ARCHITECTS AT HOME: Chris Hawley of Chris Hawley Architects

Chris Hawley

Architect Chris Hawley and his wife Sarah moved to the Fargo Country Club neighborhood in 2014 with a plan to transform what was once considered the “ugliest” house on the block into the remarkable remodel it is today.


Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography, Scott Amundson Photography and K.B. Photography

With a career devoted to drawing up dreams, architects let their passion for design and function influence every project they work on. From awe-inspiring residential homes to timeless city structures, this is their life’s work; perfectly interwoven with art and science. Intrigued by their character and creativity, we asked three local architects to give us a personal tour of their lives beyond the drawing board.

Chris Hawley of Chris Hawley Architects

Meandering through the well-established Fargo Country Club neighborhood, it’s easy to see why architect Chris Hawley and his wife Sarah call this area home. Sprawling trees, young families and a backyard view of the golf course make this the perfect place to quietly raise a family. Both originally from Minot, North Dakota, the two, along with daughters Amelia (9) and Ruby (7), moved to the neighborhood in 2014 with a plan to transform what was once considered the “ugliest” house on the block into the remarkable remodel it is today.

Diamond in the Rough

“The first time I saw it, I ran by it and thought that was the ugliest house in Fargo,” said Chris Hawley. “The second time, I thought, ‘You know, that’s an ugly house, but this neighborhood’s great and it looks like a really well built house.'”

Exterior Before Chris Hawley
Exterior BEFORE

Exterior After Chris Hawley
Exterior AFTER

“When I came home from seeing this for the first time, I did a little computer model of the whole thing so Sarah could see. Basically I told her, ‘I know that’s the ugliest house you’ve ever seen, but it could be this,'” laughed Hawley.

Chris Hawley Architects

Chris Hawley Architects

Prior to moving here, the Hawley family was living in an 880-square-foot home in the Hawthorne neighborhood, but felt they were outgrowing the space.

Backyard Exterior Before Chris Hawley
Backyard Exterior BEFORE

Backyard Exterior After Chris Hawley
Exterior AFTER

“I tried to be on that train for as long as I could, living in a small house, but the girls were getting big,” said Hawley. “It was a cute, little 1940s house that we did a bunch of work to as well. We don’t have any family here, so when the family comes, they’re all at our house. We needed extra space for that.”

The Remodel

With a completely different aesthetic after just two years, the Hawleys managed to transform their home without drastic construction.

“In the grand scheme of things, the remodel on this main floor was a very affordable project,” said Chris Hawley. “The part that was expensive was the exterior and that new entrance. Without the new entrance, this house didn’t work. It was such a weird layout, so without that change, the living room would have never gotten used. Now it’s one of our favorite rooms in the house. We also got rid of the hexagon windows on the exterior. That must have been a cool thing back in 1968.”


With an eclectic mix of designer and second-hand furniture, the Hawleys love to surround themselves with statement pieces like the cowhide chair in the entry. What many would assume is an expensive designer piece is actually a $2 dollar chair Chris Hawley found at the NDSU Surplus, bought skins for and had his mom reupholstered.

Entry Chris Hawley Architects

Chris Hawley’s mom has been an upholsterer for more than 40 years, and has helped them create some of their custom furniture pieces from scratch. Buying and making things of quality–like collector furniture that’s timeless in design and built to last–is how Chris Hawley’s mom has built furniture and it’s a concept he himself infuses in his buildings and projects.

Entry Chris Hawley Architects

“The only thing we really did inside was open that wall up (to the right of the crude oil art),” said Chris Hawley.

Entry Chris Hawley Architects

“The one thing that kind of changed the plan was the new entrance. It had a 1968-layout of four levels and stairs everywhere. The entrance used to be a 6-foot wide, 40-foot long hallway, which was our entrance. It was a total waste of space. So, we opened that up and made the new entrance and all of that other space we closed off and it became my bike storage room and we closed the whole back area off, which is now cabinet storage. It’s kind of like my little shed inside the house.”

