Local Couple Combines Creativity & Logic in Life and Business

They call themselves “adventurists.” Kate and Tony Becker grab every chance they can to lace up their hiking boots, toss their gear in the Jeep and explore their way across the country. In fact, that sense of adventure permeates pretty much everything they do.

“We never really like to be complacent,” Tony says. “We’re always pushing the boundaries. If you’re too comfortable, you’re not growing.”

But for the Beckers, it’s a quiet ambition. They pursue their goals with a calm compatibility—Kate: the dreamer and Tony: the doer—that has been rewarded with one success after another. From business ventures to building their own farmhouse, their dreams are coming true.

Capturing the Moment

Kate knew before she ever finished high school that she was meant to wield a camera, and with the ink on her diploma barely dry, she launched Kate Becker Photography. Somehow she also managed to earn an Associate’s Degree in marketing management from South Central College in North Mankato, and today operates a thriving business specializing in weddings, portraits and some commercial work. Known for the glowing, light-infused images she creates, Kate is sought after both for weddings close to home, as well as destination weddings around the globe.

“I’ve never had to pay for advertising,” Kate says, pointing to social media and word of mouth as major factors in her growth. “I really believe in serving my clients and giving them a good experience.”

To that end, Kate favors a relaxed approach to shooting a wedding celebration, documenting the candid, the authentic, the real—what she calls “inside the moment.”  She says, “I like to make my subjects comfortable, focus on the joy of the occasion and capture the emotion behind it.”

Birthing “Northerly”

But on closer examination, two additional secrets to the couple’s success become apparent—an attentive ear and a creative imagination. One result? “Northerly,” a companion business that has doubled in size since its inception just two years ago. “A lot of my wedding clients wanted a photo booth,” Kate says, “but nobody could find one that they really loved. I decided to fill that void with something different, something no one else in Minnesota offered.”

The couple found just what it was looking for on Craigslist—a vintage Shasta camper. Nearly 60 years old, the camper had been sitting in a farmer’s field for decades. “Tony and I love to build things, so we went to work giving her a complete overhaul.”

Taking cues from Kate’s vision, Tony gutted the trailer’s interior down to its wooden frame, then refurbished it to accommodate all the features of the ultimate photo booth. He also sandblasted away the old paint and years of grime from the trailer’s metal skin and made it gleam with a fresh finish. “It’s proven super popular,” Kate says. “People love it because it’s different.”

Launched in April 2017, Northerly added a second vintage camper in January 2018. Exploding demand moved Kate to hire an assistant, who books the campers not just for weddings, but also for corporate events, grad parties, birthday parties and any other special occasion her clients might plan.

Kate chose campers for her deluxe photo booths in part because they reflect the Beckers’ love for the outdoors. Even the name “Northerly” was born of the couple’s passion for nature and its wonders. “We wanted something that encompasses adventure, camping and the state of Minnesota—the North Woods,” Tony explains. “We set up a chalkboard to brainstorm the possibilities, and ‘Northerly’ emerged as our top pick.”

Building a Modern Farmhouse

Between bookings, Northerly’s campers rest beside the light-filled farmhouse Kate and Tony built on 36 acres of land in 2015—yet another reflection of their love for the outdoors and wide-open spaces.

Scouting for just the right location continued an entire year before the Beckers finally settled on a site. Bordering protected wetlands to the south, the property boasts unobstructed views in almost every direction. Kate and Tony knew it was the right spot for them the evening they hiked in from the road a ways to witness a spectacular summer sunset.

Finding a floorplan they liked online, the Beckers marked it with their modifications and handed it off to an architect to be adapted for structural integrity. That’s when the real fun began. Kate likes to say that Tony built the house from the ground up, but Tony acknowledges a little help from contractors, who handled the foundation, plumbing, electrical and some of the framing. The rest, however, is the fruition of Kate’s vision and Tony’s craftsmanship.

“We work together as a team. I come from an engineering background,” explains Tony, who holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Minnesota State University Mankato. “Kate pushes me on the creative end, and I push her on the analytic end.”

Key to Kate’s vision was to design and position the house for maximum interplay with light and shadow. The home’s sundrenched southern exposure features large windows in the dining area and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to extend the living room onto a large patio, affording panoramic views of the wetland’s natural beauty.

And perched atop the garage is Kate’s studio, a magical, light-filled space that she often shares with other photographers. “I’m a light chaser,” Kate says, noting that the trees, wetland and tall grasses surrounding the house often serve as a backdrop for her portraiture. “I do most of my work outdoors with natural light. Even in my studio, I like to use available light coming in through the windows.”

But the Becker farmhouse is uniquely special for an entirely different reason, as well. Everywhere one looks are reminders of Kate’s farming family heritage. Hanging from the vaulted living room ceiling is a chandelier her father fashioned from Mason jars and an old wagon wheel found on her grandparents’ property. The elegant fixture originally served as a centerpiece for the couple’s wedding in 2014, suspended from the rafters of her grandparents’ barn.

Tony created the light fixture over the dining table from an old barn beam, and even Kate’s grandmother got in on the action, crafting the light fixtures in the entry way and kitchen. The sliding barn doors at the entry to Kate’s office off the living room also came from the family farm.

And the fireplace mantel in the living room was hewn from a beam found in the barn on her great grandparents’