Getting to Know David Hanks

This week in our getting to know you series, Senior Project Designer, David Hanks!

1. Past accomplishment that drive my each day?

To this day, my years spent in the boy scouts, taught me to be prepared.  This moto is with me at work, to accomplish quality in all I do. The Ideal Scout bronze statue was given to me at age 14, and sets on my desk as a daily reminder.

Ideal Scout.jpg

2. If you could live anywhere, where would it be? 

Minnehaha Falls sings the songs of life, water brings that life. Life includes work, enjoy it all.


3. What is your favorite book to read?

J.R.R. Tolkien,  The Silmarillion, Part Three, the Quenta Silmarilion about the lives of the elves, and their love for life. We can work hard and gain the pleasures of being together.


4. What are your hobbies?

Playing UNO card game with my kids. Quality, fun, and learn to be a better sport, even at work.

5. I wanted to be an architect in the seventh grade: Career day found an architect in my class, and that set the seed for my schooling.

Meet the Team! First up, Jeff Schuler!

Happy Monday! Welcome to our new installment on our blog where you get to really meet our Firm Ground team. In the upcoming weeks you will get a little more in depth view of who we are. Each team member has been asked a series of questions and asked to provide a few photos. First up we have Jeff Schuler, Project Architect and Partner at Firm Ground.


1. What is your favorite thing about your career?

My favorite part is when we get to the end product of design when everyone can finally see what we have been talking about come to life. The most fulfilling part is when we get to the construction portion and we get to see something appear out of nothing and being able to collaborate with contractors to work through challenges to complete the project.

2. What is your proudest accomplishment?

Receiving my architecture license after 5 years of school, 4 years as an intern and seven 4-hour tests. It was the culmination of many years of my life working towards one goal.

3. What did you want to be when you were small?


4. If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be?

I love to drive and race cars. If I could do anything it would be driving a Ferrari through the alps with no speed limits.

3 cars.jpg

5. What's the tallest building you've been to the top in?

As every architect finds themselves in their life the tallest building I have been to the top is the Empire State Building

6. Are you a clean or messy person?

I am clean at home and messy at work.

7. What's your favorite family recipe?

The running joke I have with my family is my favorite recipe “wacky cake” which is a chocolate cake without eggs, the more common name as “depression cake” because it was perfected during the great depression when they could not get eggs.

Uber Present day.jpg

At Long Last, Blog's Back

The Firm Ground blog has been dormant for far too long.  But like a good volcano, our blog can’t stay dormant forever.  Between Gillian and myself (Ryne), we are going to start posting semi-regularly so that all our subscribers have more content to distract themselves from their typical workday.  In her first post, Gillian will be taking a deep dive into the intricacies of 2009 building codes and I’ll be following up on the long history of Gantt Charts!  I’m personally very excited to hear more about where roof insulation requirements were a decade ago, but I suspect there will be a little something for everyone in her post.

            If you can’t tell from our Instagram account, we like to have fun here at Firm Ground* (seriously follow us on Instagram @firmgroundae)**.  Fortunately, this long overdue revival of our blog will not feature building code analysis.  If the masses demand it, maybe we can revisit that topic in the future.  In reality, we are kicking off the blog for the same reasons I believe a lot of people choose to blog: to express ourselves!

 The team this summer at the Minnesota State Fair

The team this summer at the Minnesota State Fair

            Gillian will be publishing a series of get-to-know-you’s for each member of the Firm Ground team.  These will feature an array of entertaining questions so you all can get to know your local friendly architecture/design team.  Have you ever wondered what warning label Tom would apply to himself or what kind of cookie Jeff envisions himself as? Wait no more!  This should be a fun series to illustrate what’s beyond the floor plans, coffee and greyscale clothing that architects love to shroud themselves in.

            As for me, I don’t have a blog theme figured out yet.  I’m told I can write about whatever I want, and I plan on really pushing that to the limit.  If you don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know I went too far and had keyboard privileges revoked.  See a preview of my first post below:

I’m travelling to New York City for three days with some friends later this month.  I was given a time slot to plan whatever I wanted for the group, so I did what any other architecture loving geek would do: plan an 8 hour, 10 mile architectural walking tour of Manhattan.  I may have three less friends after this, but it will be worth the blog post content that will be generated.

I hope you all enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Stay tuned as we embark on this blog journey together.

*PS: my supervisors want me to ensure you all know that despite the fun we have in suite 368, we actually do a lot of hard work too (such as writing this post)

**PPS: remember to follow us on Instagram @firmgroundae

Team Photo.JPG

Gratitude- A Part of Business and Life! 

