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[ Anna Lee – Workerby ] Finding Grace in the Gray

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by M. Schleif Photography Logo and behind the scenes photos by Kylee and Christian Creative, Lauren Krysti In 2016, Fargo native Anna Lee said goodbye…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography
Logo and behind the scenes photos by Kylee and Christian Creative, Lauren Krysti

In 2016, Fargo native Anna Lee said goodbye to her St. Paul abode and moved back to the area, leaving behind a plethora of accomplishments in her wake. Since her college days at MSUM and NDSU, she had spent 16 years working in the fashion industry in various capacities, ranging from independent start-ups to a major retailer. Beyond the corporate world, she had spearheaded a non-profit which laid the foundation for a thriving independent fashion community and industry in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and developed her line of hats and accessories. Today, Lee with her company Workerby (pronounced worker-bee), has taken over an 800 square-foot studio near the Red River in Moorhead. This is the space and place that would help her to redefine her artistry and rediscover community. With a renewed purpose that’s taken her back to her roots and ultimately, her love of abstract painting, Lee would find brilliance between the lines with her exhibit “Homecoming”, now on display at Luna in South Fargo.

Lee’s work as an artist and expert in product design and development in fashion and accessories, has allowed her to live a life that has taken her around the world. Both large corporations and independent companies readily embraced her technical skills and ability to blend them with creative vision.

After spending much of her life working amidst the fast pace of fashion and manufacturing, Lee had begun to feel lethargic and less enthused about the role that had once inspired her. Upon reconnecting with an old friend in her hometown of Fargo, it seemed that finding love and planting new roots was just be the inspiration she was missing.

At the Heart of Art
One year before making the decision to return to Fargo-Moorhead, Lee founded her company Workerby, with a vision to remotely continue her work in product design and development. “I knew that I was going to be living here – it’s something that would allow me to maintain my career and grow it in ways that I really wanted to and still be located in the same city as my partner and his kids,” said Lee. “Getting to know them was really important to me, instead of being off in another city. I can create all I want, but without that connection to the people I really care about, it’s a lot more difficult.” Although Lee experienced a fair share of challenges in her transition, she quickly adjusted her perspective and embraced her roots.

Two years after moving back to her hometown, Lee has found her place in life again and rebuilt the community that surrounds and supports her. Working out of her Moorhead studio, she still manages product design for global manufacturing and retail clients, but being able to be near the people she loves has helped her creative energy flourish. She’s also still producing Ruby3, the celebrated brand of hats that she has been handcrafting for nearly two decades.
The Homecoming
“Around the time I started getting ready to move back to Fargo, I started painting again – but it was coming out in these abstract paintings that were unlike anything else I’d ever done; I was painting my emotions,” said Lee. “I was trying to get in touch with my emotions, but I didn’t have words for them. It wasn’t as if I was just angry, it was just a time that I was trying to synthesize a lot of different things.””When I moved to Minneapolis in my 20s, I thought ‘OK, now these are my people’. So many opportunities, so much possibility, so many like-minded people. Now that I have returned home, I realize that these are my people too,” said Lee. “By some miracle, I am painting again after over a decade. I am making prettier pictures than ever, but now I have plenty to say. For the first time in ages, I am creating because I can’t not create. I am back on the soil I was planted in, and here I am being me.”

Pull Quote
“For the first time in ages, I am creating because I can’t not create.”
Anna Lee, Workerby

Collective Creativity
Pointing to a styled photo of a model with an abstract painting backdrop, Lee explained that the piece behind her is from the debut Gray Matter collection. To give it new life, she decided to ‘chop it up’. “The interesting thing about that painting is that the foundation of it was a piece of art that I made 20 years ago,” said Lee. “Something I’ve been doing is going over a lot of my old art and ridding it of any preciousness and turning it into something new.”

With the idea of projecting healing powers into her art, Lee has found solace in developing a series she refers to as “Collective Paintings”. These paintings are created as a whole but are meant to be given or purchased as individual, mini abstracts. “We all have individual contributions to the greater whole. I use my art to make one big statement and everybody pulls a different piece of it for his or her own, something that makes sense to them,” explained Lee. “Recently, I did two larger canvases and gave them to a bride and groom – so it was one painting together, but two separate canvases. They had the paintings up during their reception, then they were able to give prints of the art to the wedding party. I also recently made a painting that I turned into a textile that is being used in a wedding dress. So, the painting itself was a gift to the bride, then the fabric is being used in her dress.”

Art + Fashion
For Lee, bridging the gap between art and fashion meant finding purpose in the middle ground. “Growing up in this area, I kind of had this inherent need for art to be functional so I always had this inner turmoil about just making pretty things,” explained Lee. “Now, as I start to develop more intention with my work and different directions, to me, the beauty of the work is what draws people in and the intention is the function or message of whatever collection I’m putting together.”

Embracing the Middle Ground
Two years ago, Lee ventured to Australia to hone her craft of millinery at a conference where she would learn new techniques in design. While searching social news feeds back home, she would come across a tragic event that would change the course of her craft. This was the week of the Philando Castile shooting and she was watching it unfold from two hemispheres away.As she scrolled through the endless feeds, she was struck with people’s raw emotion response and a backlash that she struggled to understand. “It broke my heart. One thing that was really shocking and frustrating to me was that there was an argument about whether it was a tragedy or not. It just hit me that we are so polarized that there is so little that we can agree on; something that’s clearly a tragedy seems to polarize people even further and that should not be the case,” said Lee. “What’s actually going to bring us together? How do we find the middle ground?”

Gray Matter Series
Focusing on channeling her emotions, Lee withdrew into her work. Trying to perfect her free-form techniques using felt, she began to notice that its design was emulating what she explained as “brain-like” ripples. “It all just came together in this moment of finding the gray in between black and white,” said Lee. “It was turning into this gray matter of a brain – so that’s how my Gray Matter Series collection began. It was created to start a conversation about finding the middle ground – because I knew it was bigger than this event, however tragic it was. I blocked this hat during the same conference and it took just under a year to figure out exactly what to do with it.”

Symbolic Revolution
Last year, she would find its purpose when The Rourke Art Museum held a Midwestern Invitational with a ‘Revolution’ theme. This exhibit was the platform Lee needed to expose the community to the conversation behind the Gray Matter Series of hats. “This was a type of headdress that was worn in pre-revolution Russia that denoted a female’s status. You wouldn’t think it was a revolution piece by looking at it, but the underpainting is basically my rage – I painted over that rage and vulnerable emotion in yellow, which represented her shield,” explained Lee.

After the invitational, Lee would take her collection of hats away from the canvas but carry the billowing, yellow fabric within them as a continuing symbol of the tragedy, her responsive rage and ultimately, her shield. As a self-taught milliner, this would mark her first attempt at marrying her painting and her textile design.

Artistic Collaboration
Representing one of the first Gray Matter Series collaborations before returning to Fargo, Lee’s studio displays 12 Kentucky Derby-inspired fascinators and hats she designed with Kentucky-born illustrator, Allegra Lockstadt. Each hat was created to capture the essence of one of the past Triple Crown Winners, paired with a hand-drawn illustration of the horse and jockey. To complete this project, entitled A Horse of a Different Color: Triple Crown Winners, Lee worked closely with a team of talent, including photographer Lauren Krysti, model Carla Alexandra Rodriguez and stylists Fatima Olive and Catlin Westin.

Dismantling Janteloven
For Lee, the  Gray Matter Series would evolve into a hat collection, a film, and a 50-piece painting inspired by the Law of Jante, a concept that author and performer Kari Tauring had once told her about. “There are ten unspoken rules in the Law of Jante (Janteloven) in Scandinavian communities.” You’re not to think you are anything special. You’re not to think you’re as good as us. You’re not to think you are smarter than us. You’re not to convince yourself you are better than us…and the list goes on.

“It was meant to keep us humble as a community, but instead it keeps us bound by the limitations of our surroundings. This work of art encourages conversation, awareness, and a new thought when it comes to supporting the individual and their unique contributions to a vibrant, inclusive and thriving community.”

In an effort to evolve the dynamic, the following words were painted on the foundation of this painting, made possible by the support of The Arts Partnership:

“We are special. We are all good. We are brilliant and are imagining an inspiring future where all can thrive. We benefit from new ideas an innovations in our communities. We each have important contributions to make. We can find humor in the human experience and in ourselves. We are all cared for and cherished for who we are. We each have knowledge and stories to share. We can be seen for who we are. We can see others for who they are.”

Sense of Place
After the debut collection, Lee would go on to create a more whimsical collection entitled, Sense of Place. The painting and hat collection is inspired by time spent with her sister and niece on Long Island, New York.

Lee’s series of ocean-inspired paintings evolved into a grant from The Arts Partnership to create scarves from her artwork, helping her to build up her textile skills. “I had four prints in four sizes. I sold those along with the hats and two custom lipsticks, Ruby and Rosa, that I developed with the cosmetics company Elixery. Rosa’s the name of my niece.”

Sense of Self
Gathering her observations, Lee struck another note in her Gray Matter Series: Sense of Self. “Sense of Self is about the heroine’s journey or another take on the hero’s journey, a natural story arc for a lot of mythologies, movies and action-adventures,” explained Lee. With this collection, she would analyze the anatomy of her mind, learning to portray humans for what they are – a constant process of deconstruction and reconstruction.

Musical Muses
As Lee dissected the process, she listened to the appropriately titled, Deconstruction by The Eels. This is the song she is working to gain copyright on to use as the backdrop for her four-minute film which she wrote and directed. “I think this process is something that everyone can connect to –  she is trying so hard to pull it together and the chaos is overwhelming,” explained Lee regarding her film. “But it doesn’t have to be if we understand what is happening, and how to seek what we truly need.” For Lee, it’s about falling apart and rebuilding stronger, taking away the stigma of struggle and mental health – reintroducing this chaos as simply part of being human where it’s encouraged to seek help from those around us.

“There’s a natural progression of dismantling all of the things that you think are you, but don’t feel like they are – then consciously rebuilding who you are. My goal for this next project is to start building a conversation around the deconstruction and reconstruction of our lives as a natural process where we can ask for help and support others.”

Purpose + Perfection
Throughout every collection, Lee continues to build on the idea of merging fashion and art as well as product with a purpose. “Color and shape and emotions are what draw people in,” said Lee. “In the past, those are things that I would have tried to use to build a perfect portrait, but now I just want to express an emotion and a feeling and see if people connect with that. Instead of trying to make things perfect, I’m just trying to make things real – finding perfection within that, wherever I can.”

Launching with Luna
Although one collective painting from the latest collection is already on display at Luna in Fargo, her official launch for the Sense of Self film and hat collection will be on September 8 in Minneapolis and September 15 at Luna. The location is meaningful to Lee; the last solo show she created was in 1997, also at Luna. This time, her solo show will be entitled ‘Homecoming’.

Speaking Out
During the artist’s talk, Lee will debut her film and speak regarding the concept of deconstruction and reconstruction, investigating the role of the heroine’s journey, its impact on our mental health and our ability to connect. The film and photographs feature the AW2018 collection of one-of-a-kind Ruby3 hats, two 25-piece “collective” paintings, two digitally printed scarves derived from these paintings, and two custom lipstick colors from the Elixery.

“An artist talk will feature a panel discussion with women in the community who are doing the work to keep us connected, empowered, and engaged with the work that needs to be done to deepen our Sense of Self, while establishing that we are not alone on our respective journeys,” explained Lee.

“September is Suicide Awareness month, so a portion of my sales from the show will go to NAMI Minnesota; the National Alliance for Mental Illness. For me, this is really about using art for a cause, but it’s also my business, so I am selling the work, but I’m doing it in a way that I can keep doing the work,” said Lee.

Meet the Artist: Anna Lee
Whether you want to have an extraordinary culinary experience amongst fine art, learn about Lee’s artistic process, or help donate to a worthy cause – Lee’s show, entitled ‘Homecoming’, is a must-see for those in search of a more beautiful middle ground.

