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Photography provided by Prospect Refuge Studio

“I feel like we’re the biggest little studio no one’s ever heard of — sleepy in Northeast Minneapolis,” says Victoria Sass, founder and principal designer of Prospect Refuge Studio. “And I enjoy that.”

She laughs then becomes quiet for a moment after I read off a list of the firm’s recent accomplishments, including design work on the Adidas Originals flagship store in Chicago’s Wicker Park in collaboration with branding and experience design agency Latitude. And then there were the 2017 ASID MN awards, which the studio took by storm, from commercial to residential projects, custom objects to multiple rooms.

“Well, when you put it that way — wow,” she acknowledges. “It’s really heartwarming to see that the work we put out there resonates.” 

So as a first-year ASID member, how’d she do it? “In our eyes, a successful project looks like we haven’t been there,” explains Sass. “Someone should walk in and say, ‘You have great taste,’ not ‘You hired a great designer.’ Maybe there’s a livability or an undoneness about it, but it’s still collected.” 

That livability is key, as is the freedom to evolve over time. “We push people a little bit outside their comfort zone,” she notes. “It’s kind of like a relationship; you get intrigued by the space and interested in creating opportunities to grow. You learn to love things about it.”

It was earlier this year that Sass really took her more holistic approach to all five senses — and beyond. That’s when she brought on designer Carrie Valentine, and together they launched a “senses project.” Which makes total sense when you consider their respective backgrounds: Sass once made her living as a potter, and Valentine is trained as a sommelier.

“Maybe in the studio we’ve been describing a project as ‘cotton’ and ‘June,’ — that’s the atmosphere we’re trying to create,” explains Sass. “We’re exploring that intentionality more in depth and bringing it to forefront of our work. It’s not just how many square feet or what photo goes here, but rather, What is the temperature? Is it moss and evolution or bright and orange blossoms? It helps us create these evocative spaces that provide whole sensory experiences.”

Beyond color palettes and textile selections are the unseen aspects of a space that help shape memory. With that in mind, the duo is currently shepherding its first exclusive studio scent through its final development stage. “In an ideal world, we would make a scent for every project,” she says. “Then not only does the client walk away with a space but also another dimension on which to build their space.”

Sass adds that she and Valentine will continue to follow their sensory bliss and sense of adventure as they design their way through the world. “We’re always asking ourselves, What stirs our clients’ souls, where we hear a change in their voices? How can we build a space that helps them tell their life story?” she muses. “We’re telling the history of people’s lives. It’s a dance, and when it’s performed right, it’s so rewarding.” 

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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