Meet Pella's Partners: An Interview With Chisel Architecture
on February 6, 2023
At Pella, we go above and beyond to make beautifully designed products that clients can be proud of. That’s why we consider ourselves lucky to have partners who are just as passionate about design as we are.
Take Sara Whicher and Marcy Townsend, for example. Co-founders of Chisel Architecture, these two women share a passion for custom home designs that complement the lives of each individual owner. The result? Designs that will delight clients and architecture buffs alike.
We sat down with Sara and Marcy and asked them to give us a behind-the-scenes look at one of their recent projects: the stunning waterfront property, “Lantern on the Lake.”
Chisel Architecture: A Meeting of Minds
Chisel Architecture is just cresting the four-year mark in 2023. The minds behind it, however, have a combined 40 years of experience in the residential architecture and design industry.
Sara and Marcy met as interns at a notable architecture firm. As novices, they spent years studying under the mentorship of several talented architects and designers.
While Sara stayed at the firm to solidify her skills, Marcy traveled to Chicago to get a feel for different ways of doing things. There, she picked up on styles and construction techniques she’d later bring to her own company.
When fate brought the two together again at a different firm, Sara and Marcy found themselves comparing notes, dreaming of how they might lead a firm with their own vision.
With that dream in mind—and a little bit of bravery—the two took the jump and started their own firm. Their only regret was that they didn’t do it sooner.
Q: What sets Chisel Architecture apart from other residential architecture and design firms?
Sara: Definitely our Pattern of Life™ process. Many clients tell us all about the features they want, like a sub-zero refrigerator or a granite countertop, but Pattern of Life goes much deeper than that.
We ask clients, “What side of the bed do you get out of in the morning? What do you do first? Do you drink your coffee in the kitchen or in your bedroom? How do you feel when you walk into particular rooms? How do you want to feel?” Everyone follows a pattern in their life—our goal is to delve deeper into the client’s pattern and design a home that honors it.
Q: Tell us about the concept behind “Lantern on the Lake.”
Marcy: We basically took the idea of the “Minnesota man cave” and turned it on its head. Instead of the client’s “cave” being in the basement, it’s the entire upper level. It’s also a sky bar, surrounded by windows. In fact, the biggest window of the entire house is up there. He’s also got an extensive roof deck.
Part of the challenge of that site was lifting spaces high enough so that the client could see both the view of the lake and the view of downtown. We wanted to capture everything that site had to offer.
The client is also a huge fundraiser, so the sky lounge upstairs was perfect for hosting gatherings. When you walk in the door, you see the stairs straight away. It ushers you up the stairs and boom, you’re met with Pella’s monster window and a spectacular view.
Q: How exactly did this project get its name?
S: The reason we call it “Lantern on the Lake” is really because of the windows.
M: We used the windows to heighten the space. They go all the way up to the ceiling and all the way down to the floor. The entire house feels bigger than it actually is, and the windows play a huge part in that.
S: When you look at the house at night with those dining room windows, it looks like a lantern [that’s being reflected on the lake]. And under the dining room windows are three more huge windows into the client’s garden-level workout room. They’re pushed up as far as we could get them, which gives the house a floating effect.
M: Like a glowing, floating lantern.
Q: Which Pella products did you use for this project?
M: Pella’s Reserve Contemporary casement windows, awnings, fixed units and sliding patio doors were used on this project. The windows have a metal-clad exterior, wood interior, high-performance rating and minimal sash dimensions which just means “more glass.”
S: The minute the windows showed up and were installed, they set the tone right away. It was really remarkable. We’d walk into the house and it was like, “kaboom!” There are those windows! We also value-engineered with Pella—they’re really willing to [collaborate with you until you reach your goal].
M: For a certain window, we crunched its dimensions by the inch to realize substantial savings based on size. And we didn’t even need to change its size that much!
Q: How did you apply your Pattern of Life process to “Lantern on the Lake”?
S: This project is actually a great example of our process.
M: “Lantern on the Lake” doesn’t have a laundry room–the laundry is in the client’s closet.
S: We were initially thinking that the laundry could be in the basement or next to the kitchen. But when we asked the client how he did his laundry, he said he takes the clothes out of the dryer and puts them on his bed. That’s where he does his folding. So, we put the laundry right next to his bedroom.
M: Another thing Sara touched on was feeling; as in, how the client feels in the space. “Lantern on the Lake’s” dining room was designed to be a place for the client’s family to sit down and all have dinner together. With one kid away at college and one in high school, he really wanted a home base for his family, [so] when you walk into that dining room, you instantly feel relaxed, like a weight is lifted off your shoulders.
Q: What made the owner choose your firm?
M: Our client had worked with other architects before, but his experiences were unremarkable. He had a personal connection with us, and he knew that he wanted something modern—a style that’s in our wheelhouse. For Sara and I, the aesthetics are the easy part. The tricky part is making the house sing to the owner and their lifestyle.
Q: What would you say is the best part about the process of designing a home for your clients?
M: Human connection and personalizing a space. Architecture is basically applied environmental psychology. How do you tap into the design of a space to affect how one feels? If you feel better, your relationships are better, and your health is better… Residential architecture can do that!
S: The whole thing from the beginning to the end is a puzzle. We’re trying to connect these pieces that we’re creating, and it has to finish beautifully. We really enjoy the process.
Q: What was your client’s reaction to seeing the finished project?
M: We have software that shows clients what their house will look like. We remember that meeting where he was like, “Holy cow, that’s my house!” That was also when we had Pella onboard, and we could plug in the windows [into the software].
S: And then there was the moment when the windows actually went in, and the client was standing in his dining area… He just came to life. While he toured the house, you could see how comfortable he felt in his home. He loves it and utilizes every space.
Q: What keeps you coming back to partner with Pella?
M: We choose Pella not only because of their products, but also because of their service. The architectural support that they provide is what makes Pella different for us. They sit at the table with us during design and really make our lives easier.
S: In this project, we got the support that we needed and a beautiful aesthetic with those big windows. The team at Pella are great collaborators, who are always focused on our needs. They’re just an amazing group of people.
To learn more about Sara and Marcy, please visit the Chisel Architecture website.
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