #3: Mevold Studio | Highland Park, North Fargo
[Course #3: Blackbird Woodfire + Sonder Bakehouse]
Setting up shop with their mobile pizza oven in the front yard, was Blackbird Woodfire of Downtown Fargo. Tour-goers were treated to a selection of six made-to-order woodfire creations from Chef and owner, Casey Absey and his team. Their offerings included: Blue crush (oil, parmesan, bleu cheese, onions, walnuts), Sausage Apple (béchamel, parmesan, sausage, apples, sage), Pepperoni, Veggie (peppers, pepperoncini, onions, oregano, basil), Cheese, and Margarita (oil, fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil).
As the tour's sweet finale, Kayla Houchin of Sonder Bakehouse created one of her exquisite signature desserts, jarred cheesecake selections in Lemon Berry, Salted Caramel and Key Lime.
About the Home:
The exterior of this rural contemporary design, located in North Fargo's Highland Park, was a design collaboration between homeowners, Christine Strohm and David Grewell, and Jan Mevold of Mevold Studio. Its geometric angles consist of modern LP Panels, metal, and warm cedar elements. With plenty of curb appeal, the front yard offers a full garden, surrounded by manicured hard and soft scape aesthetics, completed in part by the homeowners with Green Earth Landscaping.
Inside the pivoting front door with side Smartglass windows is a custom draining rug designed to lay flush with the tile; underneath is a water pan to catch the elements. The home's entry features abstracts by Wolfgang Biedermann, of Leipzig, Germany.
Further into the home is a world map of their travels, expressed through art, texture and collected artifacts. Mevold worked closely with Strohm and Grewell to incorporate walls that would provide appropriate spaces to display their vast art collection.
"Their artwork has a lot of different color palettes, so we tried to keep the house very simple and clean," explained Mevold. "It's similar to a museum or gallery setting to display their artwork, but at the same time, we designed it to feel warm." The home is approximately 4,500 total square feet between the main level, upstairs, and the finished basement.
The living room features 27-foot vaulted cedar ceilings, and a large wall expanse devoted to their antique Turkish kilim rug, displaying its still vibrantly colored backside. Over the fireplace is a piece by Michael Gilger of Ames, Iowa. Strohm brought most of the home's lighting from Europe, so each piece had to be adapted before install. Continuing with cedar elements inside and out, Mevold designed a large covered patio facing their picturesque backyard.
While Strohm did her homework to find the decor and finishes, the couple worked together to design and build the Scandinavian-style kitchen. They constructed it entirely with IKEA cabinetry, installing LED lighting, and mounting live-edge walnut shelving on glass overlay panels. The kitchen offers a large expanse of leathered granite, parallel windows and two sinks. To the back of the counter, they've installed chef-worthy, stainless steel prepping wells and organizational stations. Large abstracts in the dining room and hallways are from artist, Pietro Casagrande of Venice, Italy.
Leading to the second level is a custom oak staircase designed by a specialized company in Indiana, then shipped to Fargo in individual pieces. The Blackbird featured in the staircase is from the artist, Ralph Helmick of Newton, M.A. At the top of the stairs is Strohm's library with an extraordinary lighting feature that displays hanging notes left behind from friends and neighbors.
Every art piece in their home comes with a story or a friend, not unlike the painting in their master bedroom. Look closely and you'll find the relics of a memorable New Year's Eve party, a piece by Stefanie Hoellering of Munich, Germany. Strohm is originally from Scotland but has traveled the world since the age of 17. "Our art collection came together over 40 some years. Most of the pieces I brought from Europe were made by friends of mine, but I try to collect wherever I live," said Strohm.
The home's four bathrooms all have modern and elaborate tile designs, exquisite stone from Northern Stone, then wall-mounted vanities and toilets; features typically only seen in commercial projects. The homeowners managed much of the bathroom's construction themselves, and Grewell installed many of the home's lighting features, including the LED lighting throughout the bathrooms.
The main bathroom has a distinct open-concept design including three large windows and reclaimed wood ledges. For Strohm, it was far more important to have a larger bath, happily giving up space in the master closet. Grewell, who grew up in a blue-collar working family on a small farm in Ohio, jokingly evokes his late father and how he would have questioned the need for multiple bathrooms.
"Jan did an exceptional job; he was very easy to work with and he really listened," said Strohm. "I think we come from the same angle when we look at livable and comfortable architecture; volume was more important than square footage. We also needed a house that would be designed to give space to our art, yet still feel very warm."
Meet the Homeowners: Christine Strohm & David Grewell
Dr. David Grewell has B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in Welding Engineering from The Ohio State University, and has worked in both industry and academia. By trade, Dr. Christine Strohm is a Theoretical Mathematician with a B.Sc. from Oxford, and Ph.D. from MIT. With the move to Fargo, Strohm is semi-retired but still established as a grant-writing consultant for NDSU and many other universities who are looking for funding for science and engineering research projects.
The couple moved from the contemporary home they loved in Ames, Iowa in August of 2018, on the search for another contemporary home here. Finding very few to choose from in this style, they were referred to a realtor, Joel Schneeberger of the Brandenburg Crew Inc. of eXp Realty. He helped them find the rare wooded lot, in close proximity to NDSU. "Despite what some may say, the house was a bribe," laughed Strohm. "This house is how he lured me away from the balmy lakes and warmer weather of Ames, Iowa."
Meet the Architectural Designer: Jan Mevold, Mevold Studio
Jan Mevold is an Architectural Designer based in Fargo, N.D. He has been designing homes for 16 years and has been on his own with Mevold Studio for the past four-and-a-half years. Half Taiwanese and half Norwegian, he attended high school in East Africa in Ethiopia and eventually moved to Fargo to study Architecture at NDSU, where he met his wife.
Finding Hidden Gems
To ensure that each year's tour is better than the last, Thompson continually searches for the needle in the haystack. He and his wife travel the metro and lakes area year-round looking for unique architecture that deserves a longer discussion and local recognition. Interested in featuring your home, or joining the guests next year? Contact Thompson at Plains Art Gallery, or give their page a "like" on social media to be the first to nab tickets to next year's Progressive Architecture Dinner.
For more information, contact:
Plains Art Museum
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