In April, Minot, N.D., native Brent Behm and his wife Marina Behm started a new design studio, Ruki Modern. He is the design director at Ruki Modern and Marina is a yoga instructor at her own studio, Marina Wellness & Massage. Their dream is to create the perfect live-work space to merge their services. They focus on residential architecture and are located in the historic Ford building in Downtown Fargo. Design & Living sat down to speak with them about the vision behind their internationally inspired design studio.
What inspired you to create Ruki Modern?
Brent Behm: My wife has a Russian background. The word ruki actually means hands. It’s not just modern. We have a high regard for hand-crafted elements in design. Whenever it is possible, those hand-crafted elements are evident. This comes from my own background. I started as a cabinet maker. I’ve been a woodworker, on and off, my entire adult life. It comes out of this idea that not everything in the house is from a store. We use local craftsmen, we engage these people to participate in, whether that be furniture pieces, building the skins and structures. There is that evidence of handcraft.
We don’t typically do the same detailing that you’d see in other houses. We don’t use foam keystones and things like that. Everything is hopefully very genuine and, as much as possible, handcrafted. We try to find little moments in each project where they can be used and really appreciated. That’s where the name Ruki comes from and the ethics behind the company.
What kind of projects are you currently working on?
Brent: Primarily, what we do now is residential design. We do dabble a little bit in some commercial work but that kind of project takes more team members than we have. We kind of dialed back, but if someone engages us, we do partner with other firms in order to achieve that. That’s what we do and why we do it.
I’ve been working in architecture firms and the like for about 17 years. I started that when I was in Phoenix, Ariz., at Arizona State University and then moved to Texas to wrap up graduate school at Rice University in Houston and then decided to come home. I’m originally from Minot, N.D. My daughter lives here (in Fargo) so this is where I am. I was working for some cabinet companies here. I did residential design for other people, but then I just decided there is no reason that I couldn’t be doing this on my own.
What do you want to be known for?
Brent: Innovation. Houses haven’t really substantially changed in the way they’re built in the last 100 years. I mean, there are elements. The windows have gotten better and the air conditioning systems have gotten better. But really the skeletons—the bones of the houses—haven’t really changed in a hundred years and we don’t know why that hasn’t been looked at. We want to look at it and see if there are better ways of doing it.
What inspires you?
Brent: We draw inspiration not just from Minneapolis and not even the States. We look all over the place for inspiration. We keep an eye on what the Scandinavian countries are doing. You know, certain Asian countries have things we can learn from. We don’t want to just rely on what we already know. Part of this is being a research oriented company. Innovation is really important to us.
If you look at what’s going on in South Fargo, it could very well be happening in Denver or Omaha, probably not Arizona, but it doesn’t have a very starkly regional character. When we are looking at places like Scandinavia, I wouldn’t necessarily look to Scandinavian architecture if I were practicing in Arizona. But here it kind of makes sense. We share similar climates, similar issues with the limitations on sunlight, these long winter days and things like that. Culturally, even though we are 150 years out of Scandinavia, we have roots there and common threads. I look to Asia more for uses of material and traditional uses. Scandinavia is more about this idea that you can do modern and be regionally specific and be extremely innovative, too. That’s kind of why I look there. We do have ties.
What are your favorite projects?
Brent: The treehouse is a project that was kind of in an infill lot. Fargo has a lot of available space where buildings have been abandoned or torn down or they were never built on. The treehouse lot is on one of those lots that was never built on. It’s in one of those light industrial neighborhoods where light industrial is up next to residential—older residential houses that are about 100 years old. Our client, Chris Hemmah, just wanted something for himself, very small but extremely well built. He’s really design savvy and was great to work with because he had strong ideas.
Cormorant Lake Cabin Retreat (top right) | Dakota Kids Dentistry (bottom right) | Todd Residence, Minot, ND (left)
Marina Behm: And one of his inspirations was aviation and he liked seeing the planes coming in. He wanted a user- friendly balcony to enjoy his surroundings.
Brent: He has a great mind for this stuff. He was originally considering that this house might be the first phase on developing his lot. The lot has an alley. He built the alley side first and now he’s got a gigantic front yard instead of a gigantic backyard. He plans on putting a building there someday, but now he’s just enjoying his 800-square-feet loft. I wish every project could be built to that level.
What a lot of people tend to forget about in the cost of their construction and their projects is that there is also landscaping and other elements of earth work that have to go into it. We really strive to provide a complete design service. We aren’t landscape architects or anything like that, but we want people to consider this, at least, as part of their budget. That you want trees, you want plantings, you want hardscape elements like the additional concrete that has to go in. In addition to providing this, it’s kind of a real estate term, you know, this curb appeal. That the house only looks good from one side of the street. We really pursue this idea of 360-degree design, so really every face of the house gets consideration.
What is your dream project?
Brent: The dream for me is a really good live-work space. I do like working at home and I spend over half my time working from home. I come here a lot to meet with clients and things like that. I’d like to perform that function at my house. My dream would be to have a really amazing studio that served all of our needs: Marina’s yoga studio, the furniture shop and the architecture studio. The furniture and the architecture sort of inform each other and I want those located in the same place and I’d love it, if that place was my home.
Marina: The ultimate goal is that we want to merge our services and offer wellness and design in one space. So it’s like, thoughtful design and thoughtful lifestyle. And then the clientele, whether they are one of the same, or when they walk into our studio space they see it on us because we are hopefully living that philosophy. I’d teach (yoga) classes and he wants to have design talks or a Design Cafe, which we’re actually working on anyway, with a museum in town. So that’s the big dream.
Brent: It’s a reality of the way things are going nationwide right now. So many people telecommute. Let’s do it right, rather than just having the spare bedroom as the office. Have a place where we can meet people. Not just for us, but for any client that wants it. Let’s have a place where we can actually do it. We try
to live this as much as possible. The live-work thing is just a reality we really want to tackle. And we think It’s necessary here.
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For more information about Ruki Modern, contact:
For more information about Marina’s studio, Marina Wellness & Massage, contact: