Photography by Paul Flessland, Aerial photography courtesy of Skaff Apartments, Groundbreaking photos by Brett Quernemoen
If you’ve rented an apartment in the FM area in the past 20 years, chances are you may have resided in a Skaff Apartment. These days, the Skaff family is paving the way fora new, more refined rental and taking a less traditional approach with their beautiful Stone West Village complex. Meet the passionate family behind the concept and see how combining their unique talents resulted in redefining the community experience.
Opening their doors this past November, the entire Skaff family worked together to create a community experience through unique amenities and upscale design one might only find in a luxury home. Sitting down with their family, we were introduced to Sam and Laneil Skaff, the owners of Skaff Apartments, along with three of their four children: Jenna Stowers, Julie Stoe and Nate Skaff.
Each has grown into their own role and enhanced the family business, even taking trips around the nation to scout out new living arrangements and styles that could be incorporated into our Midwest terrain.
Digging up Dirt
Twenty-three years ago, Sam Skaff purchased 22 acres of land that would this year become the site for Stone West Village. The property begins with single family homes, then transitions to twin homes, apartments and two-story apartments. Once owning apartments solely in Moorhead, Sam Skaff wanted to expand into Fargo. His father had originally started the company in 1957 and built his first four-plex in 1962.
Sam J. Skaff and his dad, the late Sam F. Skaff
I talked to my dad because he’s pretty wise,” said Sam Skaff. “I said, ‘Dad, would you come over here and take a look at this land I’m ready to buy?’ So, he came over here, stood on the land and I said, ‘Would you pray with me over this?’ We prayed, and at the end, I said looking at the land with no roads or anything, ‘Who would be stupid enough to buy this?’ My dad looked at me and said, ‘Son, get your checkbook out as fast as you can.’ I said, ‘Dad, I don’t have any money.’ He said, ‘Well, what are banks for? Now go.’ So, I left, I worked hard on it, and bought it. Two weeks later I got a phone call and someone offered me double. Of course, I didn’t sell it, but I called up dad and said thanks.”
Back in the day, Sam Skaff would take his family on field trips through bumpy dirt roads, telling tall tales of what might be there someday. “It’s been a family dream and it’s years later, and that’s why it’s working so well,” said Sam Skaff. “It really is a good area. It’s close to West Acres, it’s close to a lot of workplaces, the interstate and medical. Laneil and I were hoping we could pass this on to the family, so it’s been a long time with the company. I’m thrilled that my kids enjoy it because it’s tough work.”
The Skaffs are proof that when an entire family shares a passion, anything is possible. “We had this vision for a luxury complex in this area,” said Nate Skaff. “Seventeenth Avenue was just so busy, and we’ve seen this concept everywhere else like Phoenix and Minneapolis and we began talking about bringing it to Fargo, the commercial and apartments in mixed-use. We wanted to really create that community atmosphere.”
“It’s unlike anything in Fargo,” said Julie Stoe. “No one has amenities like we have here. A lot of people don’t even know we exist back here. Anytime we see the residents, they tell us how happy they are with the spaces and how much they love the amenities. We have a lot of one and two-bedroom units that don’t have that second living room area like the two-story units. With these other spaces, they can have that second living room too.” In addition, heat and water are paid and residents here are offered community spaces with free internet and heated underground parking with additional storage areas above their stalls.
Below the residential units, residents have a variety of services at their fingertips. “You can come down and get your hair done, alterations, go shopping, get a massage, chiropractic care and have lunch or coffee,” said Julie Stoe.
“I think we have always tried to be on the cutting edge of what’s happening here. We have pushed our dad out of his box a bit,” said Julie Stoe. “I believe we were one of the firsts that had that commercial space on the bottom, besides downtown.”