On, Sunday July 30th, 2017, Barb and I worshiped at Mercy Vineyard Church in Northeast Minneapolis. Mercy is a “church in a warehouse” project that we completed this spring with John Ryan at Anderson Builders.
Jeff and LeQue Heidkamp are the pastors and our clients for the project. They were typical clients in that they were sometimes overwhelmed by the construction process and the cost of everything. They had a vision and made compromises along the way but still kept their eyes on the goal!
As we sat, stood, sang, swayed, and glorified our relationship with God I was overcome with a strong sense of gratitude- thankful for clients with vision, thankful for great contractors like Anderson and thankful for the folks in the pews that surrounded us on Sunday! Mercy lives and grows because of the amazing people drawn to this church community!
Firm Ground depends on clients with vision and we are grateful every day for all the folks that place their trust in us to help them realize their dreams! May we always be good stewards.


Firm Ground in The News! 

We are grateful for the recognition in two articles published this summer, highlighting our past work at Betty Danger’s Country Club and our hopes for a future project with Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.

Hat's Off to Quirky Betty Danger's Country Club


We were given the opportunity to reflect upon our work for Betty Danger’s Country Club as they celebrated their second birthday this year with a Kentucky Derby watch party. This quirky atmosphere built “for the other 99%” was fueled by creative chaos and interesting back-stories by owner Leslie Bock. Revisiting the project reminded us of the ever-evolving vision for the well-known Mexampton eatery in Minneapolis that, even when bursting with inspiration, hit a few roadblocks like any good project does. The process worked through re-purposing architectural elements and incorporating Leslie’s eclectic style to its full extent. Check out Tom’s reflections on this unique project in the recent Foodservice News article!


Returning to his Alma Mater, Tom revisits the University of Minnesota chapter of Theta Tau, an engineering fraternity. Since his days of active membership, the mid-century modern house built in 1950 not only shows it age but also its unsuitability for an ever-growing, ever-evolving group of students. What began as a small, male-dominated organization has become a populous co-ed fraternity, making the current amenities undersized and unsuitable for their current lifestyle. Tom’s preliminary concept design is to create an updated space that provides an open atmosphere along with a greater number of private bedrooms and bathrooms available to students. He hopes to create a space for students seeking inclusion, friendship, and a smaller community within a large campus much like he experienced years ago.

Employee Highlights

Ryne Nichols, Master of Architecture


This past May, Ryne completed his Master’s of Architecture degree from the University of Minnesota.  The final semester of his graduate school experience was spent on an intensive research based design project of his choice.  Throughout his two years in graduate school, Ryne’s primary design explorations centered around flexible space that is defined by the user.  He always sought to embody the Whole Earth Catalog’s ideals of community/self empowerment and DIY in his designs.  These passions of his design work manifested themselves in his Master’s Final Project: a community film-making workshop in Los Angeles.  His final project description as printed in the University literature is found below:
“Historically, film making has not been a widely accessible craft due to the cost and resources it requires. However, this notion is disappearing with the emergence of mobile and accessible recording technology in the form of smartphones and tablets. This project proposes a community film workshop located in the Watts neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles. It provides access to resources and education so that anyone can learn the craft of storytelling through digital media and film making. With FilmLA as a community space and base of operation, amateur film makers can film at the studio as well as disperse out into the city to capture their story. Rather than prescribing a narrative, this project is a space that encourages the story to be written by its community users. At FilmLA, everybody’s a filmmaker.”

New Employees 

Welcome to two of our recent additions at Firm Ground, Sophia and Jacob! Both graduates from Minneapolis Community and Technical College, they have quickly become valuable members of the team.

Sophia Jungbauer 


After graduating from Luther College in 2015 with degrees in Anthropology and Environmental Studies, Sophia spent a month in China, researching the effects of urbanization. Inspired by her research, she decided to continue her education through Minneapolis Community and Technical College’s Architectural Technology Program. Her background gives her an unusual perspective; she sees architecture as a tool for creating more sustainable and vibrant communities. Sophia joined Firm Ground’s team in December after interning with the City of Saint Paul’s Design Group and is excited to be working with clients while gaining a better understanding of how culture influences people’s needs. 

Jacob Perez 


Jacob is a recent graduate of Minneapolis Community and Technical College’s Architectural Technology program. His pursuit of architectural design and technical drafting stems from a rich lineage of residential contractors which, at an early age, exposed him to demolition projects, remodels, and new home construction.  He sees architectural design as a potential catalyst for enhancing the well-being of end-users.  Jacob has been a Firm Ground team member since February of this year and looks forward to utilizing his education and diverse experience in a collaborative work environment to realize the vision our clients.

