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


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


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.


Flooring Trends for 2017


Due to its versatility, durability and endless design options, wood flooring is a product for today and tomorrow. This is why many people are scouring their houses, condos and cottages to see where they can add this timeless flooring option to their homes. For 2017, even exotic wood options of bamboo and cork make the design cut along with refinished and reclaimed offerings.

“Local wood reclamation, whether that wood is being salvaged from old barns or rescued from underneath old and outdated carpeting, is going to be popular across the country,” adds Weinstock.

Thus today’s wood flooring comes in a bevy of distinctive materials. Whether it is a mainstay product such as ¾-inch hardwood or a newly created veneer invention that can be used in virtually every room of the house, including bathrooms, wood flooring is a trend here to stay.


Color makes a splash on the 2017 wood flooring trend list. According to flooring blogger Debbie Gartner, a.k.a. The Flooring Girl, two very extreme options are all the rage today when it comes to wood flooring color, namely dark stained vs. bright blondes. These two extremes offer homeowners numerous flooring color possibilities.

With distinctive names such as “Espresso” and “Almost Black,” dark stained wood flooring, for example, lends dimension to a room – especially when placed against bright white walls, shelving and wainscoting. Dark flooring set against stark white cabinets perfectly illustrates this style point, making a dramatic statement in a room with its contrasting color combination.

In sharp difference, barely-there blondes with names such as “Sandy Maple” and “Wheat,” make rooms look bigger, brighter and more open, helping rooms to exude a feeling of nature within a home. Additionally, lighter colors keep your floors looking clean longer compared to their darker counterparts, comments FlooringInc blogger Ari Ziskin.

Although dark versus light flooring color choices are top picks for 2017, gray is an exception that is still very popular, a perfect blend of light and dark. It seems not only do light and dark wood colors work within a space, so do middle gray tones.

“For 2017, we don’t see any slowdown of the current preferences for wide plank in gray tones with extremely low-sheen finishes,” adds Hardwood Floors magazine editor, Kim Wahlgren.


In addition to color, texture is also a big player for this year’s style offering. Smooth, dark flooring with very few flaws compared to blonde oak revelations paying homage to every knot and imperfection that real wood has to offer, take style in two very different directions for 2017.

If handcrafted and distressed are your definitions for style, then wood flooring that is “wire-brushed” or “hand-scraped” are what you are looking for as they provide an authentic, aged weathered look. On the other end of the texture spectrum, are flooring options that are smooth and blemish-free. These products, above all else, offer subtle uniformity and a less busy finish. Both work well in the 2017 flooring trend scheme of things.


Pattern is also on the trend docket this year. Herringbone, diagonal, wide plank and mixed-width floors take traditional wood flooring into new territory for 2017. Although this wood flooring technique has been around as long as wood flooring has, it is the use of new product, sizes and color that add to the drama of such applications.

For instance, once you find a product you like, try laying it down diagonal to the room it is being featured in for a completely fresh feel. Just changing its installation can equip a room with a new attitude and stylistic advantage.


Finishes wrap up the wood flooring style trend list for 2017. Once a homeowner has picked out the perfect material, color and texture of choice, there is still one last selection to make and that is finish style.

Whether satin or matte, this last option adds to the overall character of the flooring covering a particular room. For example, to give a room a rustic look, matte finish would be the way to go.
Low sheen, allows the natural feel of the wood to take center stage with a matte finish.

As for satin finishes, they are a perfect compromise between glossy and matte, says Ziskin, noting satin finishes are typically about 40-percent shiny and offer a great compliment to former, high gloss flooring styles.

“As the trends change and homeowners are beginning to prefer less polished flooring, satin is not such a drastic step. It’s a practical step back and was the most popular flooring finish in 2016,” blogs Ziskin.

As for flexibility, style, color, and texture, wood flooring offers homeowners a range of products to fulfill any style or application. So whether you want to lighten up a room with a blonde, maple hardwood flooring product or make a statement using reclaimed, well-warn barn wood from a farm up north, wood flooring is a trend you can not go wrong with in 2017. ~L&H

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