The Senior and Multi-Family Housing Movement

The United States is at a turning point in regards to its housing needs and desires. There is a growing trend in people less apt to own their home and more likely to live in a multi-family building. This trend is not being driven by millennials alone, a large portion of this move consists of baby boomers. For years now we have been seeing Minneapolis explode with apartment buildings. This push is to serve a market that for a long time has been under served but also is accommodating a shift in thinking. At Firm Ground we have been riding this wave.

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 The big driver of this move it a change in life style. Both millennials and boomers are looking for the same thing. They want to live in vibrant high energy communities with building and neighborhood amenities. People are moving out of their houses to downsize in space and maintenance. Once the kids have moved out many couples are left with large unfilled single-family homes. This change is giving people the option to choose an encore living arrangement. In these new apartment buildings, people are benefiting from on-site exercise facilities, common rooms, pools, roof top decks, and the opportunity to live in an urban location. All these appeal to a broad audience.


The other sector leading the push for apartments is the catered living and memory care facilities. For early baby boomers this is becoming a needed service. One in 10 people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s. With a large portion of the population aging, companies are looking to fill this niche. These facilities are all about adapting to the residents and their specific needs. An important factor in the built environment that we are designing for is around the change in sight. As eyes age they need more light. The best light to provide is natural sun light in a controlled way. The natural light helps aid in circadian rhythm for sleep and alertness during the day.


It is not necessarily a new trend but there is a larger focus on incorporating natural light into the entire building. Some of our current projects are adding clearstory windows to bring light into the center of the building instead of just the perimeter. There have also been advancements in LED technology that can shift light sources throughout the day from a cool blue light in the morning to a warm orange feel in the evening. These subtle changes help reinforce the body’s natural cycle and improve the resident’s health.


 With these changing needs and attitudes on housing the American dream is shifting. Owning a piece of property is not seen as a necessity to fulfilled living. It is the environment we live in that is the largest contributing factor and people are putting a higher value on that. While we can’t expect apartments to continue to be built at the same rate they are currently, I think an increased percentage of people will find themselves wanting to live in multi family buildings in more dens environments in the decades to come.

-Jeff Schuler, Project Architect, Partner

Behind the Scenes: Revit Management & Capabilities

For the better part of our existence Firm Ground has wielded the mighty Autodesk software Revit. We use Autodesk products constantly for all architectural drawings, from conceptual design to construction documents, but what is it, how do we leverage it, and what happens behind the scenes to provide our clients with the most fulfilled design experience possible? Well, I’m here to give you a brief rundown of the tools we use to produce pure architectural gold.  

As part of our software subscription we enlist a product called FormIt Pro, a tool for developing early conceptual design. It has a similar interface and feel to SketchUp (some of you might be familiar with Sketchup, the key here is streamlined and user friendly). Because of its familiarity FormIt provides for quick development of conceptual design. With only a few lines drawn and a subsequent click or two the user can take two dimensions to three. Moreover, with a Revit “plug-in” your now 3D conceptual building in FormIt will easily transfer into a Revit file where is can be further developed. FormIt can be a powerful tool for taking quick conceptual designs to the next phase.

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In taking the next step from conceptual design to beyond we use Revit, our workhorse. This is where we hone our schematic design into construction documents. Revit’s out of box set of features, such as consultant coordination, building performance analysis, and visualization provides clear wayfinding for our clients through the entire design experience. We can provide our clients with visualization for several design options, walk throughs and an almost instant revision of floor plans; clients will know exactly how their projects are being developed and truly feel like a part of the process. Ultimately, Revit is an extremely powerful tool for both our consultants and clients and were always attempting to find new ways of leveraging its full potential.


Things to come: our effort over the upcoming months will be to establish a clear workflow to use Revit’s building performance capabilities. We will be utilizing Insight Building Analysis a software that works beautifully with Revit to give early benchmarks of a conceptual building’s performance.  A great way to design better buildings and save cost over the long haul.

-Jacob Perez, Project Designer

Advocating for Our Clients

Okay, I am going to admit something here… getting up on my soapbox…bear with me…

I attend neighborhood meetings for projects we are working on with our clients and there is often some surprise at the reactions they receive from neighbors towards them and their proposed project. It can sometimes be quite shocking how passionate people can become about something new they don’t understand or that scares them somehow.

