Success by Design: Profiles of Minnesota Architects

Good architecture isn’t only about designing functional spaces or landscapes; it can be a long-lasting form of expression—an extension of art, supported by the science of architectural theory and reason. It can be subtle (sometimes the most memorable architecture responds to its environment and quietly inspires people, generation after generation) and it can roar. There is a wealth of architectural talent in Minnesota. In the following pages, we highlight a few of these architects, men and women who are making dramatic statements in their own unique ways.


Nor-Son Architecture

Today’s homeowners are often very sophisticated with regard to design—they want an architect who ‘gets it.’ At Nor-Son—with office locations in Wayzata, Baxter, and Fargo, North Dakota—a team of talented architects understands that homeowners want seamless additions, personalized spaces, and creative solutions to potential obstacles before issues even arise. Clients benefit from design creativity (architectural talent), cost intelligence (project management), and precision craftsmanship (construction quality) under one roof. “To our clients, this means the value goes into each project rather than getting lost within the process,” explains Paul Maki, AIA.

They have experience in site selection and zoning requirements, particularly when it comes to lake home properties, and a keen understanding of how the elements of nature can affect a home. Clients receive all relevant information so they’re empowered to make informed decisions along the way, without any surprises. “Some clients are quick to make decisions, and some need more time to reflect and understand the design concepts presented to them,” says Amy Dirkes, AIA. “We work at their speed, establishing a schedule and expectations from the very beginning.”

Inspiration Building or remodeling a home is a very personal experience. At Nor-Son, there are no cookie-cutter designs. “We take inspiration from our clients based on their travels, interests, and how they live in their space,” says Peter Eskuche, AIA. “Everything is customized.” With the impressive Forever Estate on Lake Minnetonka’s Smithtown Bay—originally built as the summer cottage of prosperous entrepreneur George Washington Van Dusen and his wife, Nancy back in 1900 and recently restored to its impressive grandeur—an infinity symbol throughout the design indicated that this estate was the family’s “forever home.” The French traditional new home will mirror an authentic Tuscan villa, complete with multiple terraces and loggias for entertaining and appreciating the views, and the Summer Kitchen project included custom-crafted windows with a wire-brushed cedar exterior and chiseled, scraped and sanded interior. When it came to the Contemporary Modern renovation, the Nor-Son team adapted a modern interpretation of the classic Prairie School design, with interior and exterior stonework as a focal point. “We search for hidden gems and help unify the design, so all the pieces flow together,” says Stephen Rose, AIA. “We love what we do.”


Left to right: Stephen Rose, AIA; Paul Maki, AIA; Amy Dirkes, AIA; Peter Eskuche, AIA Portrait Trina Sutton  Forever Estate Spacecrafting  Rendering & Renovation courtesy Nor-son

Charlie & Co. Design

Located atop a hill on a picturesque tree-lined cobblestone street, this modern interpretation of an English Tudor fits right in with neighboring 100-year-old homes as if it’s been part of the neighborhood all along. Making sure the home was in character with the Crocus Hill neighborhood was a critical component to this project.

“We create homes devoted to a modern lifestyle while being mindful of history and tradition,” says Charlie Simmons, principal, Charlie & Co. Design. “We’re known for successfully blending modern and traditional aesthetics.”   

This resonates with homeowners, as does the team’s ability to integrate natural and built environments, present innovative design concepts, and work closely with local builders to perfect every detail (this particular home, a collaboration between Charlie & Co. Design and builder Detail Homes, was showcased on the Midwest Home Luxury Home Tour).

The exterior has an Old World charm, while the sunny and open interior, featuring sculpted and curved walls, a recessed cooking hearth, cantilevered eating nook, and three-story stair tower—complete with floating staircase—is perfect for today’s modern sensibilities.

Charlie Simmons, founder, design principal, and Colby Mattson, Assoc. AIA, partner, Charlie & Co. Design Charlie & Co. portrait Kelly Gritzmacher  Interior © Corey Gaffer


Kurt Baum & Associates

Just about every client has a bent toward some architectural style,” says Kurt Baum, AIA, principal of Kurt Baum & Associates. “Whether it’s traditional, contemporary, or a blend, my job is to embrace and immerse myself into the style aesthetics, lifestyle, and dreams of my clients.”

Renee LeJeune Hallberg, Allied ASID, interior designer and owner of RLH Studio, along with her husband, envisioned an elegant Hampton-style home in Wayzata filled with windows and beautiful millwork.

“I showed Kurt my ‘dream home’ board on Pinterest to give him an idea of our style,” says Hallberg. “One week later, he showed me an elevation of the exterior of the home he proposed for us. He perfectly captured our vision.”   

She loves that their home is awash in natural sunlight, and describes the millwork as elegant in its simplicity and flawless in its dimensions. “Kurt is an attentive listener and a thoughtful designer,” she comments. “His attention to detail is superb.”

Architecture is space and light, form and function, but it’s also a way of living. According to Baum, “Designing environments that support or enhance our clients’ everyday lives is the most important aspect of what we do.”     

Kurt Baum, principal architect and founder, Kurt Baum & Associates
Portrait Courtesy Kurt Baum & Associates Exterior Steve Henke



Murphy & Co. Design

At Murphy & Co. Design, the design team doesn’t take themselves too seriously (“We’re an ego-free office,” says Jeff Murphy, who founded the company in 2003), but what they do take seriously is good architecture.

“We are passionate down to the fine architectural details, like specific shadows cast by moulding profiles,” Murphy says.

Whether designing a colonial farmhouse, Tudor-style home on the lake, Aspen retreat, or French-inspired home on the Minnesota River bluffs, the Murphy & Co. team specializes in the residential design of time-honored homes in a diverse range of styles.

“Our diversity comes from really listening to our clientele,” Murphy says. Really listening and understanding site concerns, challenges, and the homeowners’ vision allows them to exceed expectations. It’s no wonder that—within a 12-year timeframe—Murphy & Co. Design has built a strong reputation for meticulous standards, creative solutions, quality work, and a fun environment, with a portfolio expanding well beyond Minnesota.

Murphy and Co

Jeff Murphy, president and director of design, Murphy & Co. Design Murphy & Co House Landmark Photography Portrait Susan Gilmore

By Chrissy Sarinke, Special Sections Editor

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