Sketchworks Architecture LLC

ETC lobby
Photograph by Sketchworks Architecture LLC

Contrast, emphasis, balance, scale, harmony—a sampling of the design principles architects use to create structures with a sense of place. It’s how some pieces stand out without taking over their surroundings. How things make sense to us in their environment. Sketchworks Architecture LLC has a firm grasp on incorporating all these aspects with a little something extra: a sense of community.

Brad Koning, partner at Sketchworks along with Steve Shulfer, says, “Steve and I both came from larger firms and did a lot of traveling for national projects, so the focus when we started was building a small- to medium-sized firm that focused on local projects, local relationships, and aspects that are important to us and really help our clients achieve their goals.” The relationships Brad develops with his clients often become personal friendships due to the collaborative process Sketchworks takes with their clients, customizing each project to their needs and specifications.

In a larger firm, it’s sometimes the case that newbies are expected to take everything in and only give their input on the rare occasion it’s asked for. Not so at Sketchworks. The firm provides great opportunities for their staff, including recent graduates, to participate in the design process and develop their careers.

“If you’re a newer professional, you get a shot at designing with the guidance and supervision of our senior staff,” says Brad. “It’s not a hierarchy here in that sense. We spread that out pretty well. I think that’s why some other firms have a very specific design style—they have one principal that designs their buildings. In contrast, we want everybody to have an opportunity to experience all aspects of architecture, including design.”

Because of their skill in designing and developing projects ranging from breweries to multi-unit apartment buildings, each Sketchworks endeavor is uniquely designed and offers a fresh look at a new or existing space. Sometimes this is achieved through interior design decisions, like veneer coordinated with bar top and seating, but there are occasions when opportunity presents a more creative course.

“Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) in Middleton contracted us to help design a new addition last year that won project of the decade [from In Business magazine],” says Brad. The addition uses large, brightly colored shipping containers stacked like LEGOs. “ETC wanted to have these individual offices—they had been playing around with this concept for a while. Through collaboration with the client’s vision of stacked departments and ‘neighborhoods,’ we decided to use the containers on the interior of basically a glass box, and then use the negative void of the containers and the spaces around it as collaboration spaces. These intricately placed containers are stacked on top of each other and shifted off-center to then create other spaces for staff to gather and interact in an innovative environment.”

Though any type of commercial, hospitality, office, and industrial building is firmly in Sketchworks wheelhouse, one of their specialties is in designing breweries and distilleries. “We’ve done four distilleries around the area—the first one being Death’s Door Distillery in Middleton, which has since been bought out by Dancing Goat,” explains Brad. The team also built Dancing Goat’s main distillery in Cambridge and are currently working on a 19,000-square-foot addition to the distillery that will house their production facility.

Other notable Sketchworks brewery and distillery clients include Rockhound Brewing Co., an addition at Capital Brewery, Union Corners Brewery, and State Line Distillery—one of my favorites. “Historically, [State Line Distillery] was originally an old nickel-plating factory, and John Mleziva [founder of State Line Distillery] had a vision that he wanted to turn it into a distillery. … That whole project was about this rebirth and reclamation.”

As he’d done with State Line, Brad particularly enjoys projects in which he can incorporate reclaimed materials to inject personality, such as reclaimed lumber and brick. “There’s this beautiful aspect of storytelling that brick achieves in the contemporary. It’s not unusual for old industrial buildings and schoolhouses to use brick. If you’re trying to make an environment adjust to the scale of a human being, brick is a typical or common material that brings a sense of warmth and nostalgia, but also style.”

With such a variety of projects in the Greater Madison area, there’s no telling what’s on the horizon for Sketchworks, but the one thing that never changes is that it all comes back to community. And not just Madison or Middleton, “but Verona, Fitchburg, Oregon—the places we live too. Our firm volunteers in the community anytime we can,” says Brad. The firm pays employees to take time out of the office to volunteer, such as the time they volunteered with Little John’s to make meals for Reach Dane. “We firmly believe that we are here for more than just architecture.”

Small businesses have done big things in the Greater Madison area, and Sketchworks certainly carries on that tradition through attractive and creative designs alongside efforts to support those close by and their extended neighbors. There’s an intimacy to the contributions they make. “We have to invest in our communities,” says Brad.

It’s encouraging to have that mindset shaping our immediate world. Sketchworks isn’t molding Madison to their vision; they’re amplifying what’s already here, paving the way for others to do the same.

To see past projects and to learn more about Sketchworks Architecture LLC, go to .

Kyle Jacobson is a senior copy editor and lead staff writer for Home Elements & Concepts.

Photographs provided by Sketchworks Architecture LLC.

Sketchworks Architecture LLC
7780 Elmwood Avenue, Suite #208
Middleton, WI 53562