Focal Walls

Focal Walls

Whether building a new home, remodeling a current space, or simply updating a tired room, design decisions can be overwhelming, and so can the design style. Traditional or modern? Country or contemporary? Industrial or rustic?

While many homeowners discover their personal likes and dislikes, and keep a consistent style theme throughout the home, there is also a growing trend to occasionally mix it up and make a statement. One straightforward and uncomplicated design choice is a focal wall, which can create a powerful, dramatic, and even “edgy” effect if used correctly.

“Sometimes people want to express themselves in a new and different way, but are hesitant to implement that expression across an entire room,” says Paula Boehm, of Paul Davis Design in Detroit Lakes, Minn. “With a focal wall, they can think outside the box by painting that wall with a contrasting color, or using an additional material like wood or tile, or by adding a different texture to the drywall.”

A focal wall, or accent wall as they are sometimes called, can be described simply as a wall that has a design somewhat different from the design of the other walls in the room. It’s a deliberate attempt to take the emphasis off the pattern created by those other walls and focus attention on the wall that is different.

“This type of feature draws your eye to that one wall,” says Boehm. “Depending on the traffic flow of the home and how you enter each room, you always want that first impression to be an ‘Ahhhh’ moment, and a focal wall is a great way to achieve that.”

Wallpaper Making a Comeback
A focal wall can also add impact and interest to a home – and even a little drama, according to Ruth Grundman of Ravnik & Company Interior Design in Alexandria, Minn.

“Some homeowners like to mix different styles together for more of a transitional look, like adding some modern to vintage or throwing a few industrial elements into traditional,” she says. “Besides using a different color of paint, we’re seeing other materials used on these focal walls, including wallpaper – especially natural and textured wallpapers.”

A number of different types of grass cloth wallpaper are available, and putting it on one wall can take a room from a casual to a more formal setting. Grundman adds that texture can also add dimension to a room that needs more than painted walls and simple lines.

Wood on the Walls
Tiffany Bladow of Bladow & Sons in Battle Lake, Minn., isn’t sure if she would call this renewed interest in focal walls a trend…yet. She says there do seem to be more homeowners who are looking for different ways to highlight special features or walls in new ways. Since they’re only putting a dramatic idea on that one focal wall, it’s a way for them to accent a room in a new way without covering all four of the walls.

“Painting one wall a different color or putting tile on a wall were generally the most common ways to accent a singular wall, but now we’re seeing more and more interest in reclaimed wood, old barn wood, even old pallet wood,” she says. “In my basement I used raw wood that was just cut off the pallet. It’s a neat look, a more rustic look, but it also can come out to be less expensive, too.”

Add Some Stone
The classic look of brick or stone on an entire wall can make a statement of sorts, whether it’s an extension of a natural fireplace – or the wall behind a headboard in the bedroom. Natural brick or a stone like marble or slate have a beauty that comes in many shapes, colors and sizes. The cost can be prohibitive for many homeowners, but Grundman notes there are currently some new products on the market that are actually micro-thin slices of genuine slate and can be applied to any number of surfaces for an attractive, natural look.

“It’s lightweight, it’s durable, and also very functional,” she says, “and it can be a less expensive way to achieve the impact desired from a focal wall made of stone.”

So Many Options
There are as many different ways to design a focal wall as there are people who desire them, and Boehm says designing a focal wall can also be meaningful to everyone involved.

“When we had to demolish a 100-year-old lake home, we collected some of the original home’s exterior siding, along with birch trees from the property, and created a special ‘nook’ for the new home,” she explains. “This built-in cabinetry not only draws attention to that wall, but it has special meaning as a sentimental focal point for the homeowners.”

Sometimes it takes courage to move ahead with a creative idea that could possibly be extraordinary. In one home where a bathroom wall has horizontal wood on it, an old-fashioned boathouse sign seems to hang on that wall. Upon closer inspection, it is actually a painting right onto the wood.

Boehm recalls another property with a full-sized outdoor scene that seems to be a part of the entire wall. A local artist created the work of art by “freestyle painting” the drywall when it was wet mud, and it dried into a textured masterpiece, creating an extremely personal area in the home.

“These focal walls are something that can represent you on a special level,” Boehm adds. “We encourage people that if they want a focal wall, they should dig deep for the kinds of concepts and ideas that will represent who they are, and sing to their soul.” ~L&H

by Patrice Peterson


Windows are Important

When it comes to our homes, whether it is in the suburbs, the middle of a city or at the lakeside out in open country, we love to get everything perfect. From remodeling the kitchen to the color of the bathroom walls, we are very particular about where we call home. But even with all of that care, we often forget our windows, or rather, we don’t really forget them, but take our windows for granted. Yet the windows of our homes and the window treatments, are really important, not just from a decorative point of view, but for the home itself.

