MANKATO — At Mankato’s Design Element, a quote painted in the lighting area of the store reads, “light is design, design is light.”
It’s a mantra to the important role lighting plays in curating mood and design — from a specific room all the way up to an entire home.
“It’s sculptural, it’s artistic, it’s statement making,” said Design Element owner Margot Weyhe. “Sometimes the only opportunity you have to make a statement in a room is with a light fixture. I feel it’s a very important aspect in design.”
Along with lighting, the company operates as a full-service design studio with a large showroom containing lamps, furnishings, window treatments, flooring, wallpaper and pretty much anything else a new homeowner would need when designing an interior.
Weyhe, who has 30 years’ experience in the design industry, founded the Design Element in 2009. Originally located on Madison Avenue in Mankato, Weyhe and her husband, a co-owner of R. Henry Construction, teamed up with other businesses and built the Mankato Design Center on 1711 Premier Drive. It’s a one-stop shop for all of the supplies and services one would need for a new home.
Along with those two businesses, the Design Center also houses the Cabinet Lab, a business Weyhe also partially owns, and Artisans, a business that provides exterior and interior home improvement supplies, design and installation services. Having cabinetry, lighting, construction and interior and exterior design all under one roof turned out to be a win-win situation for both the businesses and customers.
“We always felt when we were working with clients that it would be nice to have a space with everything under one roof,” Weyhe said. “That was our concept. I think it’s a better experience for the customer.”
Since she opened the business, Weyhe said the Design Element has experienced steady and significant growth, which she attributes to their unique products and services.
“We can sell you the product, but it’s complimentary to have the design portion included,” Weyhe said.
“That’s not something you’re going to find elsewhere. We have a showroom that I think is the best in southern Minnesota. We sell a lot of furnishings and I go to market every year and look for companies and products that are unique so we can stand out.”
The Design Element’s staff, which began with Weyhe and two designers, has grown to five full-time designers and two lighting specialists, licensed through the American Lighting Association.
The technical side to the job is what led Ian Laird to study and take the test to become a certified lighting specialist, a position he’s had at the Design Element for nearly nine years.
“What we do in the store is assist with creating lighting plans, figuring out what light works best,” Laird said. “We explain to the customer and to the designers how the new lighting fixtures and lighting technology works.”
Over the past decade, trends have changed not just in lighting — where LED lighting has replaced incandescent and halogen light bulbs — but also with other elements of interior design. When Weyhe first opened the Design Element, homeowners gravitated to darker toned stained wood and oil-rubbed bronze. That style evolved into a vintage industrial style and later a modern farmhouse design, which lately has put more emphasis on the “modern” part of the farmhouse.
“It’s still using some farmhouse elements, but a lot of light-stained wood or natural white oak is popular right now, with painted woodwork, light colors, natural stone, but not so heavy on the architectural detail,” Weyhe said.
She said interior designing is a creative process but also includes elements of science and math.
“One thing people don’t realize about design is there is a lot of math. There’s a lot of engineering and drawing and drafting and paperwork,” she said. “But what I enjoy most is physically looking through the samples and coming up with concepts. I like to stage spaces or styles, but we all kind of have things we like best. It’s the creative process.”
Even though the company continues to evolve, from adding greater focus to furnishings and bringing in more products to the showroom to future projects with other companies, like R. Henry Construction, Weyhe said they’ll continue to do what they are known for. “The focus continues to be design and to just be very service-oriented.”