“Homecoming” Exhibit 

Artist Talk and Gray Matter Series Launch: September 15, 2018
1:00 p.m – 3:00 p.m.
Luna Fargo –
1545 South University Drive, Fargo


The Gray Matter Series is concurrent with Lee’s show, “Homecoming” running through September 29 at Luna. The event is free and open to the public. 

Shop and find local workshops:

View her collections and blog:



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The Pines by Grain Designs [ Countdown to Wedding #1 ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by M. Schleif Photography, renderings by Grain Designs, Transparent venue image by Exposure Creative Group In our last story introducing The Pines, we captured the…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography, renderings by Grain Designs, Transparent venue image by Exposure Creative Group

In our last story introducing The Pines, we captured the guys of Grain Designs swinging golf clubs on a grassy plot of land, slated for their new venue, just South of Fargo. This month, we revisited the crew and instead found them swinging hammers on a framed-in, concrete foundation. By mid-September, 17 acres of rural beauty will be transformed into The Pines, the area’s newest wedding and event venue, unlike anything you can imagine. The clock is officially ticking and this countdown ends with an “I do”.

With their very first wedding booked for September 15, the guys of Grain Designs are hard at work finalizing the construction for The Pines and finishing the remodel of the adjacent home on the property. Fittingly, the first couple to get hitched at The Pines will be Grain Design’s own, Pat Bresnahan and his fiancé, Nicolette Berge.

Wrapping up Construction
“We are focused on getting the venue wedding-ready before that date, but we know we will still have a few construction projects to finish afterward,” said Bresnahan. “The things that won’t be done for our own wedding will most likely be aesthetic projects. We have another wedding booked for the end of October, so, without question, we will have any remaining work wrapped up by mid-October. The most exciting part right now is actually seeing the building start to come together and being able to see how grand the space is. It’s one thing to talk about how it’s going to be 35 feet to the peak, but then you stand in there and it’s just amazing to experience.”

Inside The Pines
The Pines is designed to be almost 9,000 square-feet and will accommodate 350 plus for a seated dinner. The interior is slated for a clean and classic white with black detailing and rustic, reclaimed wood elements. Design elements will include exposed beams, white reclaimed wood paneling, farmhouse windows and exposed concrete floors. Within the venue, they will offer a prep kitchen for the caterers provided by Chef’s Table Catering, full bar set-up, outdoor patio and private men and women’s restrooms. The venue will be equipped for year-round use and have capabilities to accommodate outdoor ceremonies, with ample space to move indoors in inclement weather. There will also be designated areas for outdoor wedding ceremonies and a patio for cocktail hour with an on-site bar and yard games.”On the Grain Designs side, we are in the process of building sliding barn doors and 60 tables for the venue right now,” said Bresnahan. “One of the unique challenges for us was building actual farmhouse tables, but with foldable or collapsible legs.”

Nicolette + Pat
As the first wedding at The Pines, both Berge and Bresnahan have delved into the project, offering their talents to nearly every aspect. The couple has been living in the property’s home for the past few months, taking on the bulk of the redecorating and renovations, while in the midst of planning their nuptials. Berge, who is already an event planner by day, has lent her talents to give tours of the property and venue every Thursday night. She has also managed the redecorating and new finishes that have gone into the house renovations. Since the house sits adjacent to where the venue is being built, this on-site bridal retreat has been prepped and primed for wedded bliss.


Welcome Home to The Pines
If you book a wedding or event at The Pines, the on-site home with in-ground pool is one amenity you don’t want to miss. Inside the home, the wedding party will be welcomed to relax, hang out by the backyard, in-ground pool and prepare for their big day. As part of the wedding package, couples can choose to rent the house for the day or for the weekend. “With the weekend wedding package, the families will be able to host the groom’s dinner on Friday, ceremony on Saturday, then the gift opening and brunch on Sunday,” explained Blain Mikkonen of Grain Designs.


Retreat Remodel
Starting on the exterior, the Grain Designs team updated the outdated features and painted the home a farmhouse blue by Magnolia. The in-ground pool, decks and patios have been spruced up and more landscaping and signage is about to go in. “We already moved three pine trees into the center corridor near the house. This area will have retaining wall blocks, floral and landscaped areas to create a setting or backdrop for pictures,” said Grant Koenig of Grain Designs.”Before” photo:

Moving inside the home, Berge tapped into her own design skills and played off of the farmhouse vibe they’d already envisioned for the venue’s space. “I wanted to do a farmhouse style without screaming farmhouse – so more of a modern farmhouse with a simple, bohemian look,” explained Berge.
“I found a lot of the decor pieces at Moorhead Antique Mall and of course there are pieces from Grain Designs like the farmhouse dining table and centerpiece candle block. I also purchased pillows like the blush peach one in the family room from my friend at Olove Design; they are available at Etsy.com.”Over the course of three days, Berge and Grain Designs collaborated with Brushed Interiors to complete the main floor’s master bath renovation. Making use of the existing textured wall covering, Brushed Interiors gave the retro design a fresh look with a light and bright tone before she moved on to refinish the outdated oak cabinetry in a cool grey tone.

Giving the older home modern appeal, Grain Designs custom-designed a beautiful wall mirror and vanity top, then installed updated lighting, plumbing fixtures, trim and sleek new flooring. “Ashley Bakkegard of Brushed Interiors did a great job with the main floor bathroom paint and cabinetry refinish. Nicolette and I, along with some of our friends, helped paint throughout the home,” said Bresnahan.

Pat, Nicolette & friends helped with interior painting. Brushed Interiors did all bathroom painting

Just around the corner…
Just beyond the newly updated main-floor bath, the master bedroom and spare bedroom are nearly completed and will be featured in our final showing in October’s issue. The kitchen, which only needed minimal updates to its cherry wood facade, will be getting simple cosmetic upgrades like new lighting and decor.

Bridal Party Bliss
Right now, the upstairs has two bedrooms and a full bath, but this is the area that will soon have the most dramatic transformation. This will be a private bridal suite to accommodate the bride and her party. The downstairs will also be undergoing a change, turning the large space into sleeping quarters with a game room and a man cave for the groom and his party. “There is a separate entrance to the downstairs, so the groom and groomsmen will be able to come and go without seeing the bridal party. A lot of this renovation will take place this coming winter and hopefully, be ready by spring,” said Bresnahan.

Find the Finishes:
Interior wall paint & bathroom paint finishes – Brushed Interiors

Home decor – Nicolette Berge
Exterior paint – Hirshfield’s Vermont Slate (Similar to Magnolia Signature)
Vintage accessories & furniture – Moorhead Antique Mall
Dining table and candle block – Grain Designs
Bathroom paint and cabinetry refinish – Brushed Interiors


Booking the Big Day
Berge will continue to offer personal tours of The Pines every Thursday for brides and grooms who want to ponder the property. “We’ve had a lot of interest from companies regarding corporate events, but peak wedding season for 2019 and even 2020 are filling much quicker than we anticipated. We’ve had a healthy mix of both Friday and Saturday events, but Saturdays are definitely the more popular choice,” said Berge.”So far, everyone is doing the day package which includes being able to make use of the house from 8:00 a.m. on their wedding day to the start of their reception. For my own wedding, I’m having the hairstylist come to the house where the bridal party will be. I think there’s appeal in having everyone come to you instead of having your bridal party go from place to place on your wedding day. That can really eliminate a lot of unnecessary stress.”


Catered Cuisine
Chef’s Table Catering is The Pines exclusive caterer and they’re also helping to get the kitchen properly equipped. “If someone requests a different caterer, they can certainly do that; they would just have to pay an ‘outsider caterer fee’ to use the space and equipment for that event,” said Koenig.

Collaborate & Design
“We are working with Taylor Belk of Epic Homes to complete The Pines building. We’re also working with Rhet Fiskness of Rhet Architecture – he executed the construction documents for the official, stamped drawings. Then Grant and I created the 3-D model based on Rhet’s floor plan and completed the renderings,” said Mikkonen.

“Trever Hill Design is helping us with all of the interior finishes and fixtures. We’re really trying to accent the bathrooms. They’re going to be really unique – something that people haven’t seen yet,” said Koenig. “We’re doing huge 2×4-foot tiles on the wall and long, farmhouse-style sinks. We’re also building a permanent bar in the venue. Having the White House Co. stage for Pat and Nicolette’s wedding will be great – I think their style and aesthetic really fits the venue and vibe, so I’m sure we’ll be working with them a lot.”

Setting the Outdoor Scene
When it comes to outdoor weddings, The Pines’ 17 acres offers endless possibilities. “When I give tours, I tell brides about the different options that what we have in mind; but the great thing is, we can do whatever you want – this is your day and this is an experience, it doesn’t have to be a cookie cutter version of a wedding,” said Berge. “We are planning to use that opening in the grain bins as a sort of aisle for our wedding. Guests will walk through the Grain Designs barn doors in between the grain bins and they will enter an outdoor living room scene staged by White House Co. with an outdoor rug, chandelier, lamps and vintage sofas. Back behind the bins between the field and trees is such a beautiful area for the ceremony and it’s really protected well from the wind.”

“An on-site pergola will be available for all brides to use, however, they’ll have the option to have Grain Designs build them a custom pergola, which after the wedding can be broken down into a queen size bed headboard,” explained Berge. “That’s one of our à la carte options along with a few other options like the wood and metal monogram signs, that guests can sign instead of a traditional guestbook.”

“We also are working on building fire pits and new walking paths through the trees with a procession area where the bride and party can walk through the house and down the stairs leading to the ceremony. We’ll have two designated, outdoor spots where ceremonies can take place, but wherever people want to get married on the property, we can try to accommodate,” said Berge.


Sneak Peek from the Designer: Trever Hill
To get an advanced peek into their collaboration with Trever Hill Design, we asked Hill to share a few of the finishes and fixtures you’ll soon find at The Pines.

“When Grain Designs asked me to be the designer on the project, I was so honored. I look up to them as being cutting-edge and always on trend,” said Hill. “I needed to execute their vision, but I also wanted to put a spin on the average venue space; doing our best to not use the same lighting and design elements as other venues. The Pines has a refined farmhouse feel that everyone will feel at home with.”

“The men’s bathroom, for example, will have a large format tile that has an appearance of steel. Above that tile, will be a woven grasscloth wallpaper. The sink that was chosen for both bathrooms is by Kohler, and we loved that the base can be custom painted to your liking,” explained Hill. “In the men’s restrooms, we are painting the base black with a textured black brick behind the main vanity. In the women’s we are painting the base of the sink a beautiful, blush pink with large format tile in a Calcutta marble look and a metallic wallcovering with a mirrored effect.””When you walk into the entryway of the venue you’ll be greeted with a beautiful, black chain chandelier hanging over a marble tabletop with a black iron base. Off in the distance will be a custom pergola connecting the front entryway to the main hall,” said Hill.


“The accent chairs from Eco Chic Home, table and chain chandelier are all for the entryway,” said Hill. “We chose a long vanity light for the men’s bathroom along with the sconces. To keep the refined, farmhouse feel, I found the shaded sconces with black, matte finish to go in the main hall with the diamond shaped chandelier with rope accent. The classic white chairs are for outdoor weddings and the walnut cross back chairs were chosen for the interior.”


Follow the Progress
“We’ve had really good success in booking the venue while under construction, so having it fully completed soon, will make a huge impact,” said Koenig. “With the success of The Pines, we’re not going to stop upgrading, renovating and building, so what it is now, could be drastically different in the future. We have a much bigger vision for what the whole property can become.”To make sure Midwest Nest readers get the scoop on The Pines first, we will be covering each step of their progress from the final reveal of wedding number one next month, to phase two where they will be transforming the on-site grain bins into guest lodging. The Pines might be slated for a venue now, but it will soon be a local destination with an extraordinary lodging experience that will attract adventure seekers everywhere.