There are many ways that windows, and window treatments, are important, and this is especially true for homes in the country, at lakeside or anywhere more open to the elements. There are obvious functions windows do, they let in light, and if yours don’t, you need to speak to your contractor today because something has gone terribly wrong! They also provide ventilation, and both of these things are complimented by the kind of window treatments added to them.

The reason this means something is not because we don’t like sitting in the dark at midday, but because letting in light also
gives our homes warmth. The natural heat

from the sun can be an important source of heat on a cool, crisp fall day, and that is not all. Ventilation is also important, a cool breeze on a warm day is nice, but ventilation is more than that, giving your home the air it needs to breath, preventing condensation and other problems stale air can cause.

However, today as energy costs rise ever upwards, it is the energy efficiency of windows that can make a real difference, and one that we should all pay attention too. Whether heating or cooling our homes, the energy required to do either is most likely the biggest expense you have for running costs, so anything we can do to keep that cost as low as possible has to be a good thing. That is where window efficiency comes in, and why it is often a very cost-effective thing to do to replace old windows with new, energy efficient ones.

Modern vinyl-framed windows are available in so many different styles to match almost any existing windows, but they come with many benefits. Because the vinyl frame has great thermal performance itself, the window overall has incredibly high insulating abilities. Whether you have the heating or air conditioning on, less heat travels through the window. Your unit does not have to work so hard, which saves energy and can even mean less maintenance is needed.

Vector Windows makes a standard double-pane, LoE coated glass that is also considered double-strength glass. In winter, these are designed to dramatically reduce window heat loss, protecting homes as temperatures dip. In summer months, the windows transfer less heat because the sun is filtered and reflected back outdoors. The result? Savings on energy and a lighter monthly bill.

Modern windows have other benefits. The frames are in all practical ways, inert. That means they don’t rot, they resist mold and mildew, they don’t flake and you won’t find a colony of termites setting up home in them either! Just an occasional wipe down with a damp cloth is all that is needed to keep them looking factory fresh. Now, less work to do around the home? That is surely interesting to everyone.

But windows are more than just the frame and glass, there are also the treatments we add inside, which are also important in their own right, but also form part of your interior design as well, so functional and decorative at the same time.

In the last couple of years, Minnkota Windows has seen an increase in exterior color options. The company has eight standard colors for the exterior of a window, with the majority of sales being white. However, recent trends have been turning to other colors: brown, bronze and other earth tones predominantly. However, frequent customization and requests for red, blue and black are also popular. Minnkota will take any color sample from soffit, fascia or even a metal roof sample and match it for window exterior color or even just a brickmould color for trim accents.

Many will say the decorative aspects are the most important, but what they do to compliment the qualities of the window itself should matter just as much. For instance, on a really sunny day, we may need the windows to be open for ventilation, but prefer to block out much of the light. Blinds are great for that, and stopping the home from heating too much through natural light can save money on cooling too.

Some window treatments are better for that than others, but whether you choose blinds shades, shutters or draperies, beyond the decorative looks that enhance your room, they are important as they add options for controlling light, ventilation and heat that come through the window. Which is best is a question that has been asked many, many times, and the truth is there is no ‘best’ type of window treatment, they all have benefits, they just take different approaches that have different visual appeal.

One thing they have in common is privacy. Closing drapes, shades, blinds and shutters gives your home privacy, and while this can be important in a city, for homes that spend time empty, such as a lakeside home you visit seasonally,
it can make a real difference. With closed window treatments, the interior of your lakeside home is completely private when you are not there, and for many of us that extra peace of mind is one of the most important aspects of having window treatments. Knowing that the day you leave, everything is locked up and out of sight is just somehow more comforting than leaving the windows uncovered with the inside of the home open for anyone to see.

The idea of leaving a home, whether going to work during the day or a lakeside home you bid farewell to for the winter, also brings us onto the final aspect of windows that is incredibly important today, and that is security. The latest windows have high security locks and are incredibly strong thanks to their construction. This makes them a real boost to home security. Wherever your home is, being more secure when you are away is incredibly useful, not just from a practical perspective, but for peace of mind, and in some cases, upgrading old windows to new ones with high security locks can even have an effect on home insurance premiums, saving money long term.

It is those second homes that we leave empty for several months of the year that get the most benefit from modern windows when it comes to security though. Tough frames and glass, secure locks and solid construction make them a burglar’s nightmare, and while a home that is out of sight and empty is always a little vulnerable, the risk is much less when the window security matches the rest of the home.

We take our windows for granted, but a window today, with its rot proof frames, advanced glass and high security locks, is very different from windows made even 20 years ago. No matter where your home is, new windows can add a lot, but for those of us with homes out by the lake, modern vinyl windows are the perfect choice. ~L&H


Pop! Goes the Decor

The experts seem to agree the trend in color is more, more, more!

