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Architect featured in Twin Cities magazine prepares for Christmas in Winsted

December 22, 2008

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

WINSTED, MN – Jason Weinbeck, a 1986 Holy Trinity graduate with a bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Minnesota, was recently featured in the Mpls St Paul magazine for renovations to his 1958 Richfield home.

But this day, in early December, he was focused on returning to his parents’ home in Winsted to decorate the family Christmas tree in preparation for the Christmas day celebration that brings more than 40 family members together.

Jason is the youngest of Ben and Irene Weinbeck’s 10 children, and he has been decorating the family tree since he was in junior high.

It isn’t just any tree. It was bought at a Dayton’s clearance sale many years before by Ben and that was when a tradition began.

“I think dad was tired of getting the live trees,” Jason said. “He came home with this very large box. They had this giant close-out sale when he still had his office downtown, so that was a long time ago.”

Ben had shown his son how to put the Christmas tree together that first year, and then, each year after, Jason assumed the assembly and decorating of the tree.

“I’m not sure how that began,” Jason said. “I’m the youngest, and it was probably the result of me being the last one to leave 230 Main Street.”

The traditional tree decorating at the Weinbeck home is a fun couple of hours of Christmas music, stringing bubble lights, and hanging many antique Christmas ornaments.

“I enjoy doing it. Also, I’m not sure I’d trust any of the others to get it right. I’m kidding of course,” Jason said. “But you know, there is a science to decorating a tree. When in doubt, add more lights.”

A Weinbeck Christmas past

Jason’s most memorable Christmas happened when he was around 7 or 8 years old.

“We were in Oaxaca, Mexico for Christmas. I love Mexico, they have parades and fireworks for a week leading up to the 25th. Plus, it’s around 75 degrees. Now that’s how you celebrate Christmas,” Jason said.

The family stayed in a converted convent; a portion of this place was occupied by nuns.

On Christmas Eve, the Weinbeck children decided to play hide and seek in the compound.

Everyone was having a good time until one of Jason’s older brothers, Benny (Jason wasn’t quite sure if he was the one), opened a door, ran in without looking, and realized he was in a room full of nuns.

“I can’t remember if my dad laughed or got upset about this, but we stayed out of that room for the rest of the trip,” Jason said.

The making of an architect

Much like learning to assemble the family Christmas tree, Jason recalls other lessons from his father that have influenced the way he does things today.

“My dad did a lot of woodworking and he would fix everything in his workshop,” Jason said. “I would come out there and he would get me involved. I just wanted to get it (the project) done, to see what it would look like. He would slow me down and make me do it properly.”

Jason also credits his father for introducing him to many “visual worlds at an early age.” The exposure gave him some of the first indications that he was interested in architectural design.

“When we were kids, my dad packed us into a van and drove us all over the country and down into the most southern part of Mexico. I remember seeing these amazing colonial, mostly baroque churches in small towns. It made an impression on me, the fact that these dusty little towns had these beautiful churches,” Jason said.

“They seemed to be the cultural and physical center of the towns. And then you’d go inside, and there were these giant, wide-open spaces with golden ornate altars and it would just overwhelm you.”

“I think this feeling of being able to move someone emotionally with a volume of space stayed with me,” Jason said. “My dad had an office in the old Jeweler’s Exchange building in Minneapolis, next to the Lumber Exchange building. I remember walking through the Lumber Exchange as a kid, thinking how crazy it was to see a full-sized plane hanging from the ceiling. There are a lot of these types of places that still make me stop and wonder.”

Although Jason does remember some early signs of interest in architecture and design, it took a number of years for him to actually decide on it as a career.

After graduating with a class of about 45 students from Holy Trinity High School, he attended the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. His first class, Psychology 1001, had close to 1,000 freshmen in the class.

Without a clue as to what he wanted to do professionally, at the time, he chose to major in marketing. He also joined a fraternity, which Jason said didn’t help him out academically either.

After two-and-a-half years, he dropped out of college and started working with his dad on distressed veterans administration homes. That was when he realized he liked home renovation.

After paying off all of his student debt, Jason enrolled again at the U of M.

This time, his career choice was the right one, and he graduated after three years with a degree in architecture.

He was recently featured in the October, and fall issues of the “Mpls St Paul” magazine for his “budget-savy” renovations to the late 1950s California-ranch-style Richfield home he purchased about two years ago. Jason calls it a labor of love.

