[Inside the new Tellwell, Downtown Fargo]
Story by Katie Beedy
Photography by M.Schleif Photography
There is something about a campfire that inspires the best stories. Ancient civilizations congregated around open flames not just to cook their food, but to unleash their imaginations and pass on their histories. At summer camps, exchanging nightmare-inducing ghost stories over the campfire is considered a rite of passage. Maybe it’s the cover of darkness, the communal act of gathering twigs for kindling, or the hypnotizing dance of the flame itself—whatever the explanation, it’s undeniable that the most tantalizing tales emerge when we gather around a fire. If you're on the hunt for the ultimate storytellers in campfire-inspired culture, look no further than Tellwell's marketing agency in their new location at 1213 NP Avenue in Downtown Fargo.
When you arrive, the first thing you'll see is a mural of a campfire, hand-painted by local artist Adam Weidman. In front of the mural, oversized chairs and a mid-mod couch encircle a wooden coffee table—the fire, if you will.
Tellwell, a Fargo-based marketing agency, believes that “story is the most powerful way to introduce your brand, educate and engage your customers, and remind them why they love you.” That passion for stories comes from founder and CEO Max Kringen’s grandfather, Herb. “He was a master storyteller, and when I was young, most of his stories came out around the campfire,” Kringen said.
This Campfire Area is the heart of Tellwell’s office. It’s where the team gathers every day to give updates on their current assignments, debut film and writing projects, and share their fears, hopes, and dreams. It is just one of the many ways that Tellwell’s space both reflects, and inspires, the team’s creativity.
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
When Tellwell went searching for a new office in 2019, they needed to find a space that would grow with them. After years in the Prairie Den coworking space, the agency (then just three employees strong) took up residence at Downtown Fargo’s McCormick Place. But by the time the team had nearly tripled in size, Kringen knew it was time to find something more permanent. “We weren’t trying to create a home for just the next year or two,” Kringen said. “We wanted to find a place where we could plant our roots.”
Kringen had searched downtown high and low when the Kilbourne Group, a longtime Tellwell client, approached him about the untouched space at 1213, located two stories above what was then Prairie Roots Co-op. Upon their first tour of the space, Team Tellwell was sold. Wall-to-wall windows overlooking Downtown Fargo let in ample natural light. Wild Terra, one of the team’s favorite gathering places, was right next door. And best of all? It was a blank slate, just waiting for the Tellwell touch.
“We are a bit of a strange organization,” said Kringen. “So we wanted to be able to add our own look, feel, energy and spirit.”
CLOUDS, COUCHES & COFFEE
As Kringen sketched out plans for the space, along with architects Rhet Fiskness and Dylan Neururer of Rhet Architecture, he kept three must-haves in mind: privacy, a sizable kitchen, and organic design elements. The designers were faced with the challenge of creating an open floor plan that would still afford employees the privacy they craved.
“We don’t believe in hierarchy at Tellwell, which is why everyone is in the same open space, from creatives to project managers to the CEO,” Kringen said.
The solution: eight “pods” (not cubicles), each containing two workspaces and enclosed on three sides by half-walls. While the walls grant the team the privacy they need to get their work done, the layout also allows them to ask questions of their teammates or volley jokes across the room. Plus, the pods are arranged in such a way that, if you were to stand in any of the office’s public spaces, you would not have direct sightlines to anyone’s computer monitor. “People don’t like to be snuck up on,” Kringen said.
Tellwell has created even more privacy with three break-out rooms: the large conference room which is reserved for meetings and furnished by InterOffice, a smaller conference room where teammates can take a phone call or a Netflix break with plush couches and bean bag chairs, and a soundproof mother’s room, which doubles as a recording booth.
The sizable kitchen speaks for itself: sleek black cupboards, stainless steel appliances, and a coffee station that even the most supercilious coffee snobs would envy. The pièce de résistance is a 15-foot island where the team has decorated Christmas cookies, assembled heart-shaped pizzas for Valentine’s Day, and hosted clients for the occasional happy hour.
“Food is such an important part of building a community. We wanted to create a space where the whole team, plus our friends and family, could gather ‘round and break bread,” Kringen said.
Finally, in addition to the giant campfire mural, you will find several subtler homages to nature in the space. The partial walls that surround each of the eight pods are topped with peaks, rather than straight lines, to mimic a mountain range. The light fixtures that hang above each desk are reminiscent of cumulus clouds. And then there is the way the sun interacts with the space; as it moves across the sky throughout the day, each of the clean white walls is cast in a different shade of grey.
“We have people who need to be thinking creatively as a foundation of their job,” Kringen said. “I wanted them to be able to look around the space and draw inspiration from the simplest things, even shadows changing throughout the day.”
A PLACE TO BELONG
While each element has been meticulously designed, Tellwell’s office lacks the extravagance often associated with Millennial-owned offices. “It’s comfortable and it’s practical,” Kringen said. “I don't believe that $50,000 game rooms or oversized everything help foster a vibrant workplace culture. They don’t show that we are good stewards of our clients' dollars.”
Instead, the finished product is a 4,500-square-foot space that is equal parts Scandinavian minimalism and outdoorsy charm. And just as the warm glow of a campfire inspires us to share our best stories, the intentional design of Tellwell’s office space inspires the team to be their most creative and authentic selves.
“We wanted to create a place where people can come be themselves, be safe, and enjoy a meal,” Kringen said. “This is a place where we want people to feel so comfortable where they can bring their whole selves every day, not just a part of themselves. In order to do that, you have to feel safe. You have to feel like you belong.”
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