Applied in drops or splashes, color is the way to transition or update heading into the fall/winter seasons.

“When the weather turns dreary, we want our surroundings to comfort us, uplift us, keep us motivated,” declared Jane Rapp, Design Consultant with Ravnik Design in Alexandria.

The fashion, auto and home furnishing industries are constantly creating and presenting new ideas in color for us to digest. Current headlines have suggested a plethora of color choices trending this year including: 55 Colors We Love Right Now, 18 Color Palettes Inspired by National Parks, and 25 Fall Colors in Beautifully Designed Rooms.

Those ideas range from dark and somber to bright and funky and everything in between. When considering colors of the year from the major players, don’t get overwhelmed – color can and should be fun!

The options are considerable… It is also perfectly acceptable to continue to use colors that have traditionally worked for you.

In addition to the general industry, some manufacturers release new colors each season. How about a plum piece of luggage for this fall?
Or a frying pan inspired by majestic jewels?
Or a new shade of Fiestaware to adorn the dinner table?

Sometimes it seems like a science to keep up with the new trends, but we have approached some local experts to provide personal perspective and help navigate interior decorating and color palettes.

Whether you want to experiment with a fun new shade or update an old favorite, lakes area abounds with decorators and retail shops to assist you in adding color to your home décor.

You can be sure to find paint, finishes, linens and accessories in the most popular new colors of the year, but in local outlets you can also be sure to find help zeroing in on your personal favorite with tips on how to combine it with new shades. Color presents an emotional experience and those emotions vary from person to person. Cindy Larson of The Market, Fergus Falls, adds that, “Overall, your home should be reflective of your personal interests, hobbies and lifestyle.”
Fall-inspired spaces are not limited to browns, rusts, reds and gold, but when the weather cools down in lakes country and forces us indoors, it is soothing to bring some of the outdoors in, which can be achieved with a mix of texture and color. As a matter of fact, many of the top hues for 2017 took inspiration from nature. Interesting new green shades – some deep, some electric; greys in new tones are warmer in paint, woods and metals; neutrals expand to include camel and the blush of fresh buds. “Natural shades of greys, browns and tans continue to gain popularity,” adds Larson.

While seafoam and aqua have become very popular in accessories from kitchen spatulas to wall clocks, peach and salmon are fast becoming new favorites at The Market.

According to interior decorator Betty Ravnik, of Ravnik Design, Alexandria, in the very high end market, colors are seeping into design as well as décor. In those spaces color is introduced into everything from flooring to kitchen cabinets. “It is much more common to use neutrals on big ticket items with long lives such as carpet and window treatments, and pop the color with accessories and paint.” Color can also be found more frequently on painted furniture or the legs of upholstered pieces.

The industry is also paying more attention to linens and bedding. “Neutrals have always been popular and now they are mixing it up, giving us license to adorn with pattern on pattern and texture and more color in the bedroom,” according to interior designer Rosayln Shelstad of Alexandria.
Trends for the fall embrace clashes of color, texture and pattern, adds Amy King of The Market. “We are seeing deep shades of rust, a lean toward nature, tropical greens and geometric designs,” she mentions. “Blush pink has emerged as the new neutral and the color and richness of camel adds refinement to any space.”

Designers agree about popular local trends that include succulents, terracotta, mixed metals, large clocks, bold paint and very colorful accessories. Wildflowers, autumn berries, pumpkins and forests influence color this time of year and fall/ holiday hues include holly berry reds, deeper greens, gold/brass, white and blues.

Be adventuresome and have fun with color. Choose lively vivacious fall shades to replace the burnt sienna and murky browns of past seasons – in a floral arrangement, for instance, incorporate brilliant pinks with fiery oranges and contrast with a delicate blush. In fabrics, choose pattern on pattern in pops of color. Trust your instincts and reach for a bit of surprise. Express yourself in colorful, textured accessories that can bring joy to any space. ~L&H

by Maggie Vertin


Enhance Your Home’s Beauty with Natural Stone

Creating a kitchen and/or bathroom that matches your unique and individual style begins with the selection of a countertop. The countertop you choose can be the showstopper that makes your home extra special. Food preparation happens here. It is where families gather for meals, and help their children with homework. In the case of bathrooms, it’s where you keep your beauty products close at hand. There is no question that the countertop you choose is an important decision.

With all the options available, granite and quartz stand out as the leading choices due to their ease of maintenance, durability, character and overall beauty. You can guarantee that both granite and quartz surfaces are going to last – they are known for their permanence and resilience to the hottest pots and pans.

These countertops will last at least as long as your house and probably longer! They require only a small amount of care and attention to protect against stains, watermarks, and etching.