Residents, neighbors, and business owners need to take this active role in the design process and what happens in their communities. In a perfect world I would love to have them come to learn, ask questions, make suggestions, and take part in the process in a positive and growth oriented way. Looking at the long term, “planting trees they won’t be around to sit under”, making their communities better and more economically sound.

It’s our job in the entitlement process to educate the city officials, neighbors, and others concerned about a proposal so they can appreciate the amount of work that has gone into a project by the time it is realized.


We do quite a bit of work in the supportive housing market. It is a personal passion of mine to make sure that we educate and provide equitable housing for everyone including people with mental health issues. There is so much that isn’t talked about or is misunderstood. We try to bring clarity.

The major point I always try to convey is that these are people in your own neighborhood. It’s the person that lives next door to you that has struggled for years with depression, the person across the street you’ve waved to for years but never really got to know whose life begins to cave in around them with the sudden loss of a loved one. The elderly fellow down the street who jumped in the car to run to the store and ended up in Hibbing because he got lost on the way to the store down the street that he’s gone to for 30 years. There are literally hundreds of different mental health diagnoses and mostly its people who need a little more love, tenderness, and care in their lives than they can find by themselves.

I say let’s give people a chance to create living environments that support our neighbors and friends to find solace and healing in a carefully structured and protected space. And let’s let them be able to find that space in the same neighborhood they’ve lived in and loved all of their life.


And don’t worry that it will affect your property values adversely, it won’t, and it doesn’t, in fact the opposite is true. New development of any kind will raise values around it not depress them.



At Firm Ground we design buildings to be good neighbors, respond to landscaping, buffering, and traffic safety. Building codes, zoning ordinances, licensing regulations, health inspections, and the entire entitlement process ensure that any new building will meet the high standards of the community, fit its environment, and generally be a good neighbor.

Okay, time to put my soapbox away!

No wait, one more thing! We advocate for our clients, we stand at your side, tell your story and work with you to present a project that meets your needs and the those of the greater common good. Call me to talk more about how we help navigate the entitlement process, we are experts.

-Tom Wasmoen, Principal, CEO


From Oktoberfest to Paris

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This past October I was one of the lucky Firm Grounders who made their way to Europe for vacation.  Between Tom, Abbey, Nick and myself, we have sent quite the delegation across the Atlantic in the last six months.  Out of pure coincidence, Nick and I both happened to plan portions of our respective trips to the exact same place over the exact same timeframe and yet did not manage to run into each other and take the what would’ve been legendary Firm Ground selfie.  Although we did not see each other, we both planned the first stop of our respective trips to Munich for a small gathering of beer-lovers the locals refer to “Oktoberfest.”  In reality there isn’t anything small about Oktoberfest: it’s basically a much larger version of the Minnesota State Fair except everything revolves around beer.  Though Nick and I didn’t see each other at the festival, my friends and I did run into another Minnesota fixture.  While sitting in one of the beer halls, we heard a large group of people at the table across the aisle speaking English and shortly after that learned that were the owners and family of Schell’s Brewery!  We discussed our favorite local beers and mourned about the Vikings failed Super Bowl destiny and took obligatory photos with our newfound friends.

            After Munich we took the train to Salzburg, Austria and tried to avoid the tourist traps related to Sound of Music being filmed there, which it offered in spades.  It turns out most of the locals we talked to actually detest the movie.  We spent a day in the nearby Alps and explored the world’s longest ice cave at one of the peaks.  The ice has been forming for thousands of years and has taken on very sculptural and spatial properties that reminded me that Mother Nature is truly the greatest designer.

            The train brought us to our final destination of Paris.  Paris is one of the cities I had learned about most in school and thus the city I had the most preconceived notion of.  After a day of scheduled stops at all the must-sees (which were exactly as expected and flooded with other tourists), another unexpected interaction occurred.  At one of the many Parisian sidewalk cafes (which are experiential highlights of the City), I got to talking to a local about film and books we had experienced. I ended up spending the rest of my short time in the city with my newfound friend as we spent an unseasonably warm day just strolling around Paris as she showed me all the local gems that I would never have experienced otherwise.  This sort of absent-minded strolling and café-hopping while conversating was one of the most memorable and effective ways of absorbing a place.  It slows things down and garners an appreciation for the fabric of the city that transcends an itinerary.  If you’re familiar with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise film, my experience in Paris was uncannily similar and right out of the movies! 