For more information, contact: 

The Pines




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[ Lakes Area Home Tour ] Sneak Peek: Ottertail, Minnesota

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Studio Three Beau   Mark your calendars for the fourth annual Lakes Area Home Tour. This self-guided tour of seven homes takes place for…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Studio Three Beau

Mark your calendars for the fourth annual Lakes Area Home Tour. This self-guided tour of seven homes takes place for one day only, on September 29. To give our readers a sneak peek, we met up with tour coordinator, Emily Dreyer, to walk us through one of the stunning, featured homes owned by Paula and Casady Thiel of Ottertail, Minn. If spectacular homes don’t pique your interest, maybe their charitable cause will. Find out how taking a tour will benefit the 549 Family Foundation and go on to support the valued student programs in their Perham, Minn., area school district.

Take a Tour / Help a Student
“The Lakes Area Home Tour started in 2015 and has been a great way to showcase many of the beautiful homes in our area, as well as help our local vendors promote their businesses and the work that they do,” said Dreyer. The 549 Family Foundation is based in Perham, Minn. and composed of 250 alumni and community members who work to counteract budget cuts and provide creative contributions to programs, activities, educational tools and facilities.

Featured Home Sneak Peek:
The Thiels – Ottertail, Minnesota

Casady and Paula Thiel with their son, Phoenix, and French Bulldog, Betty

When Paula and Casady Thiel, along with their son Phoenix, began the design of their rural home, they were not without inspiration. Their gorgeous lot is uniquely positioned between three lakes, just outside of Ottertail’s city limits. Employing the help of talented friends, family and RHET Architecture, Casady and Paula Thiel constructed a dream team of creative visionaries to complete their build.

Although a design we’d classify as one-of-a-kind, this type of project is one of many for the Thiel family. They’ve become well-known in the area for their artistic endeavors with scrap metal and salvaged materials. Take a drive down Main Street in Ottertail and we have no doubt you’ll be able to spot their family’s handiwork. In fact, you can tour one more if you’d like – Paula Thiel is the owner of Ottertail’s infamous Red Brick Boutique, also designed in their signature style and located in the restored Ottertail Creamery.

Inspiration Sparked
Influencing the home’s design was the initial work of Casady’s father Pete Thiel, the founder of Firestarters Worship Center in Ottertail. Pete Thiel’s desire to create a unique space for his ministry and restore the old Ottertail Creamery, eventually led their entire family to become local experts in making use of salvaged materials. For the Thiels, the family that builds together…stays together.Casady and Paula Thiel began their build in September of 2015, reaching out to RHET Architecture to help with the layout and placement on the lot. From the beginning, Casady Thiel, who runs his own tile business (Thiel Tile & Stone), worked closely with architect Rhet Fiskness, to make the most of the beautiful, three-lake lot, positioning all of their main living spaces south, toward the lake.”Technically, this is lakeshore, but as you can see this is a backlot of Donald Lake. The lot is split in half by Three Lakes Road with Long Lake; our lakefront is across the street on Portage Lake,” explained Paula Thiel.

Just in the entrance, the Thiel’s design-forward thinking is in full force. Referring to the rough-sawn red oak, Mid-century modern chandelier and vintage tin ceiling tile, Casady Thiel sums up their style as ‘rustic elegance’; a complementary combination of Paula’s career in fashion and Casady’s in construction.

Head up the stairs to the great room and office, and you’ll find the stairwell’s glossy, wood-paneled walls – a unique take on an ordinary building material. “This is actually B-grade plywood from Menards that we stained and polyed,” said Paula Thiel. “We went through a lot of plywood at the store, trying to find the best pieces. They ended up looking really random because some of them took stain better than others.” To finish the pieces, the Thiels worked with their friend Wendell Danielson who helped them roll on a high-gloss floor polyurethane and cut each one into 32×48 panels – getting roughly three pieces out of every sheet of plywood. “I think the sheen is the reason this design works,” said Danielson.

Custom fabrication by local welder James Virnala was used in the making of the raw steel stair railings. Throughout the home, Casady Thiel’s eye for perfection takes center stage with the precise install of raw steel wall panels with exposed bolts and steel trim work.

Open-Concept Living
The East wing of the house features an open concept with the kitchen, living room and dining room sharing one unified space. Rough-sawn oak flanks the ceiling while Carrara marble countertops and custom tile designate the kitchen space. “Casady found the tile at Menards, but they were sold as 12x12s. It just didn’t look very interesting, so he cut them down to 6x12s,” explained Paula Thiel.#1, 14
The living room is a favorite spot for the Thiels to relax, build a fire and take in the view. With only one TV in the home, the outdoors is considered their primary source of entertainment.
The Thiels have 4,000 square feet of rough-sawn oak, so in some areas, it’s white-washed and in other areas, it’s the raw, natural color like on the ceiling in the family room, kitchen and dining room. “We found the red oak from a guy in the woods up by Park Rapids, Minn. When we found a material that either Paula or I really liked, I would just buy a lot of it, so we actually had to use it,” laughed Casady Thiel.

Inside the master bath, Casady Thiel used rustic corrugated metal on the ceiling, antiqued brass plumbing fixtures, vintage pendants and his wife’s white Carrara marble tile as the elegant focal point. “Since tile is what I do for a living, I had to go big with the shower,” he laughed. “We just did marble everywhere in here.”

Just a few steps away, the couple created closet perfection with an inexpensive IKEA system that fit so well, it left them with only 1/8-inch to spare. According to Casady Thiel, about 80 percent of the closet is currently his wife’s terrain, inhabited by an array of personal favorites from her clothing store, Red Brick Boutique. For this project, Andrew Campbell helped with the framing and finish work.With his prior construction experience, Casady Thiel was able to work on the entire building project from start to finish, with help from friends and family. “My dad helped me with the foundation and fireplace masonry and my father-in-law helped me frame it,” he said. “We also had Andrew Costin of Costin Construction and our long-time friend, Wendell Danielson, helping with a lot of the work.”

Extraordinary Exterior
With their picturesque lake view setting, the Thiels chose to keep their exterior as organic as possible with elements like rough-sawn wood, salvaged corrugated metal, and raw steel which will naturally age with time. “I’ve always like the look of the shed roof and modern lines, but with rustic and salvaged materials,” said Casady Thiel.”Rhet came up with the idea of doing a sort of ‘pod’ design so that the materials would be different on each section of the house,” said Paula Thiel.#15
“To make this work, we sided it with all different styles of accent panels. Call it O.C.D., but I really needed all of the exterior windows to align,” laughed Casady Thiel. The section encompassing the living room is in a naturally rusting raw steel, while the master’s exterior is wrapped in salvaged, corrugated metal they purchased for 25 cents a square foot in Fergus Falls.Look closer and you’ll find rough-sawn wood on all of the soffit and fascia, which is carried over to the exterior, underneath the lean-to. Also on the roadside, the garage entrance doors have been wrapped with raw steel for a more cohesive exterior design.

In the Future
On the lakeside, the Thiels ongoing plan is to build a boathouse and continue working on the lakefront area which already includes a finished volleyball court. On the exterior, they will be building a Juliet-style deck on the second level coming out from the upstairs office and great room. They also plan to design a trellis over the garage doors to bring in more of the rough-sawn wood elements.

Find the Finishes:
Architect –  Casady Thiel, Rhet Fiskness, RHET Architecture, Fargo, N.D.
Landscape – Paula Thiel with floral by Swedberg Nursery, Battle Lake, Minn.
Plywood walls and tile supply – Menards
Tile design & install – Casady Thiel, Thiel Tile & Stone
Countertops – Carrara Marble, Syverson Tile & Stone, Fargo N.D.
Masonry – Casady Thiel and Pete Thiel
Metal fabrication – James Virnala
Master closet system – Ikea
Construction – Andrew Costin, Costin Construction, Wadena, Minn., Pete Thiel, Casady Thiel, Andrew Campbell
Woodwork – Casady Thiel, Pete Thiel and Wendell Danielson



Take a Tour
“This year, we have homes in Perham, Frazee, New York Mills and Ottertail,” said Dreyer. “We want to have a little something to inspire everyone in their own decorating, remodeling or building projects. The homes range in sizes, decor styles, locations and more. We try to pick homes that have done some updates, are new builds, or have interesting features that would be fun to see. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and I think people just enjoy seeking that inspiration out and then bringing it to life in their own space.”

Tour Sponsors:
The tours Title Sponsor is Lumber Depot of New York Mills, Minn. “They have been our Title Sponsor for the past few years, and their knowledge and expertise in the building industry has been instrumental throughout the planning process,” said Dreyer. “Their goal is to help people find inspiration that suits their lifestyle and make their spaces uniquely their own.”Each home also has designated ‘Host Sponsors’ which are businesses in the community that are affiliated with the home on some level. These sponsors are present in the home on the day of the tour to showcase their business and assist with the tour traffic. “This year, you’ll find Bremer Bank, New Horizons Realty, Hilltop Lumber, Refreshing Designs & Karvonen’s, United Community Bank, and Thiel Tile & Stone at different homes on the tour. They change each year based on the different homes that will be featured,” said Dreyer. The tour also consists of “Friend Sponsors” and “Neighbor Sponsors” that can support the tour while marketing their products and services.



Lakes Area Home Tour:
Saturday, September 29, 2018
9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Cost is $25/ticket with proceeds benefiting the 549 Family Foundation.
[Tickets come with a coupon for a free seasonal beverage at Brew Ales & Eats in Perham!]


Find Tickets At:
Nest, Bremer Bank, Refreshing Designs in Perham or at Lumber Depot in New York MillsPurchase Tickets Online:
Facebook – Lakes Area Home Tour
https://www.facebook.com/events/1477321369012671/For more information:
Facebook Page – Lakes Area Home Tour
* Be sure to ‘like’ their page to see updates and sneak peeks of each featured home!To Support 549 Family Foundation, contact:
Emily Dreyer
800 Coney Street West, Perham, M.N.


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Downtown Wine Cooperative [ Rooftop Rendezvous ]

Words by Shayla Knutson, Sweetly Simple Life Photography by M. Schleif Photography On a brisk night in August, we invited Midwest Nest to gather on the rooftops to experience our…

Words by Shayla Knutson, Sweetly Simple Life
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

On a brisk night in August, we invited Midwest Nest to gather on the rooftops to experience our 38th Downtown Wine Cooperative event with local sommelier, Jean Taylor. To double the fun, we joined rooftop patios with our neighbors, Terry and Darla Johnson to pack in over 40 wine enthusiasts, ready to learn. To give our guests a night of wining and dining, my husband Cam and I prepared small plates and hors-d’oeuvres using recipes from my Sweetly Simple Life food blog. This perfect evening would mark 1,400 attendees and an impressive 7,000 glasses of wine served in unique locations all over Downtown Fargo.

Downtown Wine Cooperative
The event began in 2014 as a one-time gathering to further our wine education, but quickly progressed to a monthly event. Although the first event was at our home, our focus shifted to help others experience new downtown places and meet new people. We keep it very casual and proudly proclaim that there is no dress code and we don’t try and make it fancy. We believe wine should be approachable and doesn’t need to be stuffy.

Our local sommelier and educational host, Jean Taylor, has been in professional wine service for over 10 years, working in fine dining at esteemed, local hot spots like Maxwell’s and Mezzaluna. When she’s not teaching us the fundamentals of wine, she works for a boutique wine distributor called Small Lot, based in the Twin Cities.

People & Places
To experience more downtown locations, we’ve held the wine cooperative at a number of downtown condos, businesses and homes in the area. We’ve also ventured out to interesting locations we felt everyone should experience like, Troll Bar at the Sons of Norway, Elevate in the Loretta building, Sanctuary, Abovo, Woodrow Wilson apartments (one before renovation and one after), APT Creative Incubator Space, a 102 Broadway rooftop and many more!

Life & Wine
Cam and I will soon be making the move to Bismarck, but we plan to keep our downtown condo and return often. We hope the wine cooperative will continue with Jean and we’ll be making the trek home to attend whenever possible. To sum up our experience, I’ll leave you with a note from my husband, Cam Knutson;”The biggest thing that I’ve learned from this is that wine is a life-long journey. There’s no point that you’re going to reach a peak and say, I’ve mastered everything there is to know about wine. You’re going to keep learning throughout your entire journey in life – to just be intentional as you’re talking about wine whether you’re at an event, traveling or out for date night. When you have a chance to be thoughtful about what you’re drinking and where it’s from – read up on it, learn more and keep continuing on this journey to learn and enjoy wine.”