Speaking with a reputable countertop dealer, such as Northern Stone of Fargo, ND, can be extremely valuable as you start the process of choosing a countertop that’s right for you. They have experts who can explain the differences between different stone types, offer money-saving tips and take you through the basics of stone care. By the end, you will understand how to make your kitchen and bathroom beautiful and stunning.

Durability is the prevailing attribute when it comes to the qualities of quartz and granite countertops. Both are easy to clean, and quartz is especially known for its non-porous, bacteria-resistant surface that is perfect for kitchen and bathrooms alike.

Slabs carved out of granite offer smooth surfaces without the need of grouted grooves that are so typical of tops made with ceramic tiles. The lack of grooves helps when it comes to the low maintenance you can expect with a granite top.

Wiping spills away with soapy water will protect your granite from most damage. There are, however, some oils that will stain granite, so check with your dealer for specific maintenance requirements. Resealing your granite periodically may be needed; check with a professional on how to test your countertop.

In rare situations, a granite surface can be chipped, but even the worst examples can be restored with the right professional attention.
Looking for the most natural, one-of-a-kind countertop? Granite is the best way to achieve this. Color and movement changes from piece to piece and block to block, ensuring a look that can never be duplicated.

While granite is most often identified with kitchens and bathrooms, it can also be incorporated into outdoor kitchens and workspaces. Its heat and scratch-resistant properties allow it to easily hold up in the elements.

Granite surfaces are extremely distinctive. Each stone is completely unique, so the patterns and colors look one-of-a-kind. Granite countertops are exceptionally durable. In contrast to surfaces like wood, laminate, and even some solid surfacing which are affected by heat, granite tops are not.
Each stone extracted from the ground comes with unique veining and speckles shown through a variety of mineral colors. Stoneworkers, with their saws and polishing apparatus, hone these raw materials into fine specimens of home decor art. Whether it’s a sky-blue granite, a solid burgundy quartzite, or a beige travertine that comes embedded with seashell fossils, your choice can be as distinctive and original as your taste and budget allow.

Quartz tops are engineered using about 95 percent ground quartz along with polymer resins, allowing a smooth surface that is one of the most easily customizable surfaces for homeowners.

With a dazzling array of colors, including veining and speckles that mimic natural granite, you’ll see why more and more homeowners are choosing quartz.

For many homeowners, quartz provides an excellent combination of durability and ease of maintenance.

Similar to granite, quartz can be cleaned with soapy water or a household cleaner.
Quartz, however, does not need to be resealed.

Quartz is actually stronger than granite, in fact, it is nearly indestructable. They are scratch and impact resistant. In contrast to granite, however, your quartz countertop can be damaged by extreme heat. Caution should be applied when using hot pots or pans.

Due to some of these features, you can expect to pay a little more for quartz in comparison to granite.

Every piece of stone is unique, but all look beautiful. The bonus that these stones provide is the comfortable feel they emanate. A granite or quartz feature gives off beauty and elegance that invariably makes using this material very successful.

The fact is, of the vast variety of elements that can be used to add luxury, style and beauty to a home, none match the excellence, durability, and downright natural beauty of stone.

Countertops are one of the most important aspects of the kitchen. They serve as the centerpiece of the kitchen on which everyone in the room focuses.

It is why durable, beautiful and quality countertops serve for many years to instill a sense of luxury in the space, creating a unique impression to all who lay their eyes upon it.

The surfaces these materials produce are not only highly flexible and often used to construct kitchen and bathroom countertops, but they can also be employed as feature walls and even for some flooring options.

Choosing natural stone for a feature wall can add yet another layer of beauty to your home’s interior.

The application of granite and quartz is not limited just to homes. It is also a great material used in a wide variety of commercial settings.

Space is possibly the most important aspect of a modern home. With burgeoning real-estate prices shrinking the size of many modern homes, many houses and apartments are combining their dining, kitchen and even living spaces together.

With the application of quality granite, it is possible to give the design of these combination spaces a striking elegance and beauty. It can inspire awe and create a complete look that homeowners and their visitors will be able to enjoy for many years to come.

Granite and quartz have all been formed inside the earth with incredible amounts of pressure and heat. It is what makes the material so resilient. This resiliency does not change as the stones are turned into countertops.

It is part of the appeal of these natural slabs and why they are increasingly popular. So much so that sales of granite in the United States are set to overtake those of the much-cheaper laminate alternatives.

Out of all the various rock countertops, the ultra-dense granite is one of the top performers. When you want to add some striking beauty and style to rooms like your kitchen and bathroom, it is worth choosing premium products from suppliers like Northern Stone.