Tour of Prague with Nick

In October of 2018, I traveled with one other friend (my former classmate and fellow future architect) to Germany with the primary goal of experiencing Oktoberfest. We spent a total of 10 days in Europe, with most of that time spent in Munich for the various festivities of Oktoberfest. While Munich is a beautiful city with interesting architecture in its own right, we decided we had to take a purely architectural diversion to the Czech capital city of Prague. Having spent nearly all of our money on German beer and authentic lederhosen in Munich, we were incredibly fortunate to find out that you can experience a large amount of Prague for extremely cheap.

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We stayed on the outskirts of the city center, in a neighborhood by the Vltava River called Karlín. The locals were keen to tell us how the neighborhood had been devastated by a 100-year flood in 2002, we even had dinner and drinks in a pub where the high-water line had been marked on the wall (about 14 feet above our heads. Yikes!) Though many historic buildings in the neighborhood had been restored (including the tiny old house we stayed on the second floor of, along with the giant Catholic cathedral across the street) in recent years, the neighborhood had reinvented itself as a hub for international business, sporting many new and interesting office buildings on just the opposite side of our little house from the centuries-old cathedral.

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We probably logged over 20 miles on foot during our two full days in Prague, which was exhausting of course, but I will stand by it as the best way to experience the city. Nearly every street, especially the closer we got to the Old Town, had interesting and unique buildings, many of which were hundreds of years old, and all of which had a story to tell. Beautiful, sweeping views of the entire city were in high supply as well and we often found ourselves on top of the hills and bluffs that surround the Vltava as we explored some of the many parks that surround the city.

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Eventually, we wandered our way over to Prague Castle, the “largest medieval castle in the world” which looks over the entire Old Town and the Malá Strana (meaning Lesser Town, quite literally the smaller portion of the old city which lies on the same side of the river as the castle). The castle is so massive that it encompasses many different palaces, houses, and churches just within its walls, and entrance to most of it is free. From here it was only a short walk across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square, which boasts the highest concentration of beautiful old buildings in the entire city, but also unfortunately the highest concentration of tourists.

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Though Prague’s history and culture fared well through both World War II and Soviet occupation, some relics of these periods remain. One such relic towered over us, just by the house that we stayed in; the National Monument on Vítkov Hill; featuring a huge, stark brutalist building and a giant equestrian statue of historic Czech figure Jan Žižka. From here on top of Vítkov Hill, you can easily see the city’s other major brutalist monument, the Žižkov Television Tower, which is considered by many to be one of the ugliest buildings in the world. Setting our own opinions aside, we made our way over to and eventually up to the top of Žižkov, where we found some of our best views of the city yet.

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Of course, we couldn’t leave Prague without visiting one of its modern architectural landmarks, Frank Gehry’s ‘Dancing House’. Though neither me or my travel companion were converted to Gehry-believers, we did both agree that the house was at the very least intriguing and impactful. It seeks (and succeeds) to defy the architectural norms and conventions of the surrounding city. Like it or hate it, much like the rest of Prague, it is whimsical, unique, and unparalleled in its storytelling.



Abbey's Holiday Trip to Germany and Beyond


12/19/2018 Take Off: MSP to Amsterdam

                  After 8 months of planning, Brendan and I finally went on our trip to traverse Europe with only what we could carry on our backs. Our two-week itinerary brought us to Amsterdam, Netherlands; Cologne, Germany; Heidelberg, Germany; Interlaken, Switzerland; Innsbruck, Austria; Munich, Germany; and Reykjavik, Iceland. We traveled on planes, trains, the occasional boat, and cable cars.


12/20/2018 - 12/22/2018: Amsterdam, Netherlands

                  Arriving in the Netherlands felt like a dream. We couldn’t believe that all our planning has come to fruition, and that we were actually there, on our first international trip together. We quickly gained our bearings and wandered through the beautiful canal streets and became acquainted with the pace of life in Europe. We toured the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum; saw Rembrandt’s The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum; experienced the Amsterdam Light Festival from the canals; and visited the only windmill left in the city that has become a brewery. Of course, we couldn’t leave Amsterdam before trying a stroopwafel (or two). 