5 [Sweetly Simple] Tips
For Hosting A Great Party 

  1. Give yourself plenty of time.                                                                                                                Start prepping a day or two in advance. I prep everything I’m cooking ahead of time and set out all the serving dishes I’m going to use. Being prepared takes a lot of the stress out of hosting an event and will let you enjoy yourself more when the day arrives.
  2. Simplify the menu.
    Don’t try to make something new. Stick with things you enjoy making and know taste good.
  3. Set the right mood.                                                                                                                    To set the mood, turn down the lights, play some music and pick up some inexpensive flowers from the grocery store, Costco or your local farmers market.
  4. When someone offers help, accept it!
    Have them help with something as simple as putting dishes in the dishwasher or setting the table.
  5. Relax and enjoy yourself!                                                                                                                      Nothing makes guests more uncomfortable than a nervous or anxious host. It’s your party, so allow yourself time to have fun and enjoy the company.

Onion Relish and Sausage Crostini 
* 1 package Kiolbassa Smoked Sausage (find this at Costco or Sam’s Club)
* ¼ C. oil
* salt and pepper
* 1 med/lg yellow onion (finely chopped)
* ½ C. balsamic vinegar
* 3 Tbs. honey
* 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
* Pinch red pepper flakes
* 1 ½ C. ricotta

* 2 baguettes

For the Sausage: 

Slice the sausage at a 45° angle into ½” to 1” thick pieces. Place the sausage on a grill, in a grill basket on medium to high heat. Keep a close eye on these as they cook very fast.

For the Onion Relish: 
Heat ¼ cup oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, thyme, red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden and tender, 13 to 15 minutes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and honey.
For the Baguette: 

Preheat the oven to 400℉. Slice the baguette diagonally into ¼ inch slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are golden brown.

Assemble the Crostini: 

Top the toasted bread with a dollop of the ricotta, a piece of sausage and a spoonful of the onion relish.

Apple Manchego Salad
* 5 to 6 apples (Fuji, Honeycrisp or Granny Smith)
* 7 oz Manchego cheese
* ⅓ C chives (chopped)
* ¼ C fresh lemon juice
* 1 T olive oil

* Pinch of salt

Slice the apples into matchsticks. Toss the apples with lemon juice. Slice the cheese into matchsticks and add to the apples. Toss apples and cheese with chives, olive oil, and salt. Note: Do not make more than two hours ahead.


Whipped Feta and Tomato Crostini
* 6 oz. feta
* 3 oz. cream cheese (softened)
* ⅔ C. olive oil (divided)
* ½ of a lemon (juiced)
* 1 small onion (minced)
* 1 Tbs. minced garlic
* 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
* 2 pounds cherry tomatoes (halved)
* 3 Tbs. julienned basil leaves
* 2 baguettes
* ¼ C. toasted pine nuts

* Salt and pepper

For the Whipped Feta: 

Place the feta, cream cheese, ⅓ cup olive oil, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl and beat with hand mixer until smooth.

For the Tomatoes: 

Combine minced onion, garlic, vinegar, ⅓ cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Before serving, add the julienned basil.

For the Baguette: 

Preheat the oven to 400℉. Slice the baguette diagonally into ¼ inch slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are golden brown.

To assemble the Crostini: 
Spread each slice of bread with whipped feta mixture. Place the tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with extra basil and toasted pine nuts.
Candied Pecans
* 4 C. pecan halves
* 1 large egg white
* 1 Tbs. water
* 1 C. sugar
* 2 tsp. cinnamon
* ½ tsp. salt

* 1 dash of cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the egg white and water until completely combined. In a large mixing bowl add the pecans, egg white and water mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Pour the cinnamon sugar mixture over the pecans and stir until all of the pecans are fully coated. Place the pecans onto the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake at 300°F for 45 minutes, stirring the pecans every 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely on the baking sheet.

Smoked Pork Belly Sliders 
* 24-32 King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls

* 1 Cucumber

For the Marinade: 
* 2-4 pound pork belly
* ¼ C. hoisin sauce
* 2 Tbs. soy sauce
* 2 Tbs. honey
* 2 Tbs. minced ginger
* 2 Tbs. minced garlic
* 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
* 2 Tbs. sesame oil

* ½ tsp. pepper

Whisk together the garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, sesame oil and pepper. Add the pork belly, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

For the Pickled Carrots and Daikon: 
* 1 C. julienned carrots
* 1 C. julienned daikon radish
* ½ C. sugar
* ½ C. rice wine vinegar

* ½ C. water

Combine the carrot and daikon radish in a bowl. In a small pot, whisk together the sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to a simmer until sugar dissolves; let cool for 10 minutes. Pour the sugar mixture into the bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

For the Spicy Onion Mayonnaise: 
* ¼ C. mayonnaise
* 3 green onions thinly sliced
* 2 tsp. minced garlic
* 1 tsp. sriracha
* ½ tsp. smoked paprika

* Dash of salt and pepper

Combine the mayonnaise, green onions, sriracha, smoked paprika, salt/pepper and garlic in a small bowl.

Smoked Pork Belly:

Traeger Smoker Option: When ready to cook, start the Traeger grill on smoke with the lid open until fire is established (4-5 minutes). Set temperature to 275 degrees F and preheat, lid closed, for 10-15 minutes. Place pork belly directly on the grill grate and cook for 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F. Remove from grill and let rest 10-15 minutes. (https://www.traegergrills.com/recipes/pork/smoked-pork-belly)

Stovetop Option: Thinly slice the pork belly. Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add the pork belly and cook until crisp and browned, about 4-5 minutes.

Serve pork belly on toasted Kings Hawaiian rolls with pickled daikon and carrots, thinly sliced cucumber and spicy onion mayonnaise.


To see more of Shayla Knutson’s Sweetly Simple recipes;
Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @sweetlysimplelife

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Back to School [ Growing Kids Preschool & Childcare ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by M. Schleif Photography After 25 years in the business, Growing Kids Preschool & Childcare of Fargo needed more room to grow. Finding a great,…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

After 25 years in the business, Growing Kids Preschool & Childcare of Fargo needed more room to grow. Finding a great, central location with plenty of square footage, CEO Kim Kelley and her staff, packed up the playground and headed down the road to a new building near the Multiband Tower. To transform the space, which was once occupied by cubicles and offices, Kelley used her personal passion for design to create an open concept, in a nurturing atmosphere. See inside Kelley’s vision for a brighter future, with opportunities to learn and play, around every corner.


Growing Kids, Growing Spaces
As a place designed to nurture growth, Growing Kids has become a trendsetter. Kelley’s future vision called for less confined spaces and more room to expand their offerings. Gathering her own creative ideas and concepts, Kelley recruited the help of a friend, Terry Stroh of T.L. Stroh Architects to redefine the layout. It wasn’t long before their new space became a vibrant environment, with a focus on gathering, learning…and fun.

Learning…Room by Room
With six specific areas from infants to toddler and school-age groups, each room’s entrance has a color-coordinated number on the door, reinforcing colors, shapes, numbers and letters as the children transition through the rooms. For a fun feature at their feet, Kelley used custom-ordered carpet tiles to create coordinating color arrows for each room. Throughout the rooms, kids have their run of seven miniature playhouses and an array of fabric tents ready for fun.

This wing is specially designed for ages three through school-age. “This space is ideal for early childhood development. It checks every box for creating successful learners, creative minds and confident children,” said Kelley. “That is a dream for most educators.”

Infants have their own entrance as well as an indoor and outdoor play area, complete with a turf base and white picket fence. This wing is designed to cater solely to infants six weeks to two-years-old.

Happy Gatherings
When they moved into the new building, the large communal area’s high walls were completely grey, so adding a crisp, white coat of paint with a hand-painted navy pinstripe brightened up the expanse. “We have over 20,000 square feet to work with, so I wanted a big open space where the kids could come out and be together, instead of just being confined to their rooms,” said Kelley. “This is also where they have snacks and eat lunch together.”

Before lunch and snacks are served, the kids happily head to the wash and drink station, which is one of the features that Stroh helped Kelley design. With simple wall decals and white subway tile, this space encourages and makes cleanliness fun.

Designing a Brighter Future
Even though Kim Kelley’s first priority is always the children she cares for, her passion for design shines through in the everyday environment she creates for them. Outside of Growing Kids, Kelley has managed the builds and remodels of two houses and four cabins over the years.

“I had collected ideas from magazines and traveling of what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted clean lines and I tried to keep our decor simple – with childcare and fire codes, it limits what we can put on the walls. We stuck with mainly primary colors and clean lines that really seem to create a soothing environment for the kids,” said Kelley. “By putting the numbers, colors and words on the walls, it was a way for the kids to learn as they go about their day. I also started collecting street signs at the flea markets in Detroit Lakes and the Fargo Antiques & Repurposed Market, so you’ll see those near the entrance with working street lights around the building. We love how open this building is, with the high ceilings and large windows for bringing in natural light.”

To create an inviting entrance for both wings, Kelley worked with Dakota Construction to help her build their wood and corrugated metal entrance signs using letters from Hobby Lobby. The corrugated metal was a design feature that was then carried through to the restroom design. The wood benches were custom-built by a local craftsman, then painted by Kelley.

Playground Paradise
Dakota Playground took on the task of transporting the large playground equipment over to the new site. Her husband, Brad Kelley, constructed a wood border with recycled tire mulch under the playground. To complete the playground’s design, Kelley recruited Mike Nicholson of Custom Landscaping to build up the area around the playground and make a foundation, with the end goal of creating an artificial turf running track. “Every day, the kids grab their sunscreen and spend hours out here playing on the equipment and racing around the track – they love it,” said Kelley.

The most recent addition to their expansive outdoor space is the new backyard playhouse. The interior of the playhouse is already underway with the shiplap going up and a porch being built within the month. “We have so much outdoor space here, so we wanted the kids to be able to really use all of the spaces, inside and outside,” said Kelley. “We’re also planning the build of a basketball court off to the side that we hope will be completed soon.”


“We believe in the power of play. This space gives the children the room to develop, play, giggle and be a kid while they are learning. That is exactly the vision we had for Growing Kids.”
Kayla Cichos, Director – Growing Kids Preschool & Childcare


For the Kelleys, caring for children seems to run in the family. While Brad Kelley takes on the majority of his wife’s design projects for the children, their daughter, Hannah, recently graduated from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., obtaining her degree in early childhood education. After graduation, she has since moved back to work full-time at Growing Kids, alongside her mom.

“When the kids come here, they always feel safe and know that they’ll have a great learning experience. It’s a fun environment where they have a lot of room to play!”

Hannah Kelley

In the Future:
What we haven’t shown is the additional 6,000 square feet in the upstairs loft. Right now, part of the space is being used for on-site dance lessons offered to children during their daily schedules. This fall, they will begin offering piano lessons on their upstairs grand piano. With an idea to utilize the rest of the space, Kelley is working on a plan to create a miniature city with individual buildings for the children to play in – think post office, bank, school, grocery store and everything in between.

About Growing Kids:
Kim Kelley and her staff typically care for around 120 children with 56 preschoolers in the fall. Both Kelley and her director, Kayla Cichos are on site every day. Cichos manages all of the day-to-day tasks like parent communication, enrollment, accountability for all of the different age groups, staffing and overall organization. Shannon Rubertus, assistant director, handles direction of the infant and toddler wing, “Baby & Co.”

“Because we offer care to all ages, many of the kids have been enrolled since they were young infants and continue into their school-age years,” said Kelley. “We love that many of the kids get to grow up here alongside their siblings. We hope the memories they build here, last a lifetime.”