With the wide variety of colors the options are endless, offering the added benefit of increasing the resale value of your home. Northern Stone’s expert team has the knowledge to work with your ideas to create cohesive designs that work with the colors and finishes that exist in your kitchen. As you look at all the benefits that granite has to offer, you’ll see that it’s an investment worth making. ~L&H


One Door at a Time

Great River Door
It might seem like an enormous leap to go from a career working in the sign business to another career creating one-of-a-kind handcrafted wooden doors. But for Brent Manley, “one thing led to another” when Mark Erickson, who owned and operated a local door company, noticed Manley’s creative, hand-carved wooden signs and asked him if he could create some of those designs on the doors he built.

“We started off doing sub-contracting work for Mark’s company back in the late ‘90s, carving a wildlife design in a door for a particular customer, which then led to creating more doors for other customers over the next several years,” says Manley. “We could see that there was an increasing demand for these unique, personalized doors, and we felt that if we marketed them more strongly, and also expanded our customer base and area, we could possibly make a go of it.”

The Great River Door Company
In 2004, Manley and Erickson took the leap and decided to formally combine their talents and experience (in sign-making, wood carving, millwork and door building) to create the Great River Door Company in Brainerd. Their website states that they build some really “cool” doors, and according to Manley, the personalized designs they carve into those doors range from names to logos to wildlife, along with outdoor scenes or any other specific type of design a customer is passionate about.

“We may start with existing images, but we’re not just taking a design off the shelf,” says Manley. “If they see something close to what they like, we will revise it, but if they don’t see exactly what they want, it just means we haven’t created it yet. If a customer can dream it, we can most likely design it.”

Since each door is custom-made, built from scratch and hand carved, production time can be up to four months. A few talented local crafts people are contracted if the design includes etched glass, stained glass, or hand forged metal, but otherwise the four Great River employees do it all right there in the Brainerd shop. It provides a personal touch and a solid commitment to the product and the customer.

Although Erickson is now “semi-retired,” he continues to spend some time at the company almost every day. Manley emphasizes that Erickson’s background and 30 years of experience in door manufacturing ensure that the entire process is top quality, including the time-tested mortise and tenon method – the strongest and most lasting way to join two pieces of wood together – instead of the dowels, screws or bolts used by many door companies.

“First and foremost, we’re selling a high quality wood door that will stand up to decades of use,” says Manley.

Besides the highest quality of woods and components, the company uses heavy duty ball bearing hinges, durable nylon weatherstrip, and an aluminum sill with adjustable threshold for a secure closure. Although Great River doesn’t install the doors, they work with each customer to ensure that it’s the right fit, the right door, and the right design.

“Once we find out the customer’s structural needs, then we establish what, if any, carving they have envisioned,” he continues. “That’s when we begin working on the design element. We can get as wild and crazy as they want us to with their design ideas.”

Sand Carving Method
Wood carving itself is an ancient art, and in some areas of the world there are examples of intricately carved doors that have remained standing for centuries. With traditional wood carving techniques, however, the pricing of those doors would be out of reach for most people.
Manley’s “sand carving” method may not be as traditional, but it is unique and it is effective. Building on the techniques he learned over the years creating wood signs, he uses utility knives and Exacto knives to carve out a completed design on a sheet of specialized rubber to be used as a stencil.

“This process is what separates us from the others,” says Manley. “It’s a very labor intensive process, but it allows us to create designs that wouldn’t be possible with other methods, like using a router. We can make ornate type carvings without being out of reach with our pricing.”

The rubber stencil is laid across the door panel, and that’s when the sandblasting begins. A mixture of air and sand is shot at high speed from a compressor to eat away at the wood in certain areas. The rubber stencil, made of a “resist material,” causes the high-powered sand to “bounce back” around the carved out areas, creating a design in the door.

“After the background is carved out, we come back to finish off the remaining details of things like animal facial features,” says Manley. “If there’s a design that warrants it, we go back to do the rest by hand.”

Some types of wood work better than others with the sand carving/sandblasting process. Knotty alder is probably the most popular right now, but they also work with a lot of pine, cedar and fir. Preserving the door and the design is critical, too, so employees at Great River work with each customer on different types of finishes for both the interior and exterior that will help protect these remarkable doors from the sun and other weather elements.

If possible, the doors are delivered to local customers. Otherwise, they’re carefully crated and shipped. This niche market has created interest in the lakes area of Minnesota, but Great River recently shipped a door to Alaska, and they also ship them to several areas along the East Coast and among the mountain states out west.

“There are certainly artistic elements in what we do, but we’re not trying to push the boundaries of a work of art,” says Manley. “What we’re trying to do is produce a quality door that also has something that people are going to like – allowing them to display a customized feature in their home that is a reflection of their personalities, passions and interests.” ~L&H

by Patrice Peterson
Photography by Kip Johnson


Working Together

Asking Home Automation Systems to All Get Along
There are a wide variety of smartphone apps to help users control different parts of their home. But what if there was a single app that could make the home even better by allowing all these different apps to work together?