12/22/2018 – 12/24/2018: Cologne (Köln), Germany     

                  Our second stop was Cologne, Germany. As we learned on our walking tour of the city, during WWII, about 90% of this city was decimated. What’s amazing was that the massive twin spire gothic cathedral (Dom) was spared only to serve as a navigational beacon during the war. Thankfully, its survival allowed us to be able to admire the architectural beauty that it is. Because we were here so close to Christmas, we were able to enjoy the large tradition in Germany of the Christmas Markets! We wandered through hundreds of vendors stands selling their handmade wares while sipping on hot glühwein and enjoying the scents of roasted nuts, bratwursts, and raclette. We also managed to tour the chocolate museum and sample some chocolate from a Willy Wonka worthy chocolate fountain! 



          12/24/2018 – 12/26/2018: Heidelberg, Germany

                  Christmas in Heidelberg was spectacular. In Germany, Christmas Eve is the day that is most celebrated for the season. We managed to get a reservation for an exclusive four course meal at a nearby restaurant which started with a gathering in the courtyard to mingle and sip some glühwein. On Christmas day, we awoke to the church bells ringing throughout the whole town. We got up and explored the Christmas market, collected our glühwein mug (since every market has their own mug that you can collect every year), and roamed the streets with the rest of Heidelberg, peering into the shops that were closed for the holiday. On the 26th, the Heidelberg castle opened again for tours, so we trekked up the hill to learn more about the remains of a once fabulous castle that was destroyed in 1689 by the French.



12/26/2018 – 12/28/2018: Interlaken, Switzerland

12/27/2018: The day that I answered the easiest question of my life and agreed to marry my best friend! The day started out as a slight disappointment as we found out that our night sledding excursion was cancelled due to icy conditions, but ultimately, we were alright with not sliding down an icy mountain in the dark! As we were making up plans on the fly, we were just exploring the old part of town, including a historic lock in the river between the two lakes. Brendan was setting up his GoPro and I assumed that he wanted to do yet another 360˚ video of the area. I was distracted by a couple of ducks swimming and Brendan came up to me and gave me a hug. He looked at me and told me that he loved going on adventures with me and asked if I would go on adventures with him for the rest of our lives. Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. Of course, I said yes! To celebrate, we decided to vacate the fog that had settled over Interlaken and took a train and cable car up to Grindewald-First to spend the day on top of the Swiss Alps. Taking in the beautiful views of the mountains and sipping a beer from Bern in the sun was the perfect way to spend our engagement day. We even found an authentic swiss fondue restaurant for dinner. A day that I will never forget! 




      12/28/2018 – 12/30/2018: Innsbruck, Austria

Another day, another mountain! Because the weather continued to be so nice, we decided to take on the Nordkette. On our way to the train, we decided to walk through the old town of Innsbruck and see the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) which was built for Emperor Maximilian in 1500. The same square housed what was left of Innsbruck’s Christmas Market, so we collected our glühwein mug and also found out that Innsbruck is the home to Swarovski. To get to the top of the Nordkette, we took a train and a cable car. On top of the mountain, we enjoyed some goulash, sausages and hot cocoa. The top was rather windy, so we decided to go down to the stop just below that was a very popular stop for the skiers. Here, we found an Ice Bar and some lounge chairs perched on the edge of the mountain. We decided that this would be the perfect place to take in the magnificent views with a beer in hand. We didn’t stay out too late in Innsbruck because we had to catch a very early morning train to Munich, Germany in time for our day trip to the Neuschwanstein Castle.


 12/30/2018 – 01/01/2019: Füssen and Munich, Germany

                  We woke up at 2am on the 30th in order to make our 7-hour journey to Füssen, Germany to see the Neuschwanstein Castle which was built by “crazy” King Ludwig in 1869 as a tribute to the Romanesque castles of the past. The castle was tragically never finished due to the king’s untimely death but has since been open to public viewing and, further, was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Since that was such a long travel day, we took our time in Munich to meander around the old town. Here, we saw the famous clock tower and made our way to the Hofbräuhaus for some classic Bavarian brews and fanfare. It was quite the celebration for New Years Eve! We managed to stay up and watch all the fireworks in town from the rooftop terrace on our hotel. It was a magical way to ring in 2019!