Find the Finishes:
Architect – T.L. Stroh
Stripe painting – Chuck Gingerich, Final Finish
Wood signs – Dakota Construction
Vinyl lettering – Lisa Palmer, Dabblin ‘n Design
Custom carpet tiles – Carpet World
Outdoor turf prep & install – Mike Nicholson, Josh Kellar – Custom Landscaping
Stuffed animal heads & wall art – Target, Hobby Lobby
Miniature playhouses – Costco, Sam’s Club
Rugs – Ikea
Miniature Adirondack chairs, Teepees, exterior turf – Sam’s Club
Street Signs – Fargo Antiques & Repurposed Market, Shady Hollow Flea Market
Melamine cabinetry and cubby stations – R.L.Engebretson
For more information, contact:
Growing Kids Preschool & Childcare
Kim Kelley, CEO  |   Kayla Cichos, Director
4324 20th Avenue South, Fargo
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Everyone’s Cordially Invited to [ Monte & Jerry’s Garden Party ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by M. Schleif Photography When a petite garden soiree becomes a full-blown fundraising affair, you can bet that Monte Jones and Jerry Erbstoesser have something…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

When a petite garden soiree becomes a full-blown fundraising affair, you can bet that Monte Jones and Jerry Erbstoesser have something to do with it. This dynamic duo has become well-known for their annual get-togethers during the holidays, and now more recently, their end-of-summer, garden gatherings. Take a walk down the block and see inside their quaint garden party turned inclusive block party. When this couple decides to entertain, the theme is always, ‘The more the merrier’.

Gaining a Garden
Last summer, we heard that Jones and Erbstoesser had recently transitioned from a downtown condo to a new home in West Fargo. Their new, larger home meant gaining a backyard so Jones could once again pursue his love of gardening…and of course, garden parties. It wasn’t long before their July 29th plans for a quaint garden party escalated. Their small gathering had become a full-blown, inclusive block party with a bevy of supportive sponsors and the Front Fenders entertaining the crowds. To give the event a meaningful purpose, the couple reached out to United Way and set plans in place for a silent auction and proceeds to benefit their cause.

Greetings from the Garden
Midway through Monte and Jerry’s block party, we headed to the backyard to see their relaxing retreat including a pool, hot tub and garden gazebo. Following a charming stone pathway, we took a tour through the wildflowers, ponds, bird baths and whimsical sitting areas. While Erbstoesser steers clear of the garden work and focuses on pool maintenance, Jones is always at work gathering rocks, placing stepping stones, bird baths and an array of floral he aptly names after Hollywood characters – a nod to his early years in theater.

In just one summer, Jones has transformed a vacant field into a beautiful, backyard retreat.

“The Maple trees are Fire Red Maples, so I’ve named them Scarlett and Neely O’Hara – Scarlett’s from Gone with the Wind and Neely is a character from a really bad movie that nobody knows about called Valley of the Dolls,” laughed Jones. Next, we meet a Korean Willow he refers to as Winifred and another as Wilimena. “The Wisteria on the lattice is Whinny. I’m still trying to think of a really great sister act to name the Poplars.”

“The garden parties have always been fun. At the first one we went to, back at their historic home, it was just the most eclectic group of people – we saw pink hair, clergyman, elderly folks bringing hotdish, a neighbor playing piano in the backyard and everything you can imagine,” laughed Dianne Swenson. “They are wonderful guys; we love them and when we’re invited, we definitely try to be there.”

“I think the inclusive side of the party is great – they love everybody and that’s what it’s about,” said Lois Koppang.

[In]clusive Invites
“The reason it all started years ago, is that we have all of these people that we really like, but they don’t know each other. So, we thought if we really like these people…let’s get them all together to meet the other people that we really like,” explained Jones. “I don’t know exactly what it is we do, but the feedback that we get from people about these parties validates everything that we do. This is just what brings us joy.”

“We extended our invite to everyone in Brooks Harbor and also over to the Eagle Run neighborhood. One of the first to arrive was a couple with their young son; they had just bought a house in Brooks Harbor a few months ago and they didn’t know anybody. I told them to come on in and we’ll introduce you – you’ll know everybody by the time you leave,” said Jones.

There Goes the Neighborhood…
When Jones and Erbstoesser move into a new neighborhood, you’ll definitely know when they arrive. “Either you’re going to like us or you’re going to hate us,” Erbstoesser laughed. “This is who we are; we like to entertain, so we entertain. Once the neighbors found out about this garden party, they were completely on board with everything, even the live band. They were all asking what they could do to help.”

“We haven’t even been here a year yet, and the whole street is wonderful,” said Jones. “Every Friday and Saturday night we have our garage doors open, we walk the street – people have bonfires in their driveway – it almost reminds me of being at the lake, minus the water.”

Gathering Support
Gathering supporters, the two soon found out that many local businesses were willing to donate auction items, food, time and talent to their party. Happy Harry’s donated 10 cases of wine and 30 cases of beer while Proof Artisan Distillers coined a specialty drink for the occasion. An array of donated auction items included NDSU football tickets, theater tickets, plaques and everything in between.Giving Back in a Big Way
When the day was done, Jones and Erbstoesser had officially raised $4,661 with the help of their sponsors and the community! On August 20th, Jones and Erbstoesser presented one giant, garden party check to United Way of Cass-Clay’s Kristi Huber and Travis Christopher.

“Bottom line is, it’s not about us, it’s about what we can help bring to the community – this time the community gave back far more than we did.”
Monte Jones

Garden Party Sponsors:
Delta by Marriot, United Way, Happy Harry’s Bottle Shop, Firestone, Bob 95, Front Fenders, The Teehive, Proof Artisan Distillers, Johnson Brothers, Republic National, Bank of the West, Culinex

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Luxury & Livability

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by J. Alan Paul Photography This month, we met up with a local builder, Robert Leslie, to see inside his extraordinary personal home in The…

Words by Tracy Nicholson

Photography by J. Alan Paul Photography
This month, we met up with a local builder, Robert Leslie, to see inside his extraordinary personal home in The Wilds of West Fargo. This stunner by Designer Homes is 6,700 square feet of the latest design trends and amenities, you need to see before you build. Step inside their laid-back style with high-tech entertaining, and fun-filled features around every corner. As a family retreat for Robert, his wife Melissa, and their three children, home is truly where the heart is.

Positive Energy
When Designer Homes’ founder, Robert Leslie, decided it was time to rebuild, the goal was all about fusing extraordinary design with the latest in technology and amenities. “This house will host private tours, by appointment, so that we can walk our clientele through all of the different ultra-custom features that are now available,” said Leslie. “Our clients deserve to know the latest trends and technology in new homes, and it’s our job as home builders to always be educating ourselves on new trends, as opposed as just knowing how to build. I personally work with clients on every build when it comes to the design elements of their home; I really pride myself on the relationship I have with each of those clients.”Nearly every inch of Leslie’s six bedroom, six bath home is automated, controlling each room’s specific lighting, shade controls, media, security and audio settings. “It’s great to be able to show people all of the different things we do, and also showcase our subcontractor’s work.”

Laid-Back Luxury
“Our family and our style is laid back; it’s kick your feet up, enjoy your home and enjoy your family,” said Leslie. “We’re not fancy people and I appreciate every style of living, but for me, I wanted our home to be a place where we could just be at home and be comfortable.”

Near the great room, Leslie displays Designer Homes’ custom wood wall and geometric patterned stair railing, fabricated by Straightline Design. These are just a couple of the endless features that Designer Homes can bring into their homes, giving each client their own signature look.

Pristine Privacy

To offer their homeowners a well-rounded experience to complete the interior or exterior design, Designer Homes offer additional services through two different divisions. “Through EnVision Builders, we are able to provide the install and design of decks, fences and basement finishes. We also offer designer window treatments and window films through our subsidiary company, Designer Window Treatments,” said Leslie.

“A lot of people don’t want to put blinds on their windows, but they still want their privacy. This is a linen look and it’s simply a film we apply to the windows; if you get tired of it in two years and you want a different look, you peel it off and you can easily replace it. All of the windows on the back side of the house have a custom film which blocks out around 99% of ultraviolet rays. This will help protect your flooring, furniture and cabinets from fading.”

Heart of the Home
In the kitchen, Leslie designed the custom cabinetry with Braaten Cabinets and worked with Spaulding Stone to create the three-inch-thick, quartz waterfall countertop. A gourmet kitchen and appliance package is featured, including a more modern, raised dishwasher design.

Entertaining is made easy with a spacious butler’s pantry which doubles as a second kitchen. This space showcases multiple storage options, another set of gourmet appliances and unique amenities, hidden behind closed doors.

Contemporary meets Vintage 

For Melissa Leslie, the home’s host bar, pantry and built-ins provided the perfect backdrop for her vintage dishware collections, in cheerful tones of Hazel Atlas, Jadeite, Blue Charm and Ruby Red. “It adds a pretty pop of color, but I also think it makes a house feel like a home because of its sentimental value,” said Melissa Leslie. “My inspiration comes from my grandma and my mom; they always made meals the most important part of our day as a family.”

To perfectly complement the space, Designer Homes custom-built Leslie’s one-of-a-kind dining table base with three-inch-thick quartz to mimic the adjacent kitchen design. Furniture design is just one of the many features his company can now offer clients who crave custom.

Masterful Suite
Custom dresser built-ins with waterfall-edge, quartz countertops, white shiplap and tray ceilings make this suite any homeowner’s dream. Their masterful retreat also comes complete with a private patio, double crown molding and LED strip lighting.

Inside this Designer Homes master bath, the Leslie’s start their day with plenty of natural light, gorgeous ceramic tile, clean white finishes and a spacious walk-in shower. “I love big spaces, so to me, this is how I want to start my day,” said Leslie. “The tiled walk-in shower has interior and exterior controls, glass doors with a custom film for privacy, as well as more appealing, tile drain basins. It’s also a steam shower with two separate steam units and five shower head options for each person.”


Lower Level Luxury
In the Leslie’s lower level, Designer Homes worked with Straightline Design to create the custom wine racks in a glass-enclosed space between the bar and theater areas.


With custom wood columns and LED lighting, guests are greeted with thick quartz, waterfall countertops and seating for four. This alcove features a beverage center, ice maker, dishwasher and wine bar with a separate chamber for temperature control.


“We have seating for 12 and we worked with Custom Cinema & Sound to incorporate the best theater features like silver lenticular screen technology, so you can watch a movie and get a perfect picture, even with the lights on,” said Leslie. “It actually has the LED built into the back side, so you can change it to over 100 different colors.


Extraordinary Exterior
“Tricked out and lit”, might be the most accurate phrase to describe the Leslie’s stunning exterior with stamped concrete and stone surroundings. Directly off the home’s back entrance, guests can enjoy the pond view through tempered glass railings in the patio’s dining area, fire pit, playground or custom-designed, outdoor kitchen and grill station with granite countertops.5721
In the backyard, Leslie wanted the pond, but not the slope. As a solution, he incorporated an eight-foot retaining wall that extends all the way across the back, with varying levels stepping down to another level-ground yard near the pond.
If that’s not enough to keep you entertained, keep walking and you’ll find the salt water pool with automated cover, spa, built-in fireplace cove and the garage room; which is fully equipped with a poolside bath, flat screen, state-of-the-art sound system, smart home technology, cozy seating, game room and built-in storage room. There’s also wireless hubs throughout the entire house, so you never have a poor signal, even around the pool.

Leslie’s stunning, fireplace cove is a jaw-dropping, limestone haven with a massive flat-screen, fireplace, automatic shade controls to control sunlight, wind and mosquitos – as well as color-changing LEDs to coordinate with your favorite team.

“As a builder, I feel it’s our responsibility to have a design background. For me, when I built this house, I didn’t just design a house, I designed the home around this location,” said Leslie. “We kept every detail of this land in mind and designed the home around maximizing the space and the views.”

Building Better

We all know that Designer Homes can wow us with their ultra-custom, luxury line of homes; but if given the challenge, they’re ready to show off what they can do in other areas. “People don’t know that we can build high quality in a lower range like $275,000 to $500,000 including lot,” said Leslie. “This year, we’ll still be focused on the high-end, ultra-custom homes, but we’re excited to showcase a few examples of this type of high quality at a different price point.”

