The building that housed Chester Hoffmann & Associates burned down in 1993. A quarter-century later, the women behind the business are still going strong.
Jean Hoffmann sat on the steps of Clancy’s on 50th and France watching her interior design business across the street burn. A fire engulfed the building on a Sunday morning in March of 1993. But instead of crumbling with it, she was determined to not let anything stop her.
“You don’t remember a lot as a kid, but that’s one memory I have,” Jean’s daughter, Kate, says. “I was 6 years old. My mom was watching the building burn down, sitting there writing everything she could possibly remember was in the building. At the time, you didn’t have an electronic file and everything was kept on site. She’s got a pen in hand and she’s just trying to remember everything about clients, projects, anything she could think of, she’s just noting it. I’ll never forget that.”
“It was probably one of the darkest times of my life,” Jean Hoffmann says. “My mom was sick and was in a health care facility. Kate was very sick with a life-threatening illness and I had this business. And my dog was dying. I was trying to manage all these things. Between my dad and I, we were taking care of my mom, my daughter.”
It was Hoffmann’s dad and husband who helped her through the dark times. Her father was Edina legend Arnold Chester who was the golf and general manager of the Edina Country Club from the 1930s to the late 1960s. He is the one who told her to view it like a phoenix reemerging from a fire.
“It was a fresh start,” Jean says. “We designed a beautiful new space when that happened. It was a real lesson and my dad was living at the time and he said, ‘You take the bitter with the sweet and you move on.’”
So she did so by building a new Chester Hoffmann & Associates office above the D’Amico & Sons on 50th and France and stayed there for a decade before moving to the International Market Square in Minneapolis.
“To this day, the files still smell,” Kate says.
“We have to go into [the files] if a client calls us,” she says. “A lot of our business is repeat business. We have clients from 35 years ago, 40 years ago. Chester Hoffmann has been in business since 1989. But I have been in business in the design business since 1974. It’s so much easier if you can reference to their file and look back on something.”
Looking Back on Those Who Got Us Here
Hoffmann says she inherited her practicality and firm resolve from her father.
“My dad taught me, ‘What good does it do to get so excited? You’re not going to think rationally. You’re not going to do things right. You have to calmly approach things and figure the best route out,’” she explains.
Chester owned the land the current Edina Country Club rests on. He sold it to them for the price he bought for in the 1940s so they could construct the modern day clubhouse and parking lot.
“He was definitely my mentor because he was self made and just believed anything you did you could accomplish with hard work,” she says. “He knew how to treat people. He treated everyone equally. It didn’t matter who you were whether it was the man who shined your shoes at the club or one of the members. He treated everyone the same. My philosophy in business is to offer customer service to the max.”
It’s for this reason Kate says her mother has never turned down a project.
“We’ve never seen a project and said, ‘Nope, I can’t do that.’ Or, nope, ‘I won’t work with that person,’” Kate says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a $2 million project or $2,000. We try to treat everyone the same. It’s an intimate business. Being invited to somebody’s home is a big deal to begin with. We take that very seriously.”
And they take the time to do it right.
“We always try to discuss their projects with them, get the feelings for what they like, their budget. It’s a very intense process. From the onset to the end of the project, most of our clients become our very close friends,” Jean says, adding her forté is designing projects that are timeless.
Jean starts a project by asking, “What are you looking for? Do you want totally practical? Do you want a showstopper reflecting the way you are? Do you want it for entertaining? We try to approach it by determining what their end goal is for the project.”
She takes pride in her work and wants the design to reflect the client.
“When I walk out at the end of a project, I don’t want it to say, ‘This looks like me.’ I want this project to look like you, express who you are and what you enjoy doing. It’s not my home. I want the decisions to be your decisions,” Jean says. “I try to guide people and say this would be better than this. To hire a designer to come in and when you are done it looks like them, it doesn’t make any sense. To me, that’s not what a home should be. Maybe that’s what a dress should be. But even when you dress, you dress with things that complement you. And that’s how we try to design. To complement the client, their lifestyle, their needs.”
After celebrating the 30th anniversary of her business last March, she has no plans to retire.
“I love creating things and making them look beautiful. I love working with people,” she says. “People who know me go, ‘You’re never going to retire.’ I can’t sit still. My mind is constantly moving. I love challenges. I love it when a client calls me and says, ‘We need you to come and figure this out.’ That’s what I’ve built my business on: trying to work with clients seamlessly on projects so that we attain a very outstanding finished design.”
It’s that satisfaction with her work that makes her glad she didn’t give it up after the fire. While designing her new office, Jean worked from home, spreading her files across her dining room table.
“I’ll never forget a night shortly after the fire, my husband came downstairs and I was ironing and I’m crying and he goes, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said, ‘I just want to hang it up. I just want to forget this. It’s just so overwhelming right now,’” she says. “My other daughter who was 8 or 9 years old at the time said, ‘Mom, you cannot quit. You are so talented.’ And I think that’s what gave me the idea to say, ‘Okay.’ I put my big girl pants on and moved on.”
Fresh Starts in 2020
Step 1: Declutter.
“Less is more,” Hoffmann says. “Understated pieces that have some impact that work together. Accessories, pillows. Repainting sometimes.”
Step 2: Continuity between rooms
“If it’s a smaller home, try to keep things open and airy … Don’t try to make each room different,” Hoffmann says. “You want flow and to have everything work together. We don’t want to have a navy living room and then pink in the next room. If you’re going to use a color in one room, have it flow to the other room with a neutral.”
Step 3: Accessorize
“Pillows and accessories can really change a room,” Hoffmann says. She says neutral backgrounds can help and to have larger pieces of the room be in a neutral color. “In five years if you tire of it, you’re not locked into so many colors,” she explains.
Step 4: Not everything is a focal point
“Select a couple of your favorite things and have some background pieces that enhance it but don’t take over,” she says.
Chester Hoffmann & Associates
275 Market Street Suite. 572 Minneapolis