Entry Chris Hawley Architects


Artfully reconfiguring the kitchen space allowed for easy access from both the living room and family room with higher function, more prep space and better flow. To add contrast to the white oak flooring in the kitchen, the Hawleys incorporated a tongue and groove, wood paneled wall, stained in a deep brown. This wall works simultaneously as the contemporary room divider from the living room and the accent wall in the kitchen. Displayed on the kitchen side is a stunning painting by local artist Jessica Wachter.

Kitchen Chris Hawley Architects

Look lower on the cabinetry and accent wall and you might see Hawley’s organic take on venting. It’s a more contemporary design element, and he eliminated the need for typical metal vent covers by drilling perfectly aligned holes through the walls where needed. “I can’t stand the cheap, little metal vent covers,” said Hawley. “So I just laid out a little grid and took a drill bit to it. For me, to drill holes act as a grill for return air, some clients would have had us sand out all of those circles and stain the inside. I really don’t care, it doesn’t bother me.”

With many of this architect’s clients investing upward of $10,000 on custom range hoods, the Hawleys were content spending less than $100. Chris Hawley wrapped the hood with the same tongue and groove wood found on the accent wall and used off-the-shelf washers and fasteners to create a custom design. “I think when architects do their own houses, they will experiment more with materials,” said Chris Hawley.

Dining In

“The big decision in this project, and I still wonder about it, was the commitment to say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to have a formal dining room,'” said Chris Hawley. “In fact, the island is the dining room. We live on the end of this thing, the four of us have dinner here every night. This type of dining table works well because the way that we entertain is very informal.”

After stumbling upon the perfect materials to create their lengthy dining table, the Hawleys used reclaimed wood and a little creative steel work to build function and beauty. “My brotherin-law, us and two other partners own the Starving Rooster in Minot, North Dakota. We bought an old warehouse in Downtown Minot and these are the roof timbers from that building. So we reclaimed those and one of the partners is a carpenter and he made the table for us. It’s still got all the old spikes in it. Larry at P2 Industries made the stainless steel cap at the end of the table. That was the most expensive part of the kitchen actually, just that one piece. We always said this is where we’d make sushi, but really we’ve never made sushi,” laughed Hawley.

An Architect’s Perspective

When asked what it’s like for an architect to design their own home, Hawley explained, “As an architect, I think everybody is going to be more critical of your project because you have the ability to do whatever they want. If I were to do a new project for us, I’d be totally stressed out over that because everybody would say, ‘You can do whatever you want, and that’s what you did?’ Where as this was so awful, there was only one direction but up. You can’t do whatever you want. You sometimes have to work backward from what the house gives you to start. But I’ll say this—what I’m most proud of with this project is where we started and where we’re at now.”

Chris Hawley Architects

When asking the Hawleys’ daughter Ruby what she thought about the home’s design, her response was, “It’s amazing, rusty, modern.” We’re pretty sure she means “rustic” but all in all, she’s on the right track because this remodel is nothing short of amazing.

Living Room

The couple loves to start each day in the living room soaking up the sun and taking in the quiet of the morning. “Chris and I spend time up here on the weekends and in the mornings with coffee,” said Sarah Hawley. “When the sun comes in, this is kind of a fun spot. Every morning, it’s really the best place to sit and just have some quiet time,” said Chris Hawley.

Living Room Chris Hawley Architects

“I like to collect furniture, some designer pieces like the daybed—that’s a Ludwig Mies van der Rohe piece,” explained Chris Hawley. Not taking his designer furniture too seriously, he laughed and said, “When I have my old college buddies come and stay, that’s where they sleep.” On the adjacent wall, the Hawleys display three of Chris Hawley’s brother’s works. “These are actually done on old blueprints from the dumpster,” said Chris Hawley. The art features Northern Plains Chiefs of North Dakota and Montana, along with a Shaman. On the tongue and groove accent wall dividing the living room from the kitchen, is a statement art piece called “Crude Oil” by Kent Kapplinger.

Living Room Chris Hawley Architects

In many households, the women tend to rule the roost when it comes to design and furniture decisions. As we soon found out, being married to an architect can result in quite the opposite scenario. “I don’t dare choose anything by myself, or it’ll go back,” laughed Sarah Hawley. “He’s very particular, but we also have very similar tastes.”