Find the Finishes: 

Builder – Designer Homes
Designer – Cheyenne Jundt, Designer Homes
Cabinetry – Braaten Cabinets
Countertops – Spaulding Stone
Furniture – Scan Design
Tile & flooring – Floor to Ceiling Carpet One
Home automation & theater system – Custom Cinema & Sound
Window films – Designer Window Treatments, a division of Designer Homes
Power shades on patio doors – Pella Windows
Power shades in bedrooms – Kateva
Glass door fabrication – Frontier Glass
Fixtures, lighting, plumbing and appliances – Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery
Theater seating – thetheaterseatstore.com
Metal fabrication – Straightline Design
Spa & fiberglass pool – Hot Springs Spas
Playset – Rainbow Play Systems
Plumbing & HVAC – Precision Plumbing

Drywall – Red River Drywall
Exterior dryvit and stone install – Ottertail Stucco and Stone
Siding – Knoke Seamless Siding
Concrete and stamped patios – All-Finish Concrete
Fence – Envision, a division of Designer Homes
Electrical – K&D Electric
Home security – Laser Systems
Landscaping – Scenic Landscaping
Sprinkler system – Aqua Lawn
Stone supply & fireplace – Hebron Brick

For more information, contact:

Designer Homes/Remax Legacy

4342 15th Avenue South Suite 105, Fargo


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Yay for Yeh! [Girl Meets Farm: Interview with Molly Yeh ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson, Molly Yeh Photography by Chantell & Brett Quernemoen When in doubt, add sprinkles! In the East Grand Forks kitchen of Molly Yeh, this mantra is a…

Words by Tracy Nicholson, Molly Yeh
Photography by Chantell & Brett Quernemoen

When in doubt, add sprinkles! In the East Grand Forks kitchen of Molly Yeh, this mantra is a recipe for success. A transplant from the Chicago suburbs, Yeh married into the farm life, learned to embrace the country, and eventually started a food blog to chronicle her kitchen endeavors. Her blog, my name is yeh, became the perfect avenue to fuse her Jewish and Chinese heritage with Midwest comfort food and family favorites. A few impressive awards, thousands of followers and a best-selling cookbook later, Yeh’s kitchen creativity had officially caught the eye of Food Network. Nearly one month ago, Yeh debuted her TV series, Girl Meets Farm, giving viewers a glimpse inside her sweet and sprinkled passion for food, family and the farm.


Meet Molly Yeh
Influencing her eclectic cooking style, Yeh grew up in the Chicago suburbs with a Chinese father and Jewish mother, followed by a post-high school life in New York City studying percussion at Juilliard. After getting married and starting her food blog, Yeh relocated with her husband to a sugar beet farm in East Grand Forks, N.D., where she currently resides.

Yeh is the author of the International Association of Culinary Professionals award-winning cookbook, “Molly on the Range.” She is the creator of the critically-acclaimed and highly popular food and lifestyle brand “my name is yeh”, which has been recognized by the likes of the New York Times, Food & Wine, New York Magazine, Saveur (“Blog of the Year”) and Yahoo (“Food Blog of the Year”). She was also in the ranks of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list for 2017.

Girl Meets Farm
In the seven-episode series, Girl Meets Farm, Yeh gives Food Network viewers a glimpse inside her life and kitchen on their East Grand Forks farm. While her nostalgic, farmhouse kitchen creates a worldly fusion of cuisine and sweets, many would say it’s her charm that has stolen the show. Infusing elements of five-star, fine dining with Midwest comfort foods and artfully crafted desserts, Yeh is now one of the most sought-after food bloggers and cookbook authors today.

Molly’s Menu
If you missed the premiere episode, Yeh made an eclectic buffet for her sister-in-law Anna’s baby shower. On the menu were Fish Tacos with Crunchy Cabbage Slaw and Cilantro Dressing, Pigs in a Blanket with Harissa Ketchup and Honey Mustard, as well as Molly’s signature Meatball Sliders with a Twist.

As with all of Yeh’s kitchen endeavors, the experience is not complete without a sweet ending. Baked Donuts with Rhubarb, Blood Orange and Blueberry Glaze took center stage on the shower’s dessert table. Upcoming episodes feature Yeh’s family visits, girl’s brunch, farm supper, a special anniversary celebration and recipes like her Garlic and Onion Challah, Dark Chocolate Scone Loaf with Marzipan and Scallion Pancakes with Maple Carrot Slaw.

“Molly is full of life and her unlikely journey from the big city to a food-centered life on a Midwest farm is fascinating,” said Courtney White, Executive Vice President, Programming, Food Network and HGTV. “Her passion for food, her family and farm life are front and center in all of her recipes, which are truly written from the heart.”


Midwest Nest Meets Molly Yeh!
Whether you reside in Grand Forks, Bismarck or Fargo, everyone seems to know everyone, right? It seems nearly impossible that Yeh has managed to quietly create her foodie empire, right in our own backyard. If you haven’t followed her wildly popular food blog, viewed her new show, or ventured to one of her local cookbook signings, now’s your chance to get to know this locally-based talent on a more personal level. Midwest Nest sat down with Yeh to get the lowdown on life on the farm and her new Food Network show, Girl Meets Farm.

Q&A with Molly Yeh!

From growing up near Chicago to settling down on a farm in East Grand Forks, how has this changed or inspired you?

Yeh: It has opened my eyes to hotdish and cookie salad! I thought that adjusting to East Grand Forks wouldn’t be very drastic since I grew up in the Midwest, but the upper Midwest is so different from the suburbs of Chicago and it has been so fun and delicious to learn about this whole new world.

What do you think has been the biggest factor in the creation of your lifestyle brand and becoming an award-winning cookbook author and blogger?

Yeh: Hard work. I am definitely inspired by how hard my farmer husband and other farmers in the area work. At first, I was shocked at the million-hour days and weekend work days that farmers put in during the season, but then I just thought, well, I guess I’ll just spend that time decorating cakes and blogging about it!

When did you find out that you were being considered for a Food Network show?

Yeh: When my book Molly on the Range came out. A few folks from the network set up a meeting when I was in New York for the launch and it was great! Their offices are right above my favorite hummus place.

Did you film at your farm and what/how long was the shoot process?

Yeh: Yes, we shot the pilot in December and that took a week, and the rest of the season was shot over two-and-a-half weeks in April.

From what readers and followers know of you now, is there anything that you will be doing differently on the show?

Yeh: I’ll be showing them more of the farm and of Grand Forks than I do on the blog. They’ll see my trusty old Buick boat cruising around town.

How will you fuse your background, culture and family into the show?

Yeh: Pretty much all of the recipes draw inspiration from my Chinese and Jewish heritage, my upbringing and my new surroundings. There will be a whole episode about Chinese food with my dad, an episode with my mom’s brisket and a show centered around hotdish.

What do you want Food Network viewers to take away from Girl Meets Farm?

Yeh: How fun, colorful and meaningful food can be. Cooking for others has always been my favorite way to show people that I love them and it’s also been my window into learning about my heritage and other cultures, so if I can show others how to do the same, then I’ll be satisfied.

Who in your life do you consider to be your greatest inspiration or mentor?

Yeh: My mom is my biggest inspiration in the kitchen. She’s an amazing cook and baker, and I keep a binder of recipes that she made for me. I love having them near, it’s like we’re hanging out in the kitchen together.

For your youngest fans who want to bake and blog, what kind of advice can you offer for pursuing their passion?

Yeh: Share your unique perspective and story and always push yourself to learn and improve. And when in doubt, add sprinkles!

What has life been like since the show debuted on June 24th?

Yeh: Really fun because each episode brings another opportunity to connect with my Instagram friends and see what recipes they’ve been making from the show.

What does your family, community and husband think of your TV debut and success?

Yeh: I think they’re happy as long as they get to be my first call taste testers!

When you first moved to East Grand Forks, what did you feel was the funniest or most surprising characteristic of the region?

Yeh: That people leave their cars running in the parking lot of the grocery store in the winter.

Where/how did you first meet your husband and will he be an active part of the show?

Yeh: In college through mutual friends and yes, he has the best lines of the show! I was at Juilliard then, focusing on contemporary music.

What are your favorite things to bake/cook?

Yeh: Cakes. I love baking cakes for anyone, for any occasion. I also love making hummus and hotdish for people. I really like using tahini and wish good tahini was more widely available in the states – same with marzipan, machlab, naturally colored sprinkles and rosewater.

What is the most challenging recipe you have ever tried and why?

Yeh: Halva, a Middle Eastern candy that’s like the inside of a Butterfinger but made with ground sesame seeds. I failed my first few times and it was maddening because the ingredients are not cheap. In retrospect, I think it was because my candy thermometer was broken.

What are some of your favorite restaurants or stores in the F-M or Grand Forks areas?

Yeh: Toasted Frog, Rhombus Guys, Darcy’s, Unglued, Bernbaum’s, India Palace, Kittsona, Zandbroz, Blue Moose and the Prairie Roots Food Co-op.


Chocolate Sheet Cake with Pistachio Butter Frosting

Molly Yeh from my name Is yeh

Makes one 9″ x 13″ sheet cake



1 3/4 c. (350g) sugar

1 3/4 c. (223g) all-purpose flour

1 C. (85g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 large eggs

1 c. (240g) buttermilk

1 tbs. vanilla extract

1/2 c. (100g) flavorless oil

3/4 c. (178g) boiling water


1 c. (128g) roasted pistachios (preferably unsalted)

1 c. (225g) unsalted butter, softened

3 c. (360g) powdered sugar

1/8 tsp. kosher salt (omit if pistachios are salted)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

zest of 1/2 a lemon

2 tbs. heavy cream

Make the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease and line the bottom of a 9×13 pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Whisk in the boiling water.


Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking for doneness at 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan.


Make the Frosting: 

First, make the pistachio butter. In a food processor, blend the pistachios, scraping the sides occasionally, until very creamy and spreadable, about 5-10 minutes.

With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and pistachio butter until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix to combine and then mix in the salt, vanilla, almond extract, lemon zest and then heavy cream.


Spread all over the cake, decorate as desired and enjoy!


Everything Bagel Galettelettes with Tomatoes & Scallion Cream Cheese
Molly Yeh from my name Is yeh

Makes 8 mini galettes



1 1/2 pounds tomatoes

14-15 oz. pie dough (homemade or store-bought)

1 beaten egg for egg wash



8 oz. cream cheese, room temp

3 chopped scallions

1 egg yolk

1 tbs. flour




Everything Bagel Topping:

1/2 tsp. dried minced garlic

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

3/4 tsp. poppy seeds

1 tsp. sesame seeds

1/2 tsp. dried minced onion


Preheat the oven to 400º.

– Slice the tomatoes then lay them out on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt so that some moisture drains out of them.

– Divide the pie dough into 8 balls. Roll out each ball into a circle that’s 6 to 7 inches in diameter.

– Mix together cream cheese, scallions, egg yolk, flour and pepper until smooth and well-combined.

– Mix together the everything bagel topping ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Brush the edge of the rolled-out dough with egg wash, spread with filling and top with tomatoes. Fold over the edges and pleat. Brush the outside edges with the egg wash and sprinkle with the everything bagel topping.


Bake galettes for 20 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Enjoy!


Follow Molly Yeh!

  • Catch episodes from her TV series, Girl Meets Farm on Food Network, Sundays at 11:00 a.m.
  • Watch video exclusives with Molly Yeh and get how-to’s on cake decorating and making your favorite childhood snacks at FoodNetwork.com/GirlMeetsFarm.
  • Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #GirlMeetsFarm.
  • Follow Yeh on Facebook and Instagram @mynameisyeh.


