Q&A with Double Jack Design — Jacob Zikmund, Jacob Kieper, Alex Zikmund
Renderings by Jake Williams, owner of NOMINN
Our first meeting with Double Jack Design took place at their favorite watering hole in Duluth. It didn’t take long for us to realize that these guys weren’t your typical architecture firm. They are crafters, makers and builders. From humble beginnings, these guys believe in getting their hands dirty and creating spaces that are beautiful and meaningful, but also practical.
Who is Double Jack Design?
Our small but mighty group of tenacious and passionate designers/problem solvers work with ambitious and curious people/organizations to create exceptional places. From our inception, we have sought out the unique, the difficult and the challenging projects that require a high level of attention and rigor. We home-base out of Duluth and St. Paul, Minnesota, but our work spans the Midwest and wherever great projects take us.
What makes your design approach different?
We grew up on working farms and learned from an early age what it means to get our hands dirty. We know what it’s like to spend sweltering afternoons digging holes one shovelful at a time. Within these experiences is an ethos that we carry forward about working hard and with humility in everything we do. We believe strongly in the power of thoughtful, well-designed spaces, but never believe that our ideas are somehow better than anyone else’s involved. And it’s that perspective that resonates with our clients and with the variety of tradespeople we work with on a daily basis, allowing us to create strong, enduring relationships.
Growing up on a farm taught us the necessity to be nimble and creative problem solvers. Although at the time it wasn’t clear that what we were doing was designing, we were constantly problem-solving and fabricating solutions to everyday challenges. Little did we know, those types of experiences would begin to pave our way, and it’s that ingenuity and blue-collar attitude that continues to move Double Jack Design forward.
Within that humble upbringing, it seems improbable, then, that you would be designing quite modern, sophisticated architecture today.
We suppose you could say that. Growing up in small rural communities, no one had ever met or known an architect. But, again, our upbringing, experiences swinging a hammer, and insatiable curiosity have brought us here. And now to look back, it seems obvious that this is where we were meant to be. We like to joke, if we weren’t doing this, we would still be doing this.
You mentioned creating relationships. Can you tell us about the importance of relationships within your practice?
Relationships are everything to us. Double Jack Design exists today because of the relationships we have formed and the people who have supported and believed in us enough to make that referral or to hire us to provide design services. That fact humbles us every day. Much of that we attribute to the ethos of Double Jack Design and the deep respect we have for our partners in the trades and all the folks we interact with. The majority of our projects to this point have absolutely come from our referral network.
The image on the cover of this magazine is a wonderful example of a relationship we have developed with a world-class arch viz artist. Our good friend and rock star artist Jake Williams, owner of NOMINN helped us bring the design of the Nature Link Resort to life.
And that is how you were connected with the owners of Nature Link?
Our good friends at Gardner Builders had been working with the owners of Nature Link and recommended they contact us about designing their project. Little did we know that the owner’s vision to create a modern oasis for guests to unplug and reconnect with nature would resonate with our mission. That shared vision has been invaluable in creating a magical place that we hope comes through in the user experience.
It sounds like Nature Link was really that perfect project where the right people and relationships were in place …
It was an opportunity to show what can be accomplished when there is an alignment of vision and trust in your team to interpret that vision into built form. The resort is a 14-acre hideaway, nestled amongst the pines just outside of Nisswa, Minnesota, on Clark Lake. The project scope catered to both our residential and commercial expertise, as the campus includes a wedding event center (Catalyst), private cabins and a hotel. Each structure on the property was meticulously considered to inspire people to appreciate their surroundings. Whether having a drink while watching the northern lights or taking in a sunrise over the lake while sipping coffee, the goal is to slow down and smell the pine needles.
The buildings are unique and iconic. Where does your inspiration come from?
Our design process starts the same for every project. We meet the client, in person, preferably on the site (if there is one) and listen closely to their vision and their unique story. Much of what inspires us comes from the client and what we hear in those initial meetings. Our ears remain open as we explore the site, listening to the birds and the trees, taking in what is there and searching for what is not.
Nature Link is all about the outdoors, hence the name. Since our first meeting on site, it was evident the natural environment was calling us to unwind and disconnect. The natural environment was a huge driver for the project, and all of the structures have been designed to connect people to it. That intent is achieved by utilizing large amounts of glass to frame views and designing many ways for people to move in and out of the structures. We also wanted varying types of experiences, depending on what space and what building a person is in; for example, the ceremony space floats in the tree canopy and gives a sense of being in a treehouse, whereas the reception area is at ground level and focuses one’s attention toward the lake. Drawing from one of the owner’s professions as a photographer, the idea of framing views is enhanced and the different spaces and structures became known as apertures for viewing nature.
Finally, our agrarian roots are continually influencing the way we see the world. We look to the agrarian structures of old for clues about how to design buildings for the future. Those structures were created from the local natural materials available, and the building form was derived from the local conditions and the specific needs of the end user. That simplicity and the idea that something is only as much as it needs to be is beautiful in our eyes. In a world where we transport materials across countries and continents and create materials from harmful, unhealthy substances, the most sustainable thing we can do is get back to that vernacular (something specific to its place and its time) way of thinking.
Much of this conversation has been about resort architecture. What other types of projects do you design?
Double Jack Design is unique in that we work on a variety of projects and we are experts in both the intimate world of custom residential design and the complex world of commercial design. We are currently working on legacy homes and cabins, resorts, banks, restaurants, multi-family housing and a climbing gym. For us, the type of project is not as important as the mindset and vision of the client. The client needs to want to challenge convention, push boundaries, think differently and be open-minded.
We believe in sharing what we know and that learning anything is a hands-on experience. We want to teach our clients not just about their project, but about architecture. There is a tendency in the industry to keep all your “trade secrets” to yourself, but we don’t believe that. We want to bring people in. We want to build real relationships and a community. We want our clients to feel like they know us, that we’re listening and understanding, and trust us to express their vision through our designs.
Connect with Double Jack here, https://doublejackdesign.com.
Read more of our stories in Issue 23 of Lake and Company.