   01/01/2019 – 01/02/2019: Reykjavik, Iceland

                  Our final 24 hours was a stopover in Iceland and only 4 of those hours had sunlight. Our first night, we went to a local restaurant right off the wharf where we enjoyed steak, lobster, and mink whale. It was surprisingly delicious. In the morning, we went to the Blue Lagoon and enjoyed the thermal spa in darkness. We roamed around the lagoon, sipped on our complimentary beverages, and indulged with luxurious silica and algae mud masks. By the time out lunch reservation rolled around, it was finally daybreak and we were able to appreciate the harsh landscape of lava rock and moss. Prior to our trip, Brendan had bid to get first class seats for the flight home, and thankfully he won the bid! It was so nice to be treated to a little extra comfort as we chased the sunset all the way back home to St. Paul. 

This round, we bring you Jacob Perez!

After another unplanned hiatus, we bring you Jacob Perez, one of our talented Project Designers.


If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Some time ago I embarked on a 2 ½ week road trip and visited 10 national parks on the west coast and four corner states, it was the one of the most adventurous times of my life. If I could live anywhere I think it would be on the road in a state of perma-travel, there are so many places to experience.

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What is your favorite book to read?

Reading for me comes in waves; I’ll consume a lot of text for a time and take periodic sabbaticals to reinvigorate the reading journey. One of my favorite reads is “The Seven Mysteries of Life”, written by Guy Murchie it has held my attention off and on for quite some time.



What's the most daring thing you've ever done?

The most daring thing I’ve ever been a part of was traveling with a telecommunications tower crew; for just over a year I was a tower technician working in the Dakota’s and at times climbing over 500 ft daily til a project was finished.  I’ve never been afraid of heights prior to taking this position but it certainly tested my limits



 What are your hobbies?

The big one for me is fishing. I ice fish in some of the harshest blizzards and in the summer, I spend as much time in the boat as I can.  Also, my wife and I recently adopted a retired Greyhound; he’s been a terrific addition to the family which has inspired the new hobby of dog walking. Wynthrope (our new greyhound) was born to sprint so we’ve also taken him to amateur “straight racing” events for fun.



What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

My ideal weekend would go something like this: a nice slow morning and brunch with my lovely wife at J Selby’s or Birchwood Cafe, followed by a brisk walk or hike with our pup near Minnehaha regional park. I would of course leave just enough time to sneak a bit of fishing in. Lastly, I’d top it all off, with something of a deserving film from a few of my favorite directors: Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, or Gustavo Santolalla which pairs nicely with a glass of sangria or barley wine.


Introducing our newest Intern!

Kelly joined us last summer as an intern from the University of Minnesota. She stayed for part of the school year before studying abroad in Denmark. Now she is back with us and here to tell us a little about herself.

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

Definitely going back to Copenhagen, where I studied abroad this past semester, so I could eat as much rye bread and brie as possible


What did you want to be when you were small?

I used to do horseback riding competitions and dog agility classes, so probably an animal shower or rider, maybe a veterinarian. Anything that would involve hanging out with animals all day.

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What is your favorite childhood memory?

Going to the farmer’s market on the capitol square in my hometown (Madison, WI) with my family on Saturday mornings.


What's your favorite family recipe?

My grandma’s molasses cookies, probably because it starts with 9 cups of flour…

What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

Outdoors, either going for a bike ride or hike and sitting around a campfire.


What are your hobbies?

Experimenting in the kitchen, the latest adventure has been all things fermented (kombucha, kimchi, and sourdough pictured) 


The (former) eternal intern Ryne

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

This one’s easy: Pizza. There’s nothing better than a hot circle of sauce, melted cheese and whatever toppings you can dream of.  I consider myself a connoisseur of frozen pizza specifically, but also really enjoying making my own zah from scratch.

What are your hobbies?

In the sudden surplus of time I’ve had since finishing up grad school, I’ve tried to fill it with hobbies old and new.  Reading, watercolor, camping/travel and film are some of my favorites.  I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with my cats Poppy (short for Poptart) and MJ (Michael Jackson/Jordan).

My baby girl Poppy

My baby girl Poppy

Hamm's and watercolor, what's better?

Hamm's and watercolor, what's better?

What’s your favorite zoo animal?

Rhino, it is my nickname after all.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Travelling to all 50 states during summer road trips with the family, 49 of which were reached by car.  You see some incredible stuff when travelling by car that really sticks with you.