People Incorporated 



Once again, Firm Ground is supporting our client, People Incorporated, by participating as a sponsor to their annual Artability Show. The Artability program is a celebration of the creativity and contributions of people with mental illnesses to our community. A series of art and writing workshops lead up to the multi-day Artability Show & Sale held each fall. Artists may sell their work at the show and receive 80% of the profits, with the remaining 20% going back to support the Artability program. Writers also contribute their creative work to an anthology available for sale at the show. We hope you will all attend this year to see why it is and event very important to us and to our client.

Artability Show & Sale: October 26-28 at the Great Hall in St. Paul,
180 E 5th Street St. Paul, MN 55101

Variety...With Intent

We've focused on interior design this month to give Amy Schluessel, our commercial Interior Designer, a little time in the limelight! It also is a great way to highlight the diversity of project types Firm Ground works on. Environments for living, working, playing, and now we can add travelling and healing.

This month we feature one of three hotel projects we have been working on in Burlington, Iowa. It is a boom town and there are lots of opportunities for creating reuse projects along the Mighty Mississippi. Please contact Jeff or myself for more information.

The other project, 5555 Boone Avenue in New Hope, is our 8th project with People Incorporated and the first one we have done together that focuses on the mental health of our youth. A very special project for an outstanding customer. People Incorporated's Artability Show is the coming week and we have included information about that as well. This is our second year as a sponsor for this great event that proves art can heal the soul. We hope you can check out the show!


People Incorporated


Once again, Firm Ground is supporting our client, People Incorporated, by participating as a sponsor to their annual Artability Show. The Artability program is a celebration of the creativity and contributions of people with mental illnesses to our community. A series of art and writing workshops lead up to the multi-day Artability Show & Sale held each fall. Artists may sell their work at the show and receive 80% of the profits, with the remaining 20% going back to support the Artability program. Writers also contribute their creative work to an anthology available for sale at the show. We hope you will all attend this year to see why it is and event very important to us and to our client.

Artability Show & Sale: October 28-29 at the Great Hall in St. Paul 180 E 5th Street St. Paul, MN 55101

New Facility Opening

One of the first steps in designing any space is to determine the function; once the purpose is defined it creates a boundary for the evolving design. There are lots of factors that play into designing a space such as material selection, color psychology, figuring out the most efficient layout and lighting arrangement to just name a few. For the newly opened Juvenile Mental Health Facility in New Hope, color psychology was a key component in influencing behavior. Soothing shades of pastel blue and green were carefully selected as a way to calm and not stimulate the students. Each color has a different effect on humans whether the end goal is to create energy, increase communication, provide harmony or be comforted there is a color that suits every environment!

Holiday Inn Express

This past year we have had the privilege of working on three hotels with DesignWise and Great River Entertainment in Burlington, Iowa. Holiday Inn recently refreshed it’s environment after it underwent an interior remodel that affected the lobby, breakfast area, pool, business center and guest rooms. The new colors and materials created a fresh and crisp interior that can be easily maintained while making guests feel at home during their stay. The inlaid carpet and contrasting colors of the floor tile provide visual interest and help differentiate conversation areas from the main corridors. The deep, rich espresso stain on the floating ceiling provides a level of comfort to contrast the existing white coffered ceiling. This stain is also repeated on the barn doors leading to the breakfast area and on the chair frames, repeating this design element helps lead your eye around the lobby. This remodel helped update their look by opening up and expanding their existing lobby space and modernizing the layout to make it more functional for guests and staff.

Happy Spring!

We have the best clients!

We really do! Each one has very specific project needs! Each one a unique opportunity to create a “Raving Fan”!

Variety is the spice of life. It drives us and helps keep the creative juices flowing. There is another ingredient in the mix that is equally as important and that’s consistency.

We have a consistent process that we follow regardless of project or program. Call it the recipe for success. The process covers the steps in the complex flow of designing and building projects for individual customers. It’s the consistency of our approach that is reflected in successfully executed projects.

The bottom line on all of this is communication. Firm Ground strives for continuous improvement in how and when to talk to our clients. It is easy when things are progressing smoothly, but it is in the moments where something has gone awry that relationships are really forged and strengthened. Our aim is to create personal relationships with our clients that grow over time. Share in the risks and rewards, and celebrate the success!

How can we get you to your celebration?



Harriet's Inn 

Harriet’s Inn is the newest project built in the East Harriet Neighborhood although you might not notice it. Smart Associates and Firm Ground teamed up with the restaurant owners to create a turn of the century English pub in Minneapolis. With this inspiration we surveyed the area to document the feel and context of the neighborhood to build a building that would fit in and look as if it has always been there.

This new restaurant enriches the neighborhood in many ways. First and most obviously we have replaced an abandoned gas station with a warm inviting neighborhood pub. Read More...

Thank You!

