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Lake Magazine
     May 22, 2017      #31-141 LK1

Designers You Should Know

As houses continue to evolve from functional spaces to habitats that express personal style, designers are increasingly in demand by homeowners to stylize both the interior and exterior of their residences. Here, we feature six designers from the LAKE region – talented professionals in architecture, interior, landscape and kitchen design.


Craig Bergmann, owner of Craig Bergmann Landscape Design in Wilmette, Ill., is known for creating distinctive gardens like the one described in our story on Scott Gill and Bill Stegeman’s house in St. Joseph, Mich. (pg. 12). He’s also a popular lecturer in Horticulture magazine’s 2007 national symposia series. As he travels from city to city, Bergmann is reminded how essential gardens and gardening are in our troubled, chaotic world. “Gardening and plants provide safe haven,” he says, “for people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life.”

Bergmann creates highly detailed, “horticulturally interesting” gardens on rooftops in downtown Chicago, in modest suburban backyards and on larger country estates in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. He likes to accent terraces and outdoor steps with containers and ornaments made from cast or old stone, lead or iron. He advises homeowners to keep scale in mind when choosing garden antiques, encouraging them to use large rather than small items because they best complement an outdoor space. He says that themes emerge when gardeners collect antiques, and cites as proof his own garden’s array of concrete and carved stone “rustification” ornaments amassed over the years.

Bergmann’s work has been featured in a slew of national magazines and books, including Paige Dickey’s Inside Out and Rosemary Verey’s The American Man’s Garden. 847-251-8355;


Witkowski ARCHITECT “There are two approaches to architecture,” Mitch Witkowski says. “One is a quick and rapid mechanical approach. The other is a hands-on, craftsman-like approach.”

Witkowski, of Roundstone Design – an architectural fi rm that designs and remodels modern homes, bungalows and cottages – subscribes to the latter approach. A proponent of the Arts-and- Crafts movement, he fuses modern and Asian elements with indigenous materials to create a simple yet organic style – a design philosophy he credits to his childhood love of nature and the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Witkowski cultivates close relationships with his clients, who share in the building and restoration of their residences. These collaborations foster a teaching and learning process. This craftsman approach extends to Witkowski’s collaborations with contractors, too. “Every contractor relationship is one of mutual respect,” he says. “It improves the quality of the work and creates a harmonious environment.” 616-696-2191; ROUNDSTONEDESIGN.COM


Interior designer Mary Dill declares that she’s “not a trendy person.” She appreciates contemporary designs, but she prefers to create comfortable environments that reflect classical elements steeped in history. Owner of Art & Interiors Design Group in St. Joseph, Mich., Dill – who designs residential interiors in southwest Michigan and Indiana – calls herself a facilitator, helping clients to realize their ideal interior designs and educating them along the way. She takes pride in developing comfortable spaces that fit the homeowners’ taste and lifestyle, and prefers to work on smaller rather than larger homes, saying that “grand interiors can be more difficult to personalize.”

After three decades in the business, Dill enjoys long-lasting relationships with many of her clients.

“I’ll design their first home for them. Then, they’ll come back a generation later and build their dream home, and I’ll decorate that, too,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll work for their kids and grandkids.” 269-429-7324


Shawn de la Foret – whose name means “Shawn of the forest” in French – seemed destined to become a landscape designer. He grew up learning the business at the knee of his father, who owns Nature’s Way Landscaping, an award-winning firm based in Stevensville, Mich.

De la Foret, who went on to study landscape design at Michigan State University and now runs his father’s business, says he favors “softer” natural landscapes over more formal arrangements. He likes to incorporate water features into back yards exploding with color. Especially fond of working with small spaces, he finds challenges in creating a garden retreat within a 30- square-foot space, saying, “Sometimes you can be more creative overcoming obstacles.” Another challenge that excites him is creating a patio space intimate enough for a couple but roomy enough to accommodate a large number of guests. He, like his peers, is seeing a proliferation of outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and kitchens – some so elaborate they include dishwashers, refrigerators, ice makers and granite counter tops.

De la Foret often revisits his landscaping installations years later to see how people use their outdoor spaces. He says common gardening mistakes by home-owners include overcrowding and over-pruning, which results in overgrowth and high maintenance. 269-429-1694; NATURESWAYINC.COM


Jeff Priebe began his career at the tender age of 12, when he got a part-time job at a woodworking company. Sweeping floors and staining and sanding furniture led to his career of designing, building and installing kitchen cabinets, bookcases and bathroom vanities. Woodworking also helped fund his college education. “I’d build a kitchen or an entertainment center and pay for a quarter of tuition,” he says.

In 1995, after teaching vocational and computer-aided design classes at a local high school, he opened Priebe’s Creative Woodworking in Benton Harbor, Mich. The firm builds custom furniture and cabinetry for homeowners, builders, design and architectural firms in southwest Michigan. His 12,000-square-foot showroom and manufacturing facility employs nine craftsmen and four designers.

Priebe, who notes that while granite and quar tz counter tops continue to be popular choices, says glazed, antique and distressed wood finishes represent the biggest trend he sees in cabinetry design among homeowners looking to recreate “old world charm” in their kitchens.

He prides himself on one-of- a-kind designs – “We’re strict about not duplicating our work” – and says the most rewarding projects are those in which the homeowner gets involved in the design process. To that end, he encourages clients to clip pictures of favorite kitchen designs from magazines. He uses these as a starting point to guide the design process. 269-926-2469; PRIEBESWOODWORKING.COM


Virginia Phillips, an interior designer with Marc T. Nielsen Interiors in Valparaiso, Ind., is also an abstract oil painter. So it’s no surprise that she approaches each of her clients’ rooms as blank canvases. She favors neutral wall tones that allow vibrant colors elsewhere in a room to pop. She once based a room’s color palette around one of her artworks: “I created a nice, rich color scheme inspired by the painting.”

She describes herself as a good space planner who carefully considers traffic patterns and optimizes space flow. She underscores the importance of an interior design plan that can be augmented over the years, explaining that clients often purchase a piece of furniture without first determining where it will fit in a room. That often results in expensive mistakes.

Phillips, who incorporates existing furniture into a plan when possible, likes to develop interior designs that take clients out of their comfort zone. “When people are building a house, they tend to be too safe,” she says. “I encourage them to make a little more of a statement than they would do on their own.”

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Excellent article
shadow @ November 15, 2020, 6:18 pm
I fully agree.
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