“Our goal for our clients is to take all of the subsystems of a home or business (lighting, motorized window treatments, heating/cooling, security, music, television, etc.) and move them into a simple to use single interface,” said Jamie DeJean, owner of Smart Home Technologies based in West Fargo.
The early trend in “smart home” technology was focused on the do it yourself approach, which relied on people controlling various features of their home through the use of multiple apps. However, as people began to rely on this technology and expect greater ease of use, the need to integrate these systems to work together in one app increased dramatically.

“Our clients really see the advantage of this technology when multiple systems work together to make their day to day lives more convenient,” adds DeJean. “You can use a single button to turn on mood lighting in a particular room or throughout the home, start playing music, or access security cameras. They can also enjoy the energy savings that come when the different parts of the home work together.”

For example, anyone can put in a smart thermostat such as the Nest and Ecobee brands to help automate their HVAC. Scheduling and knowing when you are away are helpful, but there is so much more a well-automated house can do.

“Why not have your thermostat work along with your motorized window treatments or even your lights?” suggests DeJean. “Let’s say your thermostat reads 76 degrees and is ready to call for the air conditioner to come on. However, before it does that, it checks to see if your window shades are open or if the lights are on, both of which are sources of heat.”

In response, the system can lower the shades and turn off the lights in the unoccupied rooms before using the air conditioner. There are similar advantages in the winter months. If it is too cold in the house, the automation system can open the shades for solar heat gain before running the furnace.

“We feel a smart home is one that makes adjustments to help the home run more effectively and efficiently,” says DeJean. “It is technology designed to make various systems work together to create a more comfortable home.”
You can now reduce the wall clutter of dozens of light switches with a single keypad. You can also control lighting from touch panels, tablets or mobile devices while at home or away. The system can automatically turn on the exterior lights at sunset and turn them off at sunrise.

“Whether it’s movie night, an intimate dinner for two or a business party, lighting establishes the perfect mood,” adds DeJean. “Traveling out of town or working late? The lights can execute pre-programmed scenes to simulate established lifestyle patterns. Dimmers can adjust internal lighting to take advantage of natural light levels in the home and incrementally increase or decrease throughout the day.”

Enjoy your high definition video and music sources throughout the entire home or in just the room you choose with distributed audio and video systems. Watch your favorite recorded video program in the den while your family watches their favorite program in a different room. Entertainment is made easy without the clutter of audio/video components scattered throughout the home. Add peace of mind with a surveillance camera system that can record weeks of activity. Camera video can be viewed on your televisions, in-wall touch panels or mobile devices. See who is at the door or in your driveway, plus monitor your kids in the backyard or check on your home while you are away.

Smart Home Technologies was founded in May of 2014 by DeJean, specializing in commercial and residential projects within 100 miles of Fargo, including the Minnesota lakes area. DeJean has been in the industry for 25 years as both a salesperson and technician.
Mobile devices running Apple iOS (iPhone or iPad) and Android (Samsung Galaxy, etc.) are able to run these technologies. Like anything that is software based, having the latest hardware that is fully updated is best, but not necessary.

“The majority of our work is with new construction,” adds DeJean. “Getting wires in place during the building process is preferred. There are wireless solutions that can be used in existing homes as well.”

The big push right now is with voice control. DeJean says his company has successfully integrated Amazon Alexa in projects to run things like lights, shades, thermostats and TVs.

“Say you are in the kitchen cooking and you want to change the TV channel or turn a light on,” suggests DeJean. “Do you really want to grab your phone or remote with your messy hands? Just like you would ask your kids to change the channel or turn the light on for you, you could have it done by sending the command to Alexa.”

DeJean adds, “The functionality of Google Home and Apple’s Siri voice assistants will be added to future projects. While this technology is not something we developed, we are taking these tools and using them to make our client’s daily lives better.”

Smart Home Technologies is one example of a company that can customize projects to fit client needs, expectations and budget.

“We work with dozens of different manufacturers to meet our client’s automation needs including Crestron, Universal Remote Control, Q-Motion, Sonos, Sony, Autonomic Controls and Pakedge,” says DeJean. “Ultimately, our goal is to make sure our clients are aware of the various home technology solutions available and to help them determine what is best for their lives and homes.” ~L&H

by Dave Pedersen

Bonus Rooms

Bonus Rooms

Nearly every home has a space that’s just waiting to be transformed. Whether it’s a spare bedroom, a rarely-used upper or lower level, underutilized space above the garage or even a large closet, storage area or alcove, most homes have square footage that could be used more efficiently.


