Project photos by Paulette Hagen | Headshots by Josiah Kopp
- Principal Designer & Co-owner
- Former City Council Member for Horace, ND
- Jeremiah Program Volunteer
- Wife & Mother
Chelsey Johnson grew up immersed in her family’s architecture firm located in Horace, ND. Prairie Design Studio (PDS), started by her father, Kim Stokes, in the early 1980s, designs structures from large-scale apartment complexes and skilled care facilities (nursing homes) to office buildings and residential properties. Chelsey has worked at PDS for 20 years, managing commercial, industrial, and residential projects. Her sister Leah Petersen works alongside her as the next generation of owners in their family firm.
She recently served on Horace city council helping shape the growing community, “It was a wonderful experience, I have immense respect for anyone serving their community and the time and effort it requires,” she said. Now she volunteers at Jeremiah Program, which supports single mothers as they get their college degrees by providing housing, daycare, and tools to help them excel in life. Her free time consists of yoga, golf, and time with her family.
Every month, she looks forward to her peer group meetings, led by Kelsey and Grace with You Flourish Company, a local agency helping people prevent burnout, accomplish their goals, and thrive alongside other career-driven individuals. They meet monthly to strategize problems, set goals, and connect. They also host local events throughout the year like their quarterly Breakfast and Bibles geared for men and women, which includes a speaker along with networking and reflection, and their Goal Setting Summit, among other curated events.
Featured Project: Stokes Family Lake House
Completed in 2022 – Lake Park, MN
“The goal when designing this home was to create a home large enough to hold four families comfortably while keeping the design modest yet beautiful,” Chelsey said. Berming the soil and building into the land contours gave her the opportunity to utilize natural elements to achieve the family’s goals.
The exterior of the house has brick paver pathways connecting three outdoor patios. The main beach is accessed by a dock bridge over a marsh and the home is surrounded by nature, giving it a very serene feeling. The development, Grand View Estates, is a common area community with 72 acres, filled with walking and UTV trails. The buildable lots are organized in a way that keeps the natural environment intact and usable to all the residents. With beautiful natural views in all directions, the home is a tranquil retreat from everyday life for three generations of family.
The main level consists of a large kitchen with a round prep island and seating for 15 to eat comfortably, along with a shuffleboard table against a feature wall of brick and stone mixed. Chelsey and her team took stone from the exterior siding and mixed it with the veneer brick on the interior wall and fireplace to give it a rustic feel.
The homeowner had a painting of a bear done by a local artist that she wanted to hang in the living room, so all the main floor finishes and furniture were coordinated to work with this painting.
There is a main floor bedroom with en suite and private patio access which is used as a guest room or future primary if needed. Halfway up to the second floor is the screen porch accessed from the stair landing which has a gas fireplace and a three-season screen system with roll-up clear panels, allowing the porch fireplace to be utilized almost year-round. The porch has views of both Nelson Lake and Middle Cormorant Lake.
The second floor has a beverage bar at the top of the stairs with a family room on one side and on the other is a hallway with access to the rest of the bedrooms. One of the big concerns for the family was to be able to sleep in or take naps in a quiet space. This hallway can be closed off with double doors for noise separation from the rest of the living areas. The primary bedroom at the end of the hallway, along with the upstairs family room, has access to the second-floor deck and great views of the lake.
5 Chelsey’s Home & Design Hacks
1. Plan Your Lot
“Make sure to choose your lot before designing or choosing a house plan. How you harness the sunlight, winter winds, and natural landscaping can vastly affect the quality of the home.”
2. Keep Your Space Timeless
“Create drama in your home with things that can be easily changed like paint colors or furniture, and keep the bones of the home timeless with classic styles of millwork, cabinetry, and flooring.”
3. Choose Quality Finishes
“Choosing finishes that stand the test of time will create long-term value in your home. If this is something you’re not comfortable with, use an interior designer. A quality designer will create lasting value in your property.”
4. Utilize larger Windows
“Larger windows let more light into your home and make the exterior look more expensive. Don’t try to save money with smaller windows.”