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Restoring Home [ Mosaic Design + Build ]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis Photography Mosaic Design + Build is not your typical remodeling contractor. Owners Melanie and James Iverson were recently remarried and know a…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Mosaic Design + Build is not your typical remodeling contractor. Owners Melanie and James Iverson were recently remarried and know a thing or two about rebuilding broken pieces to redefine a space, or their own life…hence the name “Mosaic”. With Melanie as the interior designer and James as the project manager, we were thrilled to go on a journey with them as they gave us a tour of three recent remodels, with the last one giving us a glimpse of their own fixer-upper. Together, this dynamic duo is perfecting the art of restoring home.


#1. Boho Minimalist Makeover

When Krysta and Matt Bye were ready to downsize and take on a fixer-upper, the couple contacted Mosaic Design + Build to transform their 1928 character home in North Moorhead. With only a couple of months of pre-planning and one week to do the actual remodel, Melanie and James Iverson hit the gas, working day and night to complete the home, just in time for their closing day. See inside the Boho minimalist makeover that gave new life to this home’s good bones.

The Goal
The Byes had most recently lived in a home that had far more square footage than their smaller family of four required. Their ultimate goal became to downsize and take on a fun remodel. They decided that if they downsized strategically, the result would allow them a home they loved, and a life they could live to the fullest.

Although the Byes were initially considering buying a more extensive fixer-upper, they came across this home and felt it was a gem they couldn’t pass up. “James and I walked through the home with them before they bought it, then we put a bid together so they would know ahead of time how much to budget for the project.”

In the Details
Even though it’s an older character home, this gem has all of the updates one would need, including Smarthome features. “There’s really nothing big that they had to do to the home, mainly just cosmetic updates,” said Melanie Iverson. “One of the unique things about working with a smaller home is there is very little wasted space. Here, every inch of this house is functional or at least aesthetically pleasing.”

Fortunately for the Byes, one of the couples that had previously lived in the home had been a professional millworker. He was the one that designed all of the stunning beams, existing floating shelves and coffered ceilings. The following owners had painted the entire main level a dark chocolate brown and red with navy blue upstairs, leaving the home feeling very dark throughout.

The Remodel
Since the home was never actually listed because the past and current owners knew each other, Mosaic was able to get in last week, and about one week prior to the closing. “One of the first things that we did is to repaint every inch of the home,” said Melanie Iverson.

“On the main level, we used a light grey (Heron Plume), which looks great with the white subway tile and truffle-toned grout we installed in the kitchen. We kept the existing ceiling millwork, cabinetry and countertops. We replaced the lights throughout and have completed the upstairs remodel, except for decor. We basically spent an entire week just updating the finishes so that the new owners could move in last night – they’re closing on the home is today.”

Mosaic knew this project was going to have to work on a tight schedule, so Melanie and James had every inch mapped out with idea boards and knew exactly how they wanted to piece it together. “For the furnishings, Krysta and I had gone shopping quite a while ago and picked out all of the furniture, lighting and samples – we had been going back and forth since the beginning of May,” said Melanie Iverson. “We bought some things together, checking out pieces online and worked together on the placement of the furniture. They’re amazing clients and it’s been a really fun project to do.”

Boho Minimalism
“We call this style Boho Minimalism, just because it’s not the traditional Bohemian style, which tends to be a lot busier,” said Melanie Iverson. “We have the dark, warm tones of the existing millwork, bold pops of rich color and texture, with some larger patterns mixed in. Krysta was really fun to work with because she was excited to take risks. A lot of homeowners I’ve worked with in the past get really worried about colors and prints, but she was really bold and brave, so it was fun getting to work with her. When we spotted the teal linen recliner chairs, we both looked at each other and thought…we need to get these chairs. The sofa is a soft-blend grey linen which looks amazing with the fun checkered and magenta pillows from The White House Co.”

“For the tablescape, I found all of the decor at The White House Co., then placed a captain’s chair at the end that would not obstruct the pathway,” said Melanie Iverson. “Eventually, we will have a bench on the kitchen side of the table, so that will help to open up the pathway even more.”

Near the entrance, Mosaic has taken a plain wall and created a fun focal point with a mirror, bench, bold pillows and a live-edge wood slab, installed like a floating shelf. “I like doing really neutral colors on walls and then changing out the furnishings with those bright colors,” said Melanie Iverson. “Compared to repainting, it’s not as costly to buy new accessories like pillows or throws.”

Meet the homeowners: Krysta and Matt Bye
“This process was awesome, it went so smoothly and Melanie and James made it really easy. We had fun collaborating on design ideas and I’m thrilled with how the space turned out and the vision they brought to life. I had a concept in mind and a feel that I wanted – Melanie took that and ran with it, creating a kind of Mid-century modern, Bohemian feel,” said Krysta Bye. “The bones of the space were really great, so it was fun to be able to come in and transform it.”

In Progress:
This month’s issue shows the Bye’s home after a couple of months of pre-planning and one week’s worth of work, almost solely on the main level. What is not shown, is the upstairs remodel which consisted of replacing the stairwell and upstairs flooring, and updating the master bedroom, office and bathroom. After Mosaic completes the upstairs decor, Krysta’s office, just off of the master, will be transformed into her creative suite, helping her to work from home as a musician and entrepreneur.

Find the Finishes: Move-In Makeover
Paint color – Heron Plume, Sherwin Williams
Furnishings – Slumberland, HomeGoods
Checkered and magenta pillows – The White House Co.
Pink pillows – HomeGoods
Live-edge slab mantle – Dakota Timber Company
Boho rugs – Amazon
Live-edge side tables and dining set – Slumberland
TV cabinet – Ikea
Stairwell carpet – Carpet Garage
Triangle wall art – Hobby Lobby

#2. Rose Creek Remodel

As the senior pastor and co-founder of Burning Hearts Church, Jana Sawchuk’s home is meant to be a sanctuary, but there was nothing soothing about the honey oak that seemed to be everywhere in her home. Built in 1996, Jana and her husband, Dr. Ted Sawchuk were ready to either love it or list it – but either way, they knew it was time to remodel. To manage two bathroom remodels and a fireplace refacing, the couple worked with Mosaic Design + Build to complete all three projects in less than one month.

“Their old bathrooms kind of looked like something you might see in a rental unit, just very basic fixtures and cabinets,” explained Melanie Iverson of Mosaic Design + Build. Overwhelmed by their outdated finishes, the Sawchuks had considered selling as a solution. “I realized that If we wanted to sell our house, we’d have to update it,” said Jana Sawchuk. “So, we decided to follow through with the updates, but live in it updated, rather than sell it.”

The Goal
Although the couple has three grown kids, they are still in the stage of sporadically coming and going. In fact, all three had planned on being home for the summer, so it was a major goal to have the bathrooms completed before the start of the summer. Since they had two other bathrooms to use, Mosaic worked on both remodels at the same time. They also asked Mosaic to take on a resurfacing project with their fireplace surround in the great room.

Coastal Vibes
For style inspiration, Mosaic relied on Jana Sawchuk’s love of travel and the beach. She had once lived in Hawaii and many of their family vacations were centered around surfing. Finding a way to diffuse the honey oak and infuse a bright coastal vibe would become their end-goal.

Upstairs Bath
To complete the upstairs bath, Mosaic completely gutted the space down to the studs. To achieve more efficient use of the space, they swapped the single, lower vanity for double sinks and designed a new walk-in shower with a unique swiveling glass door. Honey oak was replaced with crisp, white subway tile and the clean lines of shiplap. Outdated fixtures made way for articulating sconces, brushed nickel fixtures, marble counters and square sinks.

“Jana really wanted a floating shelf, so we used a piece of reclaimed wood, running it from one end to the other for display. We used a 3×6, extra-wide subway tile with extra white grout – we didn’t want to see the grout at all, just to give it that really clean look,” said Melanie Iverson. “We also added some outlets to bring it up to code, so if the family ever decides to sell, they’re not going to have any issues.”

“I knew I really wanted the shiplap and definitely a half shower door – I don’t like shower curtains and I don’t like full doors, I think they’re dysfunctional,” explained Jana Sawchuk.
To properly install the swivel door, the team had to adjust the plumbing – moving it to the other side where it made more sense. According to Iverson, there were about 110 different options for the swiveling door, but this is the one their plumber recommended as one of the sturdiest and safest options. Beyond the swiveling glass door, Melanie Iverson designed a marble hexagon mosaic pattern which was added to the niche in the shower wall.

Unable to make this bathroom larger due to the layout, Mosaic laid the flooring in a more strategic way to make the room appear larger, without adding square feet. “Knowing that we’d have to re-sheetrock and texture, we covered all of the stairs and flooring with plastic. We just did a lot of additional cleaning so that they could maintain their normal lifestyle.”

Lower Level Bath
In the lower level bath, Mosaic opted to keep the tub surround but replaced the flooring with a more grey-toned luxury laminate. Melanie Iverson worked closely with the Jana Sawchuk to choose the finishes, consisting of a new black oak vanity with marble top, antiqued gold lighting and reclaimed wood towel hooks.I really liked Jana’s style that brings in that light, airy beach vibe, and there’s also a lot of personality in this design,” said Melanie Iverson. “It’s been really fun working with her and bouncing ideas off of each other.”

Fireplace Reface
For the final phase of this remodel, Mosaic took on the forest green marble of the fireplace surround in the great room. This would be a less extensive project that would mean painting the gold detailing black and replacing the green facade with a crisp, white marble.

The Result
“We completed all three projects in under a month. I think there is real value in working with a design/build,” said Melanie Iverson. “We can move swiftly through the project because there’s only one point of contact. It’s an aspect that really saved them money and time.”

“With Mosaic, I have a mentality that I want to do as much for the client as we can, with the least amount of stress,” said James Iverson. “So, we deal with the contractors, we handle the scheduling and really, take care of everything – then communicate it to the client. We have a lot of strong relationships within the trades, so that really helps us to get the job done well.”

Feedback from the Homeowner: Jana Sawchuk
“James and Melanie were great to work with and very creative  – they understood what I wanted right away, and I’m not your normal North Dakotan,” laughed Jana Sawchuk. “I’ve worked with other designers, and the house ended up looking how they wanted it, not what I wanted. I knew that Melanie really understood what I wanted. That reclaimed wood shelf and some of the other things that I asked for, were not easy tasks, but they were willing to work with it. On the contractor side, James was great managing all of the other subcontractors and they got it done very quickly. We have more projects to do, so we plan to work with them again.”

Find the Finishes: Rose Creek Remodel
Wall paint – Reflection, Sherwin Williams
Lower Vanity – Joss & Main
Upper Vanity – Wayfair
Laminate flooring  – Carpet Garage, Dilworth
Articulating sconces – Build.com
Glass shower door – Custom Design Plumbing, LLC
Subway tile – Menards

Mosaic Tile (Bathroom Niche) – Syverson Tile & Stone
Reclaimed wood shelving – Tornell Construction
Fireplace marble – Home Depot


At Home with Mosaic Design + Build

Last, but certainly not least, Mosaic Design + Build gave us a glimpse inside their own fixer-upper. After recently getting remarried, James and Melanie decided to embark on a fresh start with a new home. One month after their closing date, we visited the couple to take a quick tour at the start of their project, and their personal mission of restoring home.

Phase 1: Lower-Level Den
The day after we closed, James started demolition on the lower-level den, so that’s where we began our renovation. It had that old, 70s-style paneling and James gutted it entirely off of the walls and fireplace,” said Melanie Iverson. “He installed the sheetrock, did the tape, texture and mudding, ripped out the old carpet and installed the new flooring. I took on the painting and design finishes.”

“On the fireplace, I decided to white-wash the brick because it was old and almost too yellow for me. I picked up the live edge mantelpiece at Dakota Timber Company. This is part of their Urban Reclaimed collection that is sourced from boulevard trees taken down by the City of Fargo,” explained Melanie Iverson.

Their new home has a pool in their backyard and hot tub just off of the kitchen, so they wanted to make sure that the flooring could handle water. “With our kids, Carter, almost 13 and Gracie, 11, we decided we needed totally waterproof surfaces, so James installed a luxury vinyl plank flooring. We will eventually be doing this same flooring up the stairs and on the main level as well.”

