Story by Tracy Nicholson
Shop photography by Dan Francis Photography, Finished table photos by Grain Designs
Store photos by M. Schleif Photography
Grain Designs has built their passion on embracing the imperfect. Every knot, scrape and nail hole, reflecting scarred wood that tells a unique story. This month, the team used their passion for design to ignite someone else’s; West Fargo’s Landon Solberg. At 11-years-old, Solberg has spent the last year courageously fighting brain cancer alongside his family and parents, Andrea and Travis Solberg. Although he loves sports, he also has a love of design, spending hours in the hospital watching HGTV, and expertly planning renovations for his family’s home. Recently, Landon’s family was nominated to take part in Grain Designs’ initiative, “From Our Tables to Yours”. This was Landon’s chance to gain first-hand experience at building a table with the Grain Designs team, and the team’s chance to give back to the community they love.
Give Back & Gather
With work that’s been well-received throughout the community, Grain Designs wanted to find a way to return the favor. What transpired, was their unique table build initiative called, “From Our Tables to Yours”. This idea gave them a chance to give back in a meaningful way, and also remind people of the significance and often lost-art of gathering around the table. They asked the community to nominate deserving people to receive a hand-crafted table, then teamed up with At Your Service Clean & Cuisine to cater in a meal for a deserving family or community member. This will be the fourth project they’ve completed on behalf of community members. Landon Solberg was nominated by family friend and neighbor, Katie Sullivan.
“The community support puts food on our tables, so we want to do the same,” said Blain Mikkonen, founding partner at Grain Designs. “Since we partner with At-Your-Service Clean and Cuisine, it’s a two-part initiative; we actually gift a handmade table to a family in need, whether it’s through stewardship or hardship, and the community is able to nominate them. We’ve done this for three years now; this will be our third table and we’ve also done a large shelving project for a deserving family in South Dakota. Our first table was for a Moorhead resident who has since passed away. At the time, he was really a steward for the community and was facing some hardships.”
“Landon has a passion for design, so this project is a little bit unique in that he wanted to help design the table from start to finish,” said Mikkonen. “I met with him at the store and we designed the table on the computer – then he picked the stain and we talked about the dimensions and how the design process works. He’s also designed a bench to go with the dining table.”
To see their work in progress, we visited the Grain Designs rural workshop located on the site of their new wedding and event venue, The Pines. Between treatments and clinical trials in Cincinnati, Landon Solberg, along with his family, arrived ready and excited to get to work on the table he designed himself.
To walk him through the process, the Grain Designs team set up step-by-step stations, from the initial cutting stages to the table saw planing, then finally choosing between stain samples so he could make his final design selections.
“Landon’s really creative; you can tell he has a true passion for design,” said Mikkonen. “His parents and family were really excited for this project and they told us the story of him designing their house – he’s had a say in a lot of their renovations.”
We have an unfinished basement, so Landon’s already put his personal touches on that space,” said Landon’s mom, Andrea Solberg. “He’s picked out the carpet, countertops, lighting and really everything. It’s a quaint, small area and he wanted Star Wars, NDSU and a little bit of Broncos. When we were in the hospital, we watched HGTV the whole time.”
“This is just icing on the cake that he gets to work on another piece for their home. When we designed the table together, we talked about functionality and how you seat the most people around a table, leg interference and the available space in the home,” explained Mikkonen.
“To seat more people, he decided on a metal, pedestal base. He chose a white pine wood, which is from the Globe grain elevator in Superior, Wisconsin,” said Mikkonen. “When it was built, it was the largest grain elevator in the world, so the wood has a ton of history. Since the base is welded metal, Landon was able to do some welding with Grant. For the top, he chose an ebony glaze, which is a grey finish and one of our most popular right now – so he’s made really good design choices.”
Sharing a Passion
“It’s hard for us to donate money as we’re trying to build our business, but donating product and time is something we can do,” said Mikkonen. “This is one way that we can give back while sharing our craft and passion with others. The beautiful thing about dining tables is that we feel it’s one of the most important pieces in the home. The dining table is the one place where you can really bring people together; it’s about creating that sense of community and family, especially in times of need. If we can bring them back to the table and talk about what’s important, that’s the premise behind this program.”
“The dining table is the one place where you can really bring people together. It’s about creating that sense of community and family, especially in times of need.”
Blain Mikkonen, Grain Designs
Counting their Blessings
Nearly one year ago, Landon was diagnosed with a grade III, aggressive brain tumor, also known as Anaplastic Astrocytomas. What began as severe headaches, quickly evolved into a much more serious condition that had doctors scrambling for answers. “It’s in his thalamus and down into his brain stem. Your brain stem is the control center of your body, so it can’t be removed and it can’t be operated on because it’s a grade III. It acts fairly aggressive and doesn’t normally respond well to chemo and radiation,” said Andrea Solberg.
One year later, Landon has undergone multiple brain surgeries at Sanford and Mayo and is now part of a clinical trial which has their family traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio, every four weeks. Although radiation has not shrunk the tumor, it remains stable which gives them hope. They may not know what tomorrow brings, but the Solbergs plan to keep fighting, praying and searching for a treatment that will provide a better prognosis.
“He’s a special kid; he’s so kind and he never complains,” said Andrea Solberg. “He missed quite a bit of school last year, so his school had a robot and it was the coolest thing. The West Fargo Technology Center brought it in; it was on wheels with a pole and a big iPad. He could control it, so he parked it in his seat and he’d walk in in the morning and the kids would say, ‘Hi Landon!’, and he’d wave back. I thought it was really cool because when we were in the hospital in Cincinnati, the doctors there had never seen anything like this.”
Landon’s Light was an idea that transpired from Casey Glandt of Go Promo while the Solbergs were with Landon in the hospital. Glandt is a family friend and attended school at Valley City with both Travis and Andrea Solberg. “He makes a lot of apparel at his company, so he and his wife made these shirts that say, ‘Landon’s Light’,” said Andrea Solberg. “Landon is a huge Harry Potter fan. So, the backs of the shirts have a Harry Potter quote.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore
“At the time, when we were in the ICU, it was kind of a fog; we barely remember it,” said Andrea Solberg. “But, the one thing we do remember was, all of a sudden, everyone starting changing their profiles on Facebook to Landon’s Light and tagging us in it. We just sat and cried.”
Support The Solbergs
“We’re just really lucky to have all of this support and everyone’s prayers; we never expected it. My sister-in-law does the Landon’s Light Facebook page, there’s a CaringBridge page and a friend of ours started a GoFundMe link to help us,” said Andrea Solberg. “His school (West Fargo’s Freedom Elementary) and all of the teachers have really rallied around him. I know this project is a lot of time and energy on Grain Designs’ part, but it means a lot to Landon; he was so excited about it.”Any donations to the Solberg’s GoFundMe link will help to lessen the burden of their medical bills, lost time at work, and travel expenses like flights, lodging and meals. These are ever-growing expenses that their family endures each month for trips to Cincinnati as part of the clinical trials.
Know a family in need?
Go to graindesigns.com and click on the “Give Back” link where you can fill out a nomination form for a deserving family or individual. Each giveaway includes a custom-designed table and a full meal catered from At Your Service Clean & Cuisine.
“Whether the deserving recipients are facing hardship or being rewarded for stewardship, our hope is that a custom Grain Designs table and a catered meal will be a beacon of hope and conversation, for years to come,” Grant Koenig, Grain Designs.
For more information, or to nominate a family, contact:
At Your Service Clean & Cuisine
To Donate to Landon’s Light Medical Fund or follow his journey:
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