What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?

Old school video games, that I play with the same crew that I did in elementary school. Mario Party, Mario Kart and Pokemon will never get old.

When not playing Nintendo, we go to New York

When not playing Nintendo, we go to New York

What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

Architecture/design, what else did I do for 6 years in school?

What is your proudest accomplishment?

My master’s thesis project was gratifying as I feel like I able to fully represent my design voice with ideas and concepts I had been developing throughout grad school.

One of the thesis final drawings

One of the thesis final drawings

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Whenever I get back from a trip I always ask the question if I’d want to live where I went.  Most times I answer yes.  Places that have stuck out on this basis are New York City or Portugal.  Ultimately though I think I’d prefer to live near large expanses of the outdoors, either the desert or Boundary Waters.



 If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?

Lebron James- not only my favorite basketball player of all time, but perhaps one of the most inspiring humans on the planet

Werner Herzog- if you’ve ever seen one of his films, then you know how mesmerizing it would be to hear him tell stories around the dinner table

Then I’d give both Lebron and Werner a plus 1 because I’m sure whoever they brought would be equally interesting (and it’d make conversation less awkward at first)

MJ loves sitting in bags, rolling in the dirt and drinking toilet water

MJ loves sitting in bags, rolling in the dirt and drinking toilet water

Next Up! Sophia Jungbauer!

This week, we meet Project Designer Sophia Jungbauer!

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

As an anthropology major, I love traveling to new places to explore new cultures and cuisines. I have a lot of German heritage and Europe in general is way ahead of the United States in terms of sustainability so I could see living in Germany for an extended period of time. 

2. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Risotto and Brussel Sprouts and Cabernet

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3. What are your hobbies?

I’ve always been a runner but post collegiately I’ve enjoyed trying out mountain biking too. Only 15 stitches so far! I also enjoy Nordic Skiing and have been helping coach Saint Paul Highland Park’s team (my alma mater) the past two years.

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4. If you could go back in time to change one thing, what would it be?

I think that experiences shape who you are, and everything happens for a reason. C'est la vie. That being said, somebody should have stopped my kindergarten bowl cut from happening….

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

My aunt and uncle lived in NYC, so I had the chance to go to the top of one of the World Trade Centers in 2000 when my family was visiting for Thanksgiving.

6. What did you want to be when you grew up?

My dad grew up on a farm in Aberdeen, SD and he gave me his cowboy outfit. He also read my sister and I the Misty of Chincoteague books and Sand Dune Pony so I wanted to be a cowgirl.



7. Are you related or distantly related to anyone famous?

My aunt Katie (Class) Marquard is a two-time winter Olympian who competed in long track speed skating. My mom’s side of the family all skated so I was on skates as soon as I could walk. I competed with Midway Speed Skating Club at the John Rose Oval until I was a senior in high school.

8. If you had a warning label, what would yours say?

Caution, clutz alert. May be a hazard to herself. (see #3)


9. What's your favorite family recipe?

My dad is a really good chef and makes a killer Venison Diane. The best family recipe is my great grandma’s overnight buns, which are a sweet roll, like Hawaiian sweet rolls, but way better. My mom usually cooks them for all the holidays.

10. What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

Trail running followed by a big glass of chocolate milk and oatmeal pancakes. Then relaxing with a book in a hammock (with a bug net) and taking a nap

Grand Marais

Grand Marais

11.  What are you looking forward to this summer?

My husband and I are going to have a very busy summer! We have 8 weddings on the schedule for 2018, and will be celebrating our own first wedding anniversary on the day of the royal wedding. We are also in the process of building our own 28’ Tiny House on wheels! Also it’s baseball season and we’d like to make it to a Twins game or two!

Forest Park, Portland, OR

Forest Park, Portland, OR

Lets take a trip with Sarah

We are going to round out the month of April with our Interior Designer, Sarah Thuen. Sarah is also the newest member of the Firm Ground team!

Visiting Duluth

Visiting Duluth

1. What is your favorite thing about your career?

I love my interaction with clients. Its great hearing their vision for a project and seeing the reactions when the space actually starts coming to life!  

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

A lawyer – not sure why? If you know me now you know this would have been a terrible fit for me!

3. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Tacos! You can have them more than one way!