“I was after a contemporary twist on retro style, but when I started to think about the cost, I knew there was no way I could do it if I chose things that were brand new and didn’t try to save money,” Jason said.

So he turned to web resources like Craigslist and eBay, and watched for deals from local retailers.

Even an 8-foot patio door, which replaced a standard window in his home, was a Craigslist find.

“It was from a newer home and the people couldn’t return it,” Jason said. “It was in two pieces and needed to be assembled, but I rented a truck and grabbed a friend to help, and we made it work.”

“I sourced a lot of materials on Craigslist,” Jason said. “I found one installer who had a surplus of solid three-quarter-inch Brazilian teak flooring. He had just enough square footage for what I needed. He sold it to me for about one-third of the market cost. He even delivered it to the house.”

The parts of the house that Jason is most proud of are actually the things that were existing features. The peninsula fireplace is the centerpiece of the house. It acts as the divider between the living and dining room, but because it’s three-sided, it’s also visible from the kitchen.

Removing the wall partitions in the kitchen, the living room, and dining room gave the home its most dramatic change. It improved the overall feel and openness of the house without removing its original ‘50’s character, according to Jason.

“The walls were built at an unusual height of about 5.5 feet. So, you’d see the tops of people’s heads bobbing around but you could also carry on a conversation,” Jason said. “It was sort of like a giant floral arrangement on a dinner table which blocks eye contact. It’s a little frustrating.”

Another budget-saver was Jason’s ability to do much of the work himself. He had owned and renovated other homes previous to purchasing his Richfield ranch, and only required the aid of some talented friends, who helped him install limestone flooring and do some of the electrical wiring.

Jason used the Internet to find his furnishings, as well. One item he is particularly proud of was shipped all the way from California.

It is a mint-condition Eames aluminum series tilt-and-swivel chair and ottoman set, which he bought for one-fourth the cost of a new set.

Watching expenses for his Richfield home project was very different than some of the “enormous budgets” he has had working for other businesses like Watershed Partners, a small Minneapolis firm that project manages the build-out for boutique clothing stores like Chanel, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Donna Karan New York.

“I even found out one day that the mahogany coat hangers were custom-made in Great Britain,” Jason said. “At first, it seemed crazy, but I quickly learned not to question it.”

One undertaking Jason is particularly proud of was done a few summers ago. He had the opportunity to design and oversee the build-out of a hair salon.

“It’s in the lower level of a historic building on Washington Avenue, across from the new Guthrie Theatre,” Jason said. “As with most commercial projects, it had a tight budget and a short time frame. It was fun to see the place start as a dirt-floored shell and in a matter of three months, have clients sitting in the salon chairs. A number of local newscasters are clients there.”

At this point in his career, he is beginning to see his years of experience pay off.

“When I first started, I would have to have the actual drawings for measurements, and I did drawings for everything,” Jason said. “But now, I don’t do that. Your ideas evolve. You sort of reinterpret the space and modify it without having to do all of those drawings. When I walk into a space, it takes me a while to get used to it, but it is coming, and it is kind of fun to step back and start to see it.

“It just comes to you – wow, I love what I do. I could imagine doing other things, but they would always have to involve some sort of design.”

Furniture design is another one of Jason’s talents. It could have been inherited from his grandfather, Henry Weinbeck, who was known for his hand-crafted furniture sold in Winsted from the store that now is Jerry’s TV and Appliances.

Ben and Irene’s dining room table, chairs, and sideboard were made by Henry and are still in use today.

“I know that I have some of my grandfather’s original tools which were passed down to me from my dad,” Jason said. “I still use a few of them occasionally. They’re definitely heavier than their modern counterparts. However, they’ll outlast myself and hopefully get passed along to the next Weinbeck generation.”

The next project on Jason’s list is in St. Paul. A friend of his owns a restaurant in an older three-story building.

The upper two floors of the building had been rented out. The first floor is a restaurant.

“He wants to put an elevator in to get to the second floor, where he would like to put in a martini bar and have a lounge area,” Jason said.

“When you are up there you have a view of the St. Paul skyline. And he wants to try and take advantage of that by redefining the space up there,” Jason said.

“I’m pretty excited about this project. I think we all may need a martini after surviving 2008. Although, after blazing through the last few years without much of a break, I guess I’m ready for a long vacation.”

For more information about Jason Weinbeck Design, call (612) 462-1956, or check out the business web site at jasonweinbeckdesign.com.


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