Fusing Styles
“I personally love more of a Bohemian, eclectic style, mixed with some Mid-century modern. I really enjoy mixing patterns that you wouldn’t typically see together,” explained Melanie Iverson. “I think it feels fresh and different. A lot of people think they could never do that in their own home, but with the right ensemble, it can be beautiful.”

“Most of the time, in each room, I find something that I hate so much that I think I will love it – something that really pushes my own boundaries. That happens to be that zebra chair. It’s so ugly, I just love it,” laughed Melanie Iverson. “I also did some jewel-tones in here with a goal for it to feel somewhat coastal. A lot of the clay pots and baskets around the room are from my mother-in-law – she was downsizing, so I inherited those things. She just had some really interesting pieces, including the two art pieces behind the lamp.”

“For the artwork above the mantel, I found the painting of the woman for a dollar at a rummage sale and wasn’t even sure if I liked it, but it works really well in this space. The floral painting over the sofa is also a rummage sale find, and the brightly colored face painting in the corner was going to be thrown away, so I snagged it. I just like to surround myself with really interesting pieces,” said Melanie Iverson. “The coffee table was first made by Grain Designs in a grey-toned wood, but for this room, I needed it to be lighter, so I painted over it with white.”

Meet the fifth member of the Iverson family; Samuel Kingston Lover Jackson Keisha Ojuri Iverson. Yep, all of those names. “He was a rescue dog I got when the kids were seven and eight, and I knew he’d be our dog throughout their childhood,” said Melanie Iverson. “We kept talking about names, so I said, to heck with it. Let’s just name him all of the names that we love, that we can all agree on.” Bison fans might recognize Carter’s pick of Ojuri from their past roster, Sam Ojuri.

Phase 2: The Spa Room
Just beyond the kitchen, the Iverson’s new house has a gorgeous spa room with fun architectural details in pine and brick. Before their cosmetic makeover, this room was mint green with all walls finished in pine. To brighten up the space, they opted to paint the shared wall white for a more modern approach.

“With a house like this, there were a lot of things that needed to be fixed or worked on. For us, it’s a perfect house because everything does need to be redone,” said Melanie Iverson.

“When we had younger kids, I always thought I wanted to be on the same floor with them, but after spending some time in very close quarters, I realized now that they’re almost 13 and 11, that we needed our space,” said Melanie Iverson. “With a four-level split, each of us can have our own space and quiet. Especially with us having a business where we work from home, we really needed that separation, but the space will really flow, so it will still feel cohesive.”

Marriage + Mosaic
James and Melanie were remarried in September last year, and they knew that this next season of their lives with their children, was really important. This time, they would invest wisely in their family and their time. “I had been working for a non-profit and I was tired – I knew I need a change of pace where I could spend more time with our family. I had gone back and forth on deciding whether to go back into interior design consulting, which is what I did in the past with Melanie Michelle Designs. I knew I really enjoyed it and I feel like I was created to create,” said Melanie Iverson.

“In November, when we started dreaming about what our new lives would look like, we attended a conference and this woman that heard our story had said, ‘Your lives are interesting, it seems like, through your first marriage and divorce, everything shattered. It seems that God is placing you back together and making a really beautiful mosaic of what was once broken.’ That really spoke to both of us,” said Melanie Iverson.

Launching a New Life
“While we were processing what to do, the idea of starting this company, really came to us. In January, James decided to quit his job and we would launch Mosaic Design + Build.
When I met James, he was a commercial paint contractor and when we were married, he had worked for over 12 years as the building and grounds manager for a local company, managing the remodel of their commercial space. After that was completed, James gained valuable experience working in flooring and drywall alongside contractors, often doing remodel projects for family members. So, these days, I help create the space and he does all of the heavy work,” laughed Melanie Iverson.

“In our old house, when we were first married, she had created the vision. We started that project married, then we got divorced. I finished her vision in order to be able to sell it. When you look back on it, it’s actually kind of cool because, even with all that was going on at that time, I still kept her design going in that house, which I think is really kind of significant with where we ended up with Mosaic,” said James Iverson.

I really enjoy working on our home, it’s almost therapeutic in a sense,” said James Iverson. “Why not do one more thing that we can work together on? We actually do work pretty well together – we have a lot more fun, then we have trying times.”

New vs. Old
Just as in their own life, Mosaic Design + Build has a mission to collaborate with homeowners so that their vision comes to life. “It’s more than just remodeling, it’s restoring home. So many people feel like they have to build new to get what they want. I love new builds, but I think something that is at the core of what I believe, as far as what we do, is that you can absolutely love what you have,” said Melanie Iverson. “Sometimes it just takes a fresh coat of paint or a second set of eyes to be content and happy with some of these older homes. Once you give them a little bit of an update, the result can be beautiful.”

In the Works:
What’s next on their agenda? The Iversons plan to repaint the entire main level and knock the wall out between the kitchen and family room, upgrading the floor plan to a more open concept with a shiplap ceiling. They will be refacing the kitchen cabinets, installing new tile, reclaimed wood shelving, and building an 8×4 butcher block island with drop pendants.

Find the Finishes:
Sofa – West Elm
Downstairs side tables – thrift stores
Coffee table – Grain Designs
Floral pillows & chair  – The White House Co.
Downstairs rug – Dakota Boys Ranch
Pillows, fiddle figs and snake plants – The White House Co.

For more information, contact:
Mosaic Design + Build
P.O. Box 455, Fargo


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Designing Our Dream Wedding

Words by Lindsey Christie Photography by Uppercase L Photography As an interior designer and local business owner, my work becomes quickly intertwined with my personal life, and I truly wouldn’t…

Words by Lindsey Christie
Photography by Uppercase L Photography

As an interior designer and local business owner, my work becomes quickly intertwined with my personal life, and I truly wouldn’t want it to be any other way. This past November, I started my business Lindsey Grace Interiors in Fargo, N.D. That same month, my now husband Jared, proposed and we decided to purchase our first home. It’s safe to say this past year has been the busiest, but most fulfilling year yet. I am so grateful that my amazing clients share so much of their daily lives, dreams and every part of their journey with me. It’s that connection that takes any project to the next level. For that reason, it was an easy decision to share the most special day of our lives with you all – and the journey it took to design our dream wedding.

Setting the Scene
I knew exactly how I wanted the evening to look and feel, but I also knew that planning an event for 200 plus people wasn’t my area of expertise. I quickly enlisted Sadie’s Couture Floral & Event Styling in Grand Forks. I had been to several events that Sadie had created, and an added bonus – one of my best friends from high school is her assistant. After meeting with Sadie and Jalen, I knew they we would make the perfect team to bring my dreams to reality.

Through working with Sadie I also learned that she and I share a similar background. I recently moved my career from Minneapolis to Fargo. I absolutely love the Fargo community, the growth, and of course the people. There truly is no place like it. My business has been created off of my experience working in both New York City and Minneapolis, but also the needs and wants of the local community. As a designer, one of my top goals is to always listen to what my clients want, while bringing a fresh new perspective to the Midwest design industry.

In 2010, Sadie sold her floral company in Minneapolis and moved back to Grand Forks, bringing her talent for event planning with her. Clients would come to her with their ideas and style boards, but the elements were just not readily available in North Dakota. For that reason, Sadie scaled her business to offer floral and specialty decor elements to meet the demands of the local community.

The Details

Of course, the biggest decision is setting the date, and everything flows from there. We had our engagement pictures taken in Minneapolis immediately after becoming engaged because I wanted to make the most of the fall foliage. We had an instant connection with our photographer, Amanda at Uppercase L Photography and when she agreed to come to Grand Forks to photograph our wedding, we were so excited. I knew I wanted a June wedding, and the 16th has a special meaning for us in many ways. Also, a deciding factor was that it was the only Saturday in June that Amanda wasn’t already booked.

I had never realized the huge role good photography plays the day of the wedding. Amanda and her co-shooter, Trish, kept our timeline running so smoothly while capturing every special moment of the day.

For the venue, I knew I wanted something different, fun and intimate. Growing up in Grand Forks, most special occasions for our family are spent celebrating at Sky’s. When we approached them to host our reception, they agreed and I was ecstatic. We had several meetings to narrow down the details. This included the food, of course, but also the cocktails, service and overall layout of the event.

The Big Day

Each guest was able to start the cocktail hour with our signature cocktails. Mine was the “Blushing Bride”, a spin-off of a cosmopolitan, and Jared decided on a cucumber Moscow mule we named the “Mister Mule”.

For dinner, the chef did an amazing job. We served grilled, Faroe Island king salmon, finished with Sky’s famous North Dakota prairie sauce with a black bean rice and the most wonderful smoked brisket, mashed potatoes and asparagus.

I also wanted to make sure our wedding was personal. I brought the ideas and the entire team executed them perfectly. I knew I wanted our wedding to feel feminine and gorgeous, but also relaxed and fun. The first thing we decided on was the color scheme. It all started the same way most clients bring me their inspiration for their homes – a Pinterest board.

We decided on French blue floor length linens, mixed with blush pink, ivory and gold details. Since the decor of Sky’s leans more toward a masculine and industrial feel, we had to work on how to blend the two very different styles. We decided to remove all the existing chairs in the restaurant other than a few of the French round back chairs at the head table. Then we brought in gold chivaris chairs, complemented with gold charger plates at each table setting.

To bring in the blush, ivory and gold in the color scheme, we turned to the floral arrangements. My all-time favorite flowers are peonies, so we mixed those in with a gorgeous combination of hydrangeas, roses and ruscus greenery. To bring in the drama, Sadie created arrangements of various heights based off of various table sizes. The French blue candles and brass holders created such a romantic feel.

I am obsessed with stationery and I put a lot of time and detail in selecting and designing our invitations. I wanted them to match the feel of our entire wedding day, and also be super functional when it came to navigating the day and of course RSVPs. I chose Shine Wedding Invitations and they were so easy to work with.

For the place cards and table numbers, I found a wonderfully talented local business – Lettering By Samantha. Samantha created custom marble tiles with each guest’s name and table number to help navigate the seating chart. She also designed and created each table number to coordinate. Each place setting had a tiny box of pink macaroons, which were baked locally by Acres & Company.

One of the biggest challenges of our venue was the strict number of guests that we could seat. For that reason, we expanded the seating area to the skywalk connected to the restaurant. It created a unique experience for our guest to be able to dine over the passing traffic and be immersed in all of the downtown action. Our head table was placed in the center of the restaurant. I loved this idea because we were surrounded by all of our loved ones.

Sweets  + Settings 

Not only did Mindy of Acres & Company make the tiny macaroon gift boxes, but she also created an entire dessert buffet. Along with our three-tier cake, we had mini 6” naked cakes, cake pops and cupcakes. This was a huge hit with our guests and each item received raving reviews. I sourced our custom cake topper from Etsy along with the bride and groom signs on the back of our head table chairs. Paper Petals By Sophie created a gorgeous backdrop for the dessert table with custom paper flowers to match our color scheme.

Last minute, I decided to place polaroid cameras next to our guest book, to create a fun little photo booth-feel on our dance floor during the cocktail hour. It was so fun to look back on, not only the sweet messages everyone left us, but also have fun pictures of everyone that came to celebrate. It was truly the best day of our lives. It’s all because of our amazing family, friends and of course each one of the amazing vendors that contributed to our day!

Wedding Day Breakdown:
Design – Lindsey Christie, Lindsey Grace Interiors
Event decor & floral – Sadie’s Couture Floral & Event Styling

Photographer – Amanda Hammarstedt, Uppercase L Photographer & Trish Burtzel

Venue – Sky’s, Grand Forks

Food & drink – Sky’s Fine Dining, Grand Forks

Reception stationery & marble tiles – Lettering By Samantha

Cake & desserts – Acres & Company

Paper floral decor – Paper Petals By Sophie
Invitations – Shine Wedding Invitations
Cake topper & bride/groom signs – Etsy

For more information, contact:
Lindsey Grace Interiors – Fargo
LindseyGraceInteriors.comSadie’s Couture Floral & Event Styling
899 2nd Avenue North, Suite 1 – Grand Forks


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