4. What are your hobbies?

I love being outside in the summer and on the boat. Winter is for my travel time! Anywhere that has a beach is must for me!

5. Are you a clean or messy person?

Clean – I HATE clutter!

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

6. What's your favorite family recipe?

Norwegian Lefse! It’s a tradition at Christmas. Butter, Cinnamon  & sugar is the best way to have it for me!

The Man Who Started it All

This week we will meet Tom Wasmoen! As you may or may not know, Tom is the founder of Firm Ground, our CEO, and Managing Principal. We let Tom answer a few more questions so you can really get an idea of who he is, and what he brings to our organization and to you!

1. What is your favorite thing about your career?

Where do I begin, I love meeting new people every day and building relationships that last for years and years. Watching the team grow and stretch and get better and better with each passing year is the most rewarding part of what I do. Getting to build is also a pretty fantastic aspect of my career. The variety of projects and the success of our customers has to be number one on the list!

2. What is your proudest accomplishment?

My family!

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 3. What is your favorite book to read?

I read all the time and have a pile of books on my bedside table. Topics include business, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction.

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

Timesheets! Ha ha, just kidding.

I love meeting people and working through their vision for their projects. It’s the best part of the process and I would love to do it every single day!

5. If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to?

I had extended family in Chicago in the 1930’s of some prominence, my mom and her family travelled to Chicago to visit them. I have a bracelet her folks bought for her at Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. I would love to see the fairgrounds in 1933 and Chicago during that time. The style of the architecture and Art Deco created for the fair influences the design world still today!

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6. If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?

Action Comics just issued #1000, Superman Celebrates his 80th birthday this year! Superman is the best, his greatest superpower is his capacity for Love! It is the basis of his being. The flying part is cool too!

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 7. If you could go back in time to change one thing, what would it be?

I would go back to Valentines Day this year and have done a better job of ducking as I crawled through the roof scuttle on a jobsite and not banged my head!

I read a lot of time travel fiction, anything else can really screw up the timeline and I like the way things are going right now so I’d keep it as it is!

8. If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?

PT Barnum, Albert Einstein, J Paul Getty, and my grandfather Tom Burke

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

I’ve been to the top of The Sears Tower in Chicago, its where I asked Barb to marry me, and we’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building in New York together too!

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 12. What is your favorite childhood memory?

Riding our bikes to Clancy’s Toys at 50th & France to see how much we could get for our allowance money! Clancy’s Toyland was a magical place that I have never seen recreated anywhere, certainly not at Toys R Us or even FAO Schwartz in New York.

13. What three items would you take with you on a deserted island?

Barb, a satellite phone and a strong tent!

14. Do you collect anything?

More than Barb would like!

·         Hot Wheels, Corgis & Matchbox

·         Antique toys

·         Chicago World’s Fair ephemera

·         Antique postcards of amazing architecture

·         Disney

·         Books

·         Comics

·         Baseball cards

·         Lead Soldiers

·         Bells

·         Building sets from the 1960’s

·         Star Trek Stuff

15. What's your favorite zoo animal?

Just love Giraffes. Would love to live someplace where we could raise them!


16. What's your favorite family recipe?

Not sure but it probably has something to do with Mac & Cheese!

17. What would you sing at Karaoke night?

What wouldn’t I sing on Karaoke night? Right now, I am totally hooked on the music form the movie The Greatest Showman! I’ve also been caught belting out a Garth Brooks song or two during a Karaoke night!

18. What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?

A love for toys & the graphic design of comic books and the smell of fresh baseball cards coming out of the wrapper! And hell yes, I miss the gum!

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 19. What is the strangest thing you have come across?

On the beach, we found these sea creatures attached to the rocks, they looked like purple nerf balls and they weren’t jelly fish, they had a firm skin. They were kind of creepy…

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20. If you could convince everyone in the world to do one thing at one point in time, what would that thing be?

Pick up garbage in the ocean, along the beach, etc. and figure out how to safely recycle or reuse all of it!

21. What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

Travelling and exploring someplace new! Later, curled up with a book and a bowl of Mac & Cheese! A weekend trip to Disney World would also be an exceptional way to spend a long weekend!

22. What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

Toys of the 1960’s especially Mattel Hot Wheels!

Architecture, the Partnering aspects of Design Build!


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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!