Living Local

Since the day when Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson graced the cover of Time magazine (1973) in a plaid fishing shirt and an ebullient smile, a North Woods sensibility has gained popularity in home décor -think big lodge, plaid fabrics, dark colors and woodsy influence.


The Evolution of Reclaimed Wood

by Alicia Underlee Nelson

Reclaimed wood adds warmth, interest and a sense of history to a home. Better yet, experts in the region praise this popular, sustainable and environmentally-friendly material as being more affordable and more versatile than ever before.

Homeowners often gravitate toward reclaimed materials for both emotional and aesthetic reasons. “When you’re building a large house, historical materials add a warmth and character that you just can’t get otherwise. They give the home a historical perspective,” said Joseph Amann of Urban Evolutions, Inc., a reclaimed materials company that serves a diverse list of corporate clients including L.L. Bean, Urban Outfitters and Nike.

Urban Evolutions also does brisk business with Midwestern homeowners, many of whom are drawn in by the company’s 8,000 square-foot showroom featuring reclaimed materials, furniture, accessories and fixtures in Appleton, Wisconsin.

“I think the biggest fear when you’re building and remodeling is that what you do will be dated in ten years,” Amann continued.
“I think that reclaimed materials really add a sense of timelessness – especially in new construction.”

The situation is similar further west, said Seth Carlson, owner of Dakota Timber Co. in Fargo, a production sawmill company and North Dakota’s largest supplier of reclaimed wood. Carlson says his customers want a classic look that will stand the test of time, but they’re also looking for a way to differentiate themselves from other houses on their street. “There’s a lot of new homes that are very similar to each other, design wise,” he said. “Reclaimed wood is kind of a talking point that really sets you apart.”

Carlson adds the history behind the wood makes it more than just a product. “Customers today want to buy an experience, they don’t just want to buy a product or service,” he said. “They definitely get that with our product. People love to have a story to tell in their home. And it makes their home a little cozier.”

The gorgeous character of reclaimed wood makes it a favorite (and eye-catching) flooring choice. Since the material’s beauty is found in the richness and patina of the wood, it feels a lot less fussy than brand new, pristine flooring. This nonchalant beauty is a good match for the laid-back midwestern lifestyle.

Reclaimed wood flooring can unify different zones of a contemporary, open floor plan, honor the historical legacy of a vintage house or add a fresh look to a midcentury modern dwelling. Extending the flooring to include stairs is a time-tested, traditional look that can help pull an entire home together.

Reclaimed beams function as both an architectural element and an accent. They give a room that timeless feeling. “When you add reclaimed beams into a ceiling that look like they’ve been there for a hundred years, it’s going to be something that people appreciate longer than the current trends in kitchens and baths that change so quickly,” said Amann. A reclaimed wood ceiling throughout a home adds a sense of drama to a space that’s sometimes overlooked.

Customers with a more modest budget might be surprised to learn that reclaimed wood is within their reach. “Prices are becoming more and more affordable,” explained Carlson. “We really try to make a really cool product and make it accessible to everyone, not just multi-millionaires. About 50% of my clients are just average income customers.”

If the price is still too high, there are ways to get the look of reclaimed wood on a budget. A solid wood door can add a feeling of gravity to a room while introducing the soothing colors and textures of reclaimed materials.

Amann recommends adding a reclaimed wood accent wall. Even just one reclaimed wood wall can add drama to a master bedroom, make a dining room or kitchen feel inviting and add warmth and provide texture and interest to basement living spaces.

An accent wall can also be used to highlight a feature like a fireplace or to stand in for art as a focal point. “It’s a way for people to experiment with reclaimed wood without a huge commitment – breaking down those socio-economic barriers to using reclaimed wood in an entire house,” Amann explained.

As reclaimed products come down in price and homeowners experiment with more affordable ways of using reclaimed wood, the market doesn’t just open up to those with a variety of budgets. It opens up to those with a variety of design aesthetics as well. And as the customer base expands, the variety of reclaimed wood finishes – and the effects they can provide – expands too.

“When people think of reclaimed wood, they think of barn wood and western themes,” said Carlson. “But that’s all changing.”

“It evolves every year,” Carlson continued. He modifies his own finishes to suit trends and customer tastes at least twice annually. “Right now, I think people are kind of moving into a little more modern stuff, so we’ve been revisiting our finishes to do brighter whites and cleaner, smoother finishes, versus the rustic barn wood look. We can do modern and contemporary style.”

Amann adds that he’s seen an increase in clients adding reclaimed wood to mid-century modern houses and clean, contemporary spaces. “They want to add something warm,” he explained. “They don’t want it all to be steel and girding.”

