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Wayzata-based Chisel Architecture is led by a strong female team, Sara Whicher and Marcy Townsend. This stylish duo knows how to create environments that are both livable and functional while keeping their clients’ needs at the forefront. That’s thanks in large part to the firm’s trademarked design approach, Pattern of Life. We chatted with Whicher and Townsend to discover more about this unique process, how design effects well-being and what sets Chisel apart.

Photography by Alyssa Lee Photography

What inspired you to start Chisel Architecture?

It was time. We each spent 20+ years honing our listening abilities and design expertise at an array of architectural firms in the Midwest. While working at a few of the same firms over the years, we noticed how undeniably well our skill sets complemented each other and how our design philosophies aligned. We were inspired by amazing mentors and clients we’d worked with and the desire to ensure the homeowner’s needs were met at the highest level. Leading our own firm means we can craft an approach and process, integrate well-being, and model how architects and designers can thrive and bring value to homeowners and the profession.

Photography by Belu Photography

How would you describe your approach to the design process?

Our approach is rooted in achieving and sustaining the homeowner’s well-being. We talk with our clients very early on about how profoundly one’s home can impact them physically and psychologically. Instead of focusing solely on style or aesthetics, function is the core of our initial conversations, and our Pattern of Life approach allows us to understand function at an unparalleled level.

And we make it enjoyable! It’s especially enlightening when these discoveries reveal needs that were previously unknown, unidentified and unrealized. It creates many aha moments. Style and aesthetics are then born out of the functional requirements. The end design is exponentially better this way. The homeowner’s well-being is supported via the home’s attention to function. It’s a critical aspect of design we’d love to see more of a spotlight on in the design community.

Photography by Alyssa Lee Photography

Can you talk more about your trademarked design philosophy, Pattern of Life?

Pattern of Life celebrates the homeowner and all of the things in their life that are really meaningful to them. It sounds simple, but there’s an art to uncovering these patterns and incorporating them into the design. As a team, we have no prescribed notions about how any client’s home will be designed. The design truly grows from the homeowner’s insights, comments and feelings about very specific questions intentionally created to dig deep into their preferences. Unique to our firm, we both contribute to every design. Applying this approach and methodology allows us to focus on our expertise, efficiently shape the design, and give the clients a better process and a home that reflects their pattern of life. It brings everyone joy!

Photography provided by Chisel Architecture

When it comes to design, what are your style preferences?

We have our own personal style preferences for our own homes, but we don’t bring our own preferences into our clients’ projects. What we do bring is an understanding of the root nature of each and every style a homeowner could describe. They show us a picture or describe a style as modern, classic, etc. and we know how to integrate characteristics and aesthetics associated with those styles in a custom-tailored home that perfectly fits the homeowner.

It’s never a literal translation of style into design. In the classic debate of form versus function, form is understood as style. It is often the main information the homeowner will present at an initial design meeting — my style is modern, for example — after poring over magazines, social media and HGTV. When we address style, we acknowledge it as a common language then set it aside. It frees us up from what you see sometimes happening when a homeowner is too closely married to one particular form or style — function is sacrificed.

Photography by Belu Photography

How does the design of your lakeside office enrich Chisel’s work?

When you enter Chisel Architecture’s office, you’re met with an amazing view of Lake Minnetonka. The breeze off of the lake through the sliding doors brings in fresh air and keeps the fresh ideas flowing when our clients come in to meet with us. Over sharing of visuals and conversation during design meetings, we find that our office suits our personality and style, and puts our clients right at ease.

We love being able to step out onto our second story deck overlooking Wayzata Bay, and we very much enjoy being on Lake Street. There are plenty of favorite local retailers and lunch spots to frequent, and it’s not fussy. The casual, relaxed vibe of the area and proximity to the water remind us that there’s life to be lived outside of work.

Photography by Alyssa Lee Photography

What makes Chisel different from other architecture firms?

Our trademarked approach to design: Pattern of Life. We’re going to get to know our clients quite well; we learn how you like your coffee or tea in the morning, how you want to do your laundry, who does the grocery shopping and how often, etc. It’s a judgement-free zone. This means we don’t brush a homeowner’s concerns aside insisting they’ll get used to something (insert nails screeching on chalkboard). We circle back, dig deeper and get it right.

We intensively listen and co-create language with homeowners for their individual projects and spaces in their home. For example, a homeowner’s love of Chevys became the inspiration for her mountain retreat called Chevyland, and a children’s loft retreat in a northwoods cabin is now affectionately referred to as the Snuggy Bunks. This co-created language and sheer enjoyment in the process give them true ownership and involvement. It’s what homeowners say they love most about the process!

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