In Milwaukee, TRETOW LLC is adding its own signature to design and fabrication in the area with its contemporary aesthetic and flexibly pragmatic design solutions.
Apart from an early appreciation for art and design, Ryan Tretow, designer and owner, credits a value for craft and a family familiarity of trade work for his path into both design and fabrication. His practice, which became a full-time endeavor in 2016, brings both services in-house to closely refine projects from start to finish, as well as offer a diverse range of turn-key design solutions to the Milwaukee market.
“I was always drawn to taking a project all the way from an idea to physically constructing that with your own hands,” Tretow said. “I enjoyed the control in that process and the way you could take a client’s idea and work with them really directly and eliminate confusion in communication and things that can happen. It’s really what brought me into having a more mixed career in design and fabrication.”
TRETOW specializes in hospitality, retail, office, and residential design, as well as specialty architecture items such as custom fabrication of furniture, retail fixtures, reception desks, and cabinetry. At its core, there is an attentiveness to client-responsive design and material honesty alongside the question of how to succinctly and effectively solve specific design issues, whether they make day-to-day life easier or satisfy a need for a pencil holder at a certain price. Each project, while broad and diverse in nature, begins with an inspiration found simply: in conversation with the client.
“My greater ethos is definitely being interested in place-based work, so having spaces that respond to the client or the place or the community or the Midwest specifically,” Tretow said. “Material quality or honesty is also very important as a design ethos and obviously I’m always pushing for a progressive understanding of how spaces can be used or benefit people in contemporary ways.”
Within the TRETOW portfolio, a recent storefront renovation of Commonplace, a Wisconsin-based retailer and curator of functional design objects and accessories for the home, office, and on-the-go, remains an influential example of the studio’s work. Solutions for creating an ideal retail environment, which brought underutilized spaces into relevance, involved custom fabrication of furniture, fixtures, woodwork, metalwork, and installation—mainly of a more than 40-foot-long piece of expressive custom white oak casework that weaves throughout the space to encourage browsing.
For Tretow, leveraging readily available materials like wood in such creative ways is a benefit of the creative agency that retail settings allow, though the material has also largely informed his residential design solutions.
“Wood has been a powerful attribute to our projects. It takes a contemporary aesthetic and adds a level of warmth that an entirely white space can’t always do or isn’t always effective in a residential surrounding,” Tretow said. “We really appreciate that balance with cleaner lines.”
The transitional qualities of wood played a large roll in carving the character out of a late 1970s spec home in the Village of Slinger in Wisconsin, where a couple moving away from the city were in search of new landscape and a home balancing their aesthetic desires while providing a daily retreat. The project, completed in the fall of 2018, involved an overhaul of the entire house, which was never originally completed or even fitted with an HVAC system.
Interior and exterior design, and specialty fabrication work, yielded items like cabinetry, casework, doors, vanities, and a custom wardrobe to fit the home with comforts for the owners; while a cohesive great room and enlarged kitchen area were meant to emphasize the spaces used the most.
The limited material palette allowed a transitional aesthetic for the homeowners—one of whom had an affinity for the more traditional while the other was quite fond of the contemporary. In the kitchen, the combination of shaker style cabinetry and customized panels with refined dimensions create a crisp edge to the more traditional element.
In terms of the design process for both projects, TRETOW’s consideration for client-responsive design and material quality sparked unique solutions that filled particular needs from start to finish. The firm’s design services also comprise space planning and environmental branding, as well as spatial, interior, furniture, and product design and development. Its fabrication abilities range from custom furniture and cabinetry to windows, woodwork, installations and pop-ups, and more.
Looking ahead, Tretow hopes to expand beyond the Milwaukee-metropolitan region and already has project plans in the making in Chicago, Kansas, and Manhattan. Tretow finds no task too atypical when it comes to capturing his interest regardless of service or location.
“We look for, and enjoy working on, unique projects across the board: small projects, retail, certainly residential of course, products even, and custom furniture,” Tretow said. “If a client has a unique story to tell or they think they have a specific challenge, I think that’s always exciting to work on and be a part of.”
Text: R. Collins | GLBD writer
Photography: Zach Peterson