5. Be Mindful of Hallways for Floor Space
“Hallways can create drama in a home, however, if you’re designing a new home and want to keep your square footage down, hallways are a waste of space. Sometimes you can’t avoid hallways but if you can put that space into a room you’ll get more bang for your buck.”
Chelsey’s Trends & Colors for 2024
7 Things I Recommend for the Home
1. Integrated Speakers Throughout the House
“Work with an experienced professional to be sure speakers are placed properly for the best sound, fire codes are met, and the right equipment is chosen to suit your needs.”
2. Wiring for Security Cameras
“Wiring for cameras up front can save on maintenance and trying to hide wires around the house later on. Security cameras bring peace of mind to many homeowners and are a great way to feel safer in your home.”
3. Gas Line Hook-Up for Outdoor Fireplace and/or Grill
“Not having to replace propane tanks when they are empty is a luxury that can take one thing off the to-do list. Never again start dinner and realize you need to make a trip to the store before you can start the grill.”
4. Zoned HVAC System
“Different levels of a home can vary widely in temperature causing someone in the family to feel a little less comfortable. Making sure different levels are on their own thermostat can rid your home of that freezing basement or hot bonus room.”
5. Outlets in Closets or Storage Rooms
“We have so many items that need power, and sometimes, like battery vacuums, those are better out of sight, having places to plug things into the closet is very handy.”
6. Electric Blinds for Hard-to-Reach or Large Groups of Windows
“Closing multiple windows in multiple rooms can be time-consuming—having blinds open with a push of a button lets you have more control over your spaces. Hard-to-reach windows can be blinding when watching a movie with no way to reach them. Electric blinds are available with batteries but ideally are hard-wired during construction.”
7. Motion-Sensor Night Lights
“Motion-sensor night lights in bathrooms, kitchens, and stairs are main the key areas so you don’t have to turn on blinding lights when you’re trying to sleep. They are a safety feature on stairwells to avoid falls as well.”
Chelsey’s Local Picks
Q&A with Chelsey
Outside the design world, you’ve had experience as a city council member for the city of Horace—what have you loved most about being involved in and giving back to the community?
I was on the city council for four years (my term ended last year). I would highly recommend anyone willing to come to the table for their community, be a problem solver, and put the best interests of the people they are serving first, should be a public servant. It helps you understand the important decisions that are made. It also gives you more respect for those in that position— they have to make difficult decisions every day.
You love yoga and golf—what other ways do you keep your heart and mind refreshed and inspired?
I learned about meditation and energy healing five years ago through a book called “Becoming Supernatural” by Joe Dispenza—it changed my life. I have always had a craving for ways to live my best life and when I found this book, It gave me that new perspective I was waiting for and taught me how to gain power over myself and my life. From everything I’ve learned, I think the most important thing is knowing how to find peace, even in the hardest moments or wherever you are in life—meditation can really help with that.
You’re now the principal at PDS, what do you love most about continuing your family business legacy alongside Leah?
My Dad, Kim Stokes, worked hard to build a great company. One of the most valuable things he taught me is how to make our clients feel good about the experience they have when working with us. Leah and I talk a lot about what kind of experience our clients are getting— making sure they’re going to come back for their next project or refer us to a friend is our number one priority. I love that, as a team, we are striving to grow a future we can be proud of and hopefully pass along one day.
The lake home has a lot of woodsy and earthy textures—I love it. What other textures have you been experimenting with lately?
Designing spaces with an eclectic look by mixing modern with vintage can give a sleek updated feel but warms it up with the classic vintage textures. For example, using vintage woodgrains and architectural details but pairing them with modern flooring or lighting gives a good balance and creates a more ageless space for years to come.
How does your family inspire your creative journey?
Creativity runs in my family, I excel at creating flow and balance in my buildings while my sister Leah is awesome at the technical side of the design process, so we make a great team.
What do you want to illustrate to your kids through your work?
I was just talking about this the other day… no parent is perfect but we all have our strengths and one of mine is showing them a loving and hardworking mom. My small family-owned firm is a blessing when it comes to balancing my kids and work. They grow up fast and I believe the kids learn most by what we model for them. For me, it’s my strength, happiness, and self-care.