Focusing on the People
When the Skaff family zeroed in on what type of resident would want to live here, two groups came to mind. “We focused on the people that may be moving out of their house, maybe 50 and older, that had a nice house,” said Laneil Skaff. “At the same time, we’re multi-generational, so these are also for the young professional who wants a nice place, who loves amenities and community. The young professionals nowadays are very much wanting community, just like the older generation. We feel like both ends of the spectrum are looking for a place to land, a place to interact with others and a place to have their family when there’s not enough room in their apartment.” For the older generation, the Skaff family knew that moving into an apartment was probably a downsize, which made providing those extra amenities and transitional spaces even more important.
“If they left their fire pit and their big lawns, closets, offices and spare rooms, they’ll still have those things here,” explained Jenna Stowers. “We have the courtyard to enjoy and guest rooms they can rent—even conference rooms and units with dedicated dining rooms they can use, so leaving those things behind is not so difficult when they’re moving into a place like this.” The Skaff family knows a thing or two about what tenants like. At one point or another, all of the kids have lived in Skaff properties and so has their grandma.
All in the Family
When their children were younger, Sam and Laneil Skaff had no intention of having them work in the family business, and now their son Nate Skaff is the vice president of the company. Recently, their youngest daughter, Julie Stoe, has taken over marketing and human resources while their middle daughter, Jenna Stowers, is starting to take over the design.
“We couldn’t be prouder,” said Laneil Skaff. “They each are gifted in such different areas and yet all have such drive and passion. My oldest daughter is a music teacher in the cities and she is changing kids’ lives teaching music. To watch them figure out the terrain has really been exciting.”
“We really enjoy it,” said Julie Stoe. “It’s a big legacy that he’s passed down to us. Everyone says that working with family can be challenging, but it’s also so much fun. I really love that we have a large passion for what my dad has built. That’s why I have learned to love working here, because of what he’s done, and we get to grow with that. Being the youngest, I also like to push the envelope and see if we can modernize the way we do things.”
“I have two things that I’ve been fortunate to have drilled into me. I have the same vision that my dad taught me – that God’s first, family second, work is third. The second thing is that they [my kids] don’t have to be here, but they want to be here. I’m pretty excited about that and I’m not planning to retire anytime soon.”
– Sam Skaff
Inside, Skaff offers residents 13 different nooks where they can spend time outside of their unit. There are three main entrances with beautifully designed spaces where residents can come and wait for their ride, study or hang out. There’s also a large conference room at the south entrance that residents can reserve for meetings or gatherings.
“All of the design and decor is rooted from my mom,” said Nate Skaff. “Every color on the building is her her. We didn’t have a designer. As Jenna’s been able to come in, that’s been huge to have her to help take over a lot of that. My assistant Lydia, along with Julie, has also helped her put a lot of these spaces together.”
The Skaffs love to support the businesses located just below their units. To show off Eco Chic Boutique’s farmhouse style, many of their community spaces and furnished units feature Magnolia Home furniture and the boutique’s unique decor. Other design features include custom reclaimed wood tables by Finnu and industrial lighting from Etsy artisans.
“We wanted to cater to these people and give them something that they’ll really enjoy. To do that right away, we would have had to go very cheap. So instead, we took our time to do it right,” said Sam Skaff.
“It’s been fun to see the business in our building expand,” said Jenna Stowers. “Eco Chic Boutique has expanded and taken more space, so it’s been fun to see them thrive here.”
In the community room, residents will not find any stiff, commercial furniture that is typically used in apartments and hotels. Here, residents can enjoy the views of the courtyard, reserve the space to host dinner parties in the full kitchen, have friends for coffee or hang out in the reading nook. The Skaffs created this space to be on trend, warm and comfortable. “We wanted this community room to be very urban,” said Laneil Skaff. “I feel like it really lends itself toward a homey, comfortable feel so people can come in here and relax and enjoy. We tried to make it industrial, urban and comfortable all rolled into one.”
In the reading nook, Laneil Skaff created the design details using a technique she found online to handmake the book wall art, carefully bending back edges to create art using triangles and squares, then gluing maps and patterns on the inside covers.