We would like to extend a resounding thank you to each and everyone who attended our open house last month. It certainly was a successful one. It was a joy to see all of you and we are so grateful you were able to celebrate our 7th anniversary with us. In case you were wondering about the delicious food we served, it was from our new friends, This Little Piggy Catering. The delicious food they create is only outmatched by the service, and we are proud to help them grow their business by designing their expansion.

Thank you all once again, and here's to another 7 wonderful years!

Newest Additions

Firm Ground would like to introduce you to the newest member of our staff, Obettu Subah. Obettu is currently an intern from the drafting program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, but will be joining us full time this spring upon her graduation. We are so happy to have Obettu as part of our team, and proud to see the progress she has made in such a short time.

"I am always excited to getting to know new clients and working on their projects, I find this very fulfilling.  I believe that each client is unique and have awesome ideas and just need help bringing that to life, and this inspires me tolisten to the clients understand their needs, so that together me and my team-members alongside with the clients can make their ideas come to life."  -Obettu Subah

We would also like to share our excitement in our tiniest addition to the Firm Ground family.  Jeff Schuler and his wife welcomed their first baby girl on March 18th. She is perfect and mom and dad are over the moon!

Ward 6 Does it Again!

Once again Ward 6 has proven why they are one of the best restaurants in St. Paul.  After many trips for dinner or drinks, this time was for brunch.  I must say, as usual, top notch in every way. The work and passion Eric and Bob have put into this place continues to show at every turn.

 The service was fantastic, especially considering we were a group of 9 celebrating my nephew's fourth birthday.  The menu is utter perfection for the surroundings with classics like Eggs Benedict, Shrimp & Grits and Biscuits & Gravy.  Yet these aren't so simple, there is a spectacular twist on them all, and attention to the little details that makes each dish distinct from anything else.  I must say, these were the best shrimp and grits I've had outside of Savannah, Georgia!

The history of the building is always striking to me, and I find something new in it to be amazed by at each visit.  Ward 6 also plays an amazing part in the neighborhood.  It is located at Payne Ave and Phalen Blvd, an area that has been long known by St. Paulites as not the best part of town.  The dream of Eric and Bob has played a key role in reinventing the image of the Payne-Phalen neighborhood, and Firm Ground is proud to have been part of it!


Check out Ward 6 and all their original details at 858 Payne Ave. St. Paul, MN and grab either one of their signature cocktails or a beer from their primarily Minnesotan list!

My Frank Lloyd Wright Summer

Without really trying I’ve ended up becoming a Frank Lloyd Wright Pilgrim this summer!

It all started with a wedding invitation to Madison, Wisconsin in June. On the way home we decided to go to the House on the Rock in Spring Valley. Well without thinking about we had stumbled into the home of Taliesin!


This was an interesting side trip and Spring Green was hosting its annual Summer Art Festival. I purchased an interesting piece of artwork created by a student of Taliesin.

In July we were in Florida, yes Florida in July, and we stumbled upon Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. Beginning in 1938 Frank designed several structures over a period of years as well as the esplanade that links many of the buildings together:



The College found a set of drawings in a drawer for one of the Usonian Homes that Wright had designed for college staff. It was recently built and is featured on the campus tour:


In 2012, the Florida Southern College Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior for being the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world! Lakeland is located halfway between Orlando and Tampa & is a beautiful town to explore beyond the boundaries of the College!


Welcome to Firm Ground!

Change is a constant in our lives. According to a “DISC” Profile I completed many years ago I like to command, manage and reduce change.

The funny thing about life is that it challenges us to grow, learn and accept that we do not control change but change, in its many forms, strengthens us, cultivates compassion and builds character!

Firm Ground was founded on these principles of change. Heck, Firm Ground continues to evolve, grow and change all the time!

Within a specific framework we welcome change and help our clients face the challenges changes brings into their lives and businesses too!

Since this is our first “official” blog post, a BIG positive change for us, I thought it would be appropriate to illustrate how we can help with your next challenge, project or remodel.

What We Stand For:

Making your work our own

Understanding your style

Having fun together


  •  Great listeners
  • Approachable
  • Respectful of others opinions
  •  Easy to understand project documentation


  • Honest
  •  Family focused
  • Community driven


  • Imaginative
  • Creative and collaborative
  • Optimistic & forward looking
  • Evolving


  • Leadership as facilitator
  • Work-Life Balance
  •  “The power of We”


There is a story behind each bullet point…curious to know more?




  • Master Planning
  • Entitlement
  • Space Planning
  • Architecture & Supporting Engineering Services
  • Interior Design
  • Construction Administration
  • Preservation & Renovation Services
  • Bank Draw Inspections
  • Connection to Broker Services for Land Acquisition
  • Due Diligence Pre-purchase Property/Building Inspection
  • Networking with Financial Institutions
  • Consulting
  • Graphic Design
  • Rendering
  • Owner’s Rep