There are more reclaimed wood options than ever before. And the variety of finishes and installation methods make this sustainable building material timeless yet modern, soothingly steady yet exciting and suitable for a variety of projects and aesthetics. “You have infinite possibilities,” said Carlson. ~L&H


An Artful Staircase

A staircase is a workhorse. It’s a functional, structural element that moves people and pets from floor to floor and provides a neutral zone that separates a floor’s multiple levels and its public and private spaces.

But staircases can be both functional and beautiful. The experts at Brainerd Hardwoods, Inc., in Brainerd and Sharp-Edge Hardwood Floors, LLC, in Pierz offer their take on the biggest trends in staircase design and provide tips to inspire new building projects and give a fresh look to existing family homes.

Solid Wood

The days of automatically carpeting a staircase or adding a carpet runner are waning. Many homeowners are choosing to echo the region’s natural beauty by incorporating hardwood into their homes, including their staircases. New anti-slip products allow customers to extend the rich, warm look of hardwood to their stairways without worrying about safety.

“The one thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is there’s a lot more solid stairs and treads being used,” said Greg Tax, owner of Sharp-Edge Hardwoods, LLC. “A lot of people will want the carpet runner for looks, or primarily for allowing people to get up and down the stairs without any hazards. But we have products available now where they can finish stairs with anti-slip finish products. They try it without the runner, and never end up putting the runner on.”

The anti-slip products are both functional and National Green Building Standard™ certified, a must for environmentally conscious homeowners. The wide range of wood on the market — from walnut and ash to maple and hickory— offer consumers a variety of options to choose from.

Open or Floating


This modern stairway look omits the risers and downplays the stringers that support the staircase, which make it appear as if the stair treads are hovering in space. Designers often use ultra-slim dowels, metal balusters or the sleekest of columns to contribute to the airy, ultra-modern look. Sometimes they forgo balusters in favor of just a handrail or (if building codes allow it) reduce or omit the handrail entirely.

The result is a decisive step away from tradition and toward a sleek, contemporary design aesthetic. An open stairway honors both the positive and negative space and forces the eye to consider the elements of the staircase separately. A floating staircase can seem as much like a sculpture as a functional part of the room.

Butcher Block

Sturdy butcher block staircases, with treads that mimic wooden cutting boards and countertops, take a functional look out of the kitchen into the rest of the home. The treads have no stair nosing, just crisp angles for a clean look.

Weighty butcher block treads look ultra modern as part of an open staircase. The open space where the riser would be stands out in especially vivid contrast with the perceived heft of the butcher block tread. Try a natural wood finish for a calming effect or go graphic with black or white. Treads in a neutral color allow carpets, accent walls or a great art collection to take center stage.

Spiral Staircases

The most striking of staircases is making a comeback. These twisting, turning stairways are as glamorous as they are functional. The compact nature of a spiral staircase makes it extremely space efficient, freeing up precious square footage for relaxing and entertaining below. Just be aware that spiral staircases can be harder for the oldest and youngest (and the four-legged!) members of the family to navigate.

A sharp eye for interior design—your own or an expert’s—is a valuable asset when choosing materials and finishes for a stairway of this type. A spiral staircase functions both as an architectural feature and an art object, so it’s hard to ignore. Use it to inspire the colors and mood of the room.

Contrasting treads and risers

To give a time-worn stairway a facelift with paint or to install something new that offers a twist on the traditional, try treads and risers in two different colors. For a quietly contrasting look, choose similar tones based on the same shade (soothing variations of a neutral like gray or brown, for example) or select two different varieties of wood for a subtle variation. To increase the drama, go for analogous colors (shades located near each other on the color wheel) or choose contrasting complementary colors for a vivid look.

For a wild-card take, paint the nosings a third color. This look is sometimes required in commercial or industrial spaces as a safety precaution, so it’s unexpected in a residential setting and plays well with an eccentric design aesthetic. Painting or staining the railings or newel posts is another option. To tie the stairway into the rest of the room, make sure the dominant color echoes the trim or wall color of the adjacent living space.

The Rustic Look

Reclaimed wood is having a bit of a renaissance. Timber sourced from barns, warehouses and other structures adds historic character to a modern home. Brainerd Hardwoods, Inc., general manager Joe Paine’s customers are gravitating towards simple, farmhouse-style elements in their staircases. They’re opting for details like rustic newel posts and treads and railings with simple lines and less polished finishes for a well-loved, lived-in look.

“People like the reclaimed look,” said Paine. “But if they don’t want reclaimed wood, or if it’s out of the budget, there are faux reclaimed wood options.” Offering rustic elements at a variety of price points makes this comfortable, laid-back style accessible to all customers, no matter their budget.

Urban Evolutions of Appleton, Wisc., brings a wealth of knowledge and experience within the realm of reclaimed wood projects (see photos below and right). Their expertise includes using hard and soft woods from barns and factories to revitalize aspects of any living space, including staircases.

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