Hansen draws from global background but embraces small town life
Port Washington architect Jorgen Hansen is unabashedly old school, frequently turning to period reference works when designing upscale homes.
Hansen estimates he has 100 monographs — portfolio books that show architectural elements in minute detail — featuring a wide range of turn-of-the-century building styles.
“The client tells me they want their home built in a certain style, whether it is Tudor Revival, French Country Revival or Greek Revival, and I go to the source. These books give me the toolbox and the language I have to work with,” he said.
Hansen said he prefers working with architectural styles that have withstood the test of time, knowing that he can draw from them to develop an ageless plan.
“In most cases my clients are people who can afford to hire a residential architect, knowing they want a home that looks like it has been there for one hundred years but meets all of their desires,” he said.
Hansen said he has designed about 30 such homes in the metropolitan Milwaukee market, and an equal number of major residential additions and remodels.
“The preference for homes in the Midwest is traditional styles rather than modern designs with a lot of glass and metal, and that’s fine by me. I would say that is where my interest is as well,” he said.
“But beyond my own preferences, my job is to convert the clients’ dreams into a satisfying design. I am being asked to design a home that will become the focus of their family life. They want their home to last and be an expression of their taste and values.”
Hansen’s Port City Studio has been in business since 1999.
How he came to call Port Washington his home is a story in itself.
Hansen grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark, and trained to become a journeyman carpenter after high school.
He then served a pair of two-year stints with the Danish Volunteer Service, the equivalent of America’s Peace Corps, in Africa. Hansen first served in Botswana, then in Kenya.
It was in Botswana he met his future wife, Cheryl Taylor, who was volunteering as a teacher with the Peace Corps.
Between tours in Africa, he earned a degree in technical education at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
While serving as a teaching assistant at UW-Stout, the faculty members he worked with saw his gift for design and interest in buildings and urged him to consider getting a master’s degree in architecture at UW-Milwaukee.
“They convinced me that architecture was something I should pursue,” Hansen said.
After graduation, he worked for two Milwaukee architectural firms for eight years before starting his own firm.
“My wife and I have lived in Port for 22 years, and it felt like the right place to have my own business,” Hansen said.
“It has worked out very well. I am able to walk to work and to the post office. My bank is just over there and my insurance agent is over there,” he said, sounding very much like someone who has embraced small town living.
Hansen said 90% of his projects are single-family homes, about half of those projects designed from scratch.
“When most people today want to build a home, they work with a builder who offers maybe five models that are tweaked to the client’s preference,” he said.
“I would guess only about 5% work with a design architect. When you work with an architect, you can build a home that is unique to the client’s wishes. It doesn’t have to be a $1 million home, but it appeals to clients who are willing to spend enough for a nice home and really care about details.”
Hansen said his background as a carpenter has proven valuable when working with contractors at construction sites.
“I know what they are going through and what they need to get the job done,” he said.
Thanks to his affinity for Port, Hansen said, he has developed a heightened awareness of the community has made him a good fit for developer Gertjan van den Broek’s Harbour Lights condominium project.
The building is planned for the east side of Franklin Street, and encompasses the current Harry’s restaurant.
“With a value of about $6 million, it is too big for me to do all of the plans, but I am working with Gertjan as the design architect,” he said.
“I know every building on Franklin Street, and we both want to make sure the building is done right. This is our community and we want something that is going to fit in for decades and become part of the streetscape.”
Getting building plans right “is a big responsibility” for a design architect, Hansen said, noting that seeing a completed project is very fulfilling.
“There isn’t a job I would rather be doing,” Hansen said.
Image information: ARCHITECT JORGEN HANSEN of Port City Studio likes to draw from classic designs when preparing plans for upscale homes.
Photo by Mark Jaeger