Chris Hawley Architects

Throughout the home, the Hawleys rely on thought-provoking paintings and photography created by family, friends and popular local artists such as Jessica Wachter, Charles Beck, Molly Yergens, Kent Kapplinger and Jen Brandel.

Family Room

The Hawleys like to spend their time gathered around the fire, which is a favorite space for them in the evenings. A working brick fireplace and mitered quartz hearth are in perfect step with the Charles Beck art piece and custom accent wall.

Family Room Living Room Chris Hawley Architects Before

A textured wool rug in the family room was chosen by their daughter Amelia. “It had a sign on it that said, ‘Oops. We shouldn’t have ordered this!,'” said Sarah Hawley. “Apparently nobody wanted it, so we snagged it up.”

Family Room Living Room Chris Hawley Architects Before

Family Room BEFORE

Family Room Living Room Chris Hawley Architects Before

Family Room AFTER

Surprisingly, the Hawleys were able to salvage much of the original room by adding in just a few custom details to modernize its 1960s design. “We did peel back some really awful honey-oak book cases. We left the brick and painted it, then added the little stone hearth,” said Chris Hawley. “I like when the inside and outside of the house talk to each other, so this is like the accent.”

Three-Season Porch

Rebuilding the existing three-season porch, the Hawleys stained everything to match the rest of the home and called on Chris Hawley’s mom to make the custom screens to snap-in and be removable for the warmer months. “The best part of that porch room is the morning view—we get a great golf course view without the golf course price,” said Chris Hawley.

A Work in Progress

As of today, the Hawleys say that it’s a work in progress before the home is officially completed. They have started work upstairs by replacing the windows and trim. “This has been our first priority, tackling the main level,” said Chris Hawley. Also currently in the midst of work on the lower level, Chris Hawley explained the next project on their list, “The basement’s going to have a sauna and be kind of a collage of all kinds of family things using some of Sarah’s grandpa’s barn for materials.”

Putting Down the Pencil

With a busy career and growing family, some might ask how someone so focused finds time to unwind. Chris Hawley is an avid cyclist, referring to it as his “medicine” for a tricky lifestyle full of family and work. He rides road bike, mountain and even fat bike in the winter months. “In my college days, I used to compete and race often, but have finally realized that I’m not going to make it to the Tour De France,” said Hawley. “During the beginning of my architecture career, I kind of let the riding fall to the side while I was trying to get things going. Ultimately, I fell out of shape and blew out my knee as a result. The first thing they do after surgery is put you on a bike and I realized how much I loved it.”

Now a big part of his life again, the whole family enjoys the sport. “As far as the girls, they’re starting to get into it as well. Sarah does it for exercise. Amelia is having some success in competing and Ruby is a scrappy little bugger on a mountain bike.”

“From a social perspective, it is one of my favorite things to plan a bike trip around spending time with interesting and motivated people. It’s the best way to experience a new place. Whether it is up and over a mountain, through a forest or on a road through a new city, I have found it to allow the right speed to really get a sense of the place.”

About Chris Hawley Architects

Chris Hawley graduated with an architecture degree from NDSU in 2004 and began his residential design building his family’s cabin near his hometown of Minot, North Dakota This would be the first of many projects that focused on core design elements stemming from the North Dakota prairie, his family’s agricultural roots and his strong Scandinavian heritage. Hawley went on to found Radiant Homes in response to their clients request for a seamless design and build experience. In 2011, he left Radiant Homes and branched off to create an eight-person team with Chris Hawley Architects. Rapid growth and success of Hawley’s businesses earned him a nomination for the FMWF Chamber of Commerce’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award. His work has been published in Trends Magazine and Midwest Home with a recent project, the Fargo Laundry Building, being awarded the American Institute of Architects Residential Juror’s Choice Award. Hawley is also the recipient of the Design & Living People’s Choice Awards Best Residential Architect for 2015 and 2016.

Chris Hawley’s Work

Chris Hawley Architects

Chris Hawley Architects

Chris Hawley Architects

Chris Hawley Architects

Chris Hawley Architects
2534 S University Dr, Ste. 3, Fargo


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