Fargo couple turns downtown building into stylized home

Story by Rachel Leingang

MSUM Journalism

Photo slideshow by Gilbertson Photography

Chris and Julie Hemmah used to live in a 2,000-square-foot cookie-cutter home. One day, Chris, a graphic designer and owner of Shortprinter.com, asked Julie if the home was decorated in her style.

“Not really, is it yours?” she asked. It wasn’t Chris’ style either.

“Here we were, living in this house that was a legacy of my mother’s furniture,” Chris said. “And it was nice, but it wasn’t what we wanted.”

So the Hemmahs decided to move downtown. Chris had worked downtown in the 1980s and saw the area revitalize in the ’90s. They loved the energy and the atmosphere and enjoyed being able to walk to restaurants and stores.

They started their foray into downtown living with a condo at the Fargoan, located directly across the street from the Fargo Theatre. Although they loved the space, they decided to find a quieter spot in the downtown neighborhood.

“We discovered that, if our bedroom window is on Broadway, at 3 oclock, 2 oclock, when the bars close, people are yelling and screaming,” Chris said. “And even if you’re on the 3rd floor, you hear it clear as a bell. We finally decided that we loved downtown, but we didn’t like being right in all the noise and with all of that.”

Finding their downtown fit

Chris had been a fan of the Clark and Holman building at 808 Second Ave. N. for quite some time. “I’d been driving by this home for years and I always liked it,” he said. “I always thought it was kind of unusual. I’d heard there was this atrium in there, but I’d never been in the building.”

The Hemmahs viewed the building on a Thursday, and by Monday, they were the new owners.

Thus began the process of renovating the historic Clark and Holman building, a commercial property built in 1969 as the headquarters for Clark and Holman Architects, into a residence suited to the Hemmahs’ distinct tastes. The home is mid-century modern style, heavily influenced by the couple’s travels to Palm Springs and largely locally sourced – an abundance of creativity which makes for a personalized space.

The home ended as a 2,850-square-foot home with three distinct spaces: the guest space, the master suite and the theater and art gallery area.

View Walkabout Production Group’s video about the Hemmahs’ home.

An art-friendly space

“We kind of have an eclectic taste in art,” Chris said. “Some of it’s humorous, some of it’s not. We really just like what we like. None of it makes any sense; there’s no theme to it.”

This eclectic taste includes works by local artists Punchgut, Thomas Jefferson, Spider Johnk, Mike Marth and more. Chris’s dad, Maynard Hemmah, also features prominently in the home’s gallery space; he specialized in folk-art wood carvings, and the home also contains one of his self-made rocking horses.

An eye-catching print of a train stands out. This print, which is rumored to have hung in the old Gate City Bank in Fargo, was purchased in a thrift store for $50. The Hemmahs found out that it was a Lee Reynolds Burr piece from Vanguard Studios (Burr was known as the West Coast Andy Warhol). The piece is valued at $700-900, according to Chris.

View the photo slideshow by Gilbertson Photography.

Selling their personalized property

After finishing the process of converting an office into a highly stylized modern home, the Hemmahs decided to sell.

“Originally, we wanted to build it as a duplex, because we really just wanted a small space,” Chris said. “My wife and I are planning on doing more traveling, and we knew when we were building the place that we weren’t going to be living there for very long. It was always in the plan that we would sell.”

The home has been on the market since August 2010 and is listed with Matt Brunsvold of Park Company Realtors at $679,000.  Though the home hasn’t sold yet, Chris said many parties are interested and he realizes that the selling process takes time. The market is small for a modern home in downtown Fargo with a high price tag.

“We’ve always taken an approach that if it sells, it sells,” Chris said. “It’ll sell in its own time.”

Despite the many perks of the Clark and Holman home, the Hemmahs don’t feel like it’s the best fit for them right now.

“This place was designed for a certain lifestyle and it really isn’t our lifestyle,” Chris said. “The place is really designed to entertain and have parties and that’s not what we do.”

Making the next space more personalized

The Hemmahs are looking to create a travel-friendly space, hopefully still in the downtown area.

“We’re working on the idea of creating a small place that would be designed that it would have systems in place that the house could be left in the winter and it would have redundant fallback systems,” Chris said.

The systems would fit their traveling lifestyle better and would allow them to leave for extended periods of time. Chris is working on finding a system that would notify him by phone and computer alerts if anything was amiss in the home, like the electricity going out, and would also allow him to control the home from his mobile devices.

(Edited by Tyler Anderson, MSUM English and Mass Communications major)

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