Nordic meets North Loop in a new boutique hotel in Minneapolis

By Joel Hoekstra

Anchored by the stretch of Washington Avenue to the north of Hennepin Avenue, the North Loop has become Minneapolis’ hottest neighborhood over the past decade. Home to some of the city’s most-booked restaurants and most-lauded retailers, the area has lacked—until recently—that hallmark of every trendy district: a boutique hotel.

But that changed last year with the opening of the Hewing, an upscale 124-room hotel infused with a heady mix of cool, contemporary Scandinavian design and Minnesota-made art, products, and memorabilia. “The owners’ vision was that this would be a hotel that celebrated Minnesota, as well as the North Loop culture,” says Steve Oakley, AIA, vice president at ESG Architecture & Design, the Minneapolis firm that designed the project for Aparium Hotel Group of Chicago and Fe Equus Development of Milwaukee. “That’s our background, so as Minnesotans we put a lot of personal pride into this project.”

The Hewing, at the corner of Washington and Third Avenue North, occupies a former farm-implement showroom and warehouse completed in 1899. Roughly 116,000 square feet in size, the building had been constructed in stages, creating odd intersections at some floor elevations. It eventually fell into disrepair, with only one tenant, a music school, leasing the first floor.

But underneath the dust and cobwebs the new owners and ESG saw a structure full of character and potential. The brick exterior had unique window patterns on every level, and a forest of solid timber posts and beams populated the interior. “We like to work with the building—not against it—and embrace that era of construction and materials,” says Fe Equus owner Tim Dixon, whose firm made a splash with its 2008 conversion of a century-old warehouse in downtown Milwaukee into the luxury Iron Horse Hotel. “The building has endured for more than 115 years, and now it will live on for another 100 years.”

“We pulled back more than we added as the design process went on,” says Ann Fritz, ESG’s director of interiors. But two significant structural additions were made: A contemporary glass-walled atrium was thrust through the center of the building to bring light into the building’s interior and create visual connections between the floors, and a sixth floor was added on the rooftop, along with a deck, pool, sauna, and bar.

Visitors entering the hotel pass through a vestibule paved with tiles designed to recall the Hewing’s two-tree, chevron-like logo; it’s also lined with glass, allowing guests to absorb the visual energy of the space even before they reach the lobby. Shelves that surround the fireplace in the lobby are filled with Minnesota-themed items, including books on Bob Dylan and Prince, vintage hockey gear, Faribault Woolen Mill blankets, pairs of deer antlers, and glass jugs from local dairy operations. Furniture throughout the space evokes a classic Northwoods cabin. “We only used genuine leather and real wood, so things will patina and age properly,” says Fritz.

Opposite the reception desk is a full-service bar and restaurant. Lacquered tree trunks serve as cocktail tables, and a contemporary artist’s take on a classic deer-head trophy peers out over the bar. The tables in the restaurant are constructed of planks that were removed from the building to make way for the atrium. A pool table, wingback chairs, and plush rugs fill the bar area, while a banquette runs along the Washington Avenue–side windows. “Every time I’m here, the furniture is in a different spot, which means people are doing what they’re supposed to do: moving it around and making it their own,” says Fritz.

In addition to the public spaces, the hotel’s amenities include conference spaces, a junior ballroom, two private dining rooms, and a spa and fitness facility. The Hewing logo is subtly woven into artwork and fixtures used throughout the hotel. The hand-blown glass bulbs in the atrium were each produced by a different glass artist, and several of the Hewing’s raindrop-shaped pendants are tinted purple, in homage to Minnesota’s late, beloved Prince.

Guest rooms fill floors two through five, and the building’s quirky layout necessitated a unique configuration for each room—a design challenge. On the fifth floor, for example, adherence to preservation standards resulted in windows that were eight feet above the floor. ESG responded with a handful of “lofted” bedrooms with views out of the high windows.

The fixtures, furnishings, and equipment in each room are contemporary, Nordic, and stylish. Wallpaper patterns recall the decorative brick patterns on the building’s exterior, and a wood-handled hatchet hangs in each bathroom—a winking reference to the practice of felling trees and hewing them into rough timbers.

Only guests and members of the hotel’s social club have access to the sixth floor and roof deck, open year-round. In summer, visitors can sip cocktails from the cozy bar and drink in the dramatic view of downtown Minneapolis. In winter, they can dash from the 24-person sauna into the pint-sized heated pool—reminiscent of the Scandinavian practice of diving into an icy lake after a good sweat.

“We wanted to create a hotel that was experiential,” says Oakley. “This place—from the structure to the design elements to the artwork and furnishings—is all about making memories.”

Client: Fe Equus Development, LLC
Architect: ESG Architecture & Design
General contractor: Greiner Construction
Size: 116,123 square feet
Cost: $21.2 million
Completion: November 2016
Photographer: Brandon Stengel, Assoc. AIA