“Our residents have taken it upon themselves to create events,” said Jenna Stowers. “One resident was gracious enough to actually make a homemade meatball meal for the Stone West community. Some of the ladies have coffee every other Thursday. It’s not by Skaff Apartments, they’ve just created their own little community and events. We’ve had birthday parties in here, work parties, wedding receptions, Christmas parties and even Thanksgiving.”
Recently, the Skaffs hosted their own event inviting all residents to a grill-out in the courtyard. These events help residents to meet one another and they’re able to show them how the grills and firepits work. “It’s really just the community experience we wanted to offer our residents. They can choose to be as involved or uninvolved as they want, but it seems like most people, no matter what age, are longing for that community feel,” said Julie Stoe.
A reclaimed wood wall and custom, reclaimed wood tables create warmth and character. “We didn’t match all of the chairs and there are various seating areas—we wanted it to feel like home,” said Jenna Stowers. To get the rustic, modern look, the Skaffs did their homework and spent ample time researching design trends to emulate throughout their community spaces. “All of the wood used for the tables is reclaimed from churches in Minnesota and custom made by Josh Humble of Finnu,” said Nate Skaff.
In the courtyard, the Skaff family catered to all of their residents with not one, but three fire pits with planters. A long community table is made to fit ten people and all of the tables are movable to accommodate any occasion. Two built-in, outdoor kitchens provide space for grilling and prepping food.
A walking path allows residents to explore the grounds, including the creek, waterfall and screened-in porch. “We really thought of the residents and where many of them were coming from—nice houses, second homes down south—and wanted to give them the same amenities they had in their home,” explained Nate Skaff.
The screened-in porch has a transparent garage door that opens to an outdoor kitchen and fire pit, with the option for a drop down screen to protect guests from mosquitos.
With a game room like this, residents here are never bored. The game room can be used during the specified hours or reserved for private gatherings. The expansive entertainment room includes a dining area with kitchen and wet bar, a large flatscreen TV, pool table, ping-pong, shuffleboard, arcade and an indoor bocce ball court.
Another outdoor space for residents to enjoy is the rooftop terrace. This space offers an outdoor kitchen, dining area, couch, fireplace and outdoor TV.
Yoga & Fitness Studio
Across from the game room, residents are welcome to use the yoga and fitness studio and even reserve it for private events. “A lot of residents will bring their own DVDs or plug in their phone to do their own workout,” explained Julie Stoe. “We are also planning on having a yoga instructor come to the studio starting in June.”
The theater room is the only space where residents are asked to have a reservation to use. With twenty stat-of-the-art theater chairs and six modes of theater lighting, this room is a popular amenity for Superbowl and birthday parties.
For visiting family or friends, Stone West Village residents can rent one of the gorgeous guest suites with full kitchens. “Many of our residents have moved out of a nice home and at times they still want that guest room for visitors,” said Stoe. “My mom did pretty much every design detail in here, I just helped her. She has a really great, traditional style and I always pair very modern. So, we really join each other’s style in discussing what to do with some of these spaces. The residents have used these a lot and seem to love them.”
As one of their more contemporary units, this two-bed, two-bath features dark cabinets with rustic alder accents. The kitchen offers stainless steel appliances, soft-close cabinets and a pantry. Residents here love the spacious laundry room and master suite that can easily fit a king-sized bed.
Stone West Village also offers various fully furnished units, complete with dishware and pans for those traveling on business who are in need of a short-term home.
Unlike anything we’ve seen before, the Skaffs showed us their unique two-story units. They currently offer four different styles of two-story apartments. This unit is a three-bedroom with custom, rustic maple cabinets by Mill Creek Custom Cabinetry. The farmhouse chic kitchen features an open concept with island, French door fridge and freezer along with a convection oven. “All of the two-stories and three-bedroom units have this upgrade where they have gas fireplaces and tile backsplash with under cabinet lighting,” said Nate Skaff. On the main level, this unit offers a drop zone, half bath, laundry room and master suite with a massive walk-in closet and soaking tub.
For more information, contact:
Skaff Apartments –
Stone West Village
4955 17th Ave. S, Fargo