Northern Wilds Magazine
Along the Shore

Durability: Grit in Uncertain Times

As a youngster, I loved Holling C. Holling’s story beginning with a tiny birchbark canoe set free in the waters of Lake Superior—A Paddle to the Sea—which I experienced metaphorically, in reverse. Aside relatives working the Gary Indiana steel mills, I came from Chicago through St. Paul to Duluth where, after schooling and the rigors of early practice and partnership, I established my architectural design firm, CF design. Over more than 30 years I have conceived buildings on sand and rock, open to gales or protected by woodland, and designed for incomparable individuals and in the name of family legacies. Every project has a unique site and distinct story that have been my pleasure to discover and merge through my design practice. Lake Superior offers a rich and textural landscape, crisply defined by the light off water and ice—a kind of light that I’ve seen nowhere else but here. A light that is symbolic of self-determination.

My journey practicing in the northern great lake’s region started in 1991, opening a branch office of a Minneapolis firm, in Duluth. Grasping the parochial nature and small-town character of the place, I founded a new and “local” partnership in 1993. It takes generations to be able to say one is “from” Duluth, but one can be born here easily with curiosity, an entrepreneurial spirit, and the willingness to grow into the place. After designing the Gooseberry Falls Visitor Center in 1996 and with the experience of many regional projects, I started my own design firm in 1998. Years teaching at the U of MN School of Architecture—which I still do occasionally now in the College of Design—helped me to recognize and support young people who were passionate about design, and I have persuaded many talents to my doors, to both begin and carry their careers forward as architects in new locations. The combination of an affordable storefront in an economically depressed area of downtown Duluth and a hopeful determination, set my enterprise for the next 25 years.

A view of a living room and kitchen. | CF DESIGN


CF design settled happily at 230 East Superior Street for 25 years, through two building owners and without a lease…an oversight, perhaps, but it never felt necessary. In 2021, re-investing significantly in a downtown neighborhood now activated by restaurants, breweries, hotels and specialty shops was my pleasure and my principal activity, when I completely remodeled my office. I had also added an office in Bayfield, Wisc. in 2009 and I felt a steady business pulse. Even through the challenges of Covid, my talented staff and I continued to design residential projects at a wide variety of scales, from cabins and cottages to family compounds. Our projects are fit to a specific site and are designed for specific people and their stories. Our office downtown was now in the highly active and newly commissioned Duluth Arts and Theater District. Until recently, my patience regarding my place most certainly paid off, but 2022 became, without warning, an arduous, almost incomprehensible year. Despite the ageless bass timbre of the Edwin Gott ore carrier as she passed under the lift bridge and the agitated and balletic flight of peregrines from the roof of the Greysolon Plaza as it replayed daily…Some things, inevitably, do change.

I lost both my two studios in 2022. My office in Bayfield—the first floor of a simple clapboard house—burned just after Easter as the casualty of an adjacent house fire. The contents were almost a total loss. Not much in the office was new, so it had little value. Even a 6-year-old computer is a relic, so I now understand. Bayfield is a small town, with few available rental spaces, so I employed a creative opportunity to rent both a new space and a sublet to share it. After a significant build out, with space made for the non-profit Landmark Land Trust, we are now two businesses fully present in Bayfield. The stretch of my finances and my time was worth the resulting triumph.

In mid-September, the building my recently remodeled Duluth office occupied was sold to a developer. My last day in the studio was October 31. If state of mind is borne of circumstance setting a stage for how one thinks, I am still bewildered, dazed, and disoriented…but also, mindful as possible. I am conscious and aware of consequences. I have departed daily practices and customs, to focus on new context, revolution, and opportunity.

A view of a living room, taken from the kitchen. | CF DESIGN

If I were to be trapped, frozen, or locked in a single interpretation, if I were mindless and heedless, I might be comfortable in a position of current American attitude—comfortable, in other words, in the culture of assertion and certainty. In the absence of supporting evidence, I might believe that I am a victim wronged, and that something rightfully mine has been taken and must be restored through the costs of others.

But it is the uncertainty of my situation which keeps me in the here and now. Uncertainty has a power to promote positive change and drive ambition. Chasing a state of mind that is hope compels a kind of purpose and a process that leaves no room for hate. So, my state of mind is HOPE; that I may withstand and grow from the changes of 2022.

There is a saying in Tibetan: “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose hope, that’s our real disaster,” said by the 14th Dalai Lama.

CF design opens a new architectural studio at 310 East Superior Street on March 15, 2023. In addition, LUM studios, a specialty residential lighting and iconic modern furniture showroom and consultancy opens adjacent to CF design May 15, 2023. Recovery is hard work. Business begets business and just when it seemed unlikely, life goes on better and more enriched than imagined.

Come visit and discuss your project. We are happy to be back and we would be delighted to discuss your project, your site, and your home.

CF Design

310 East Superior Street, Suite 125, Duluth MN 55802
218-722-1069 or 218-343-0983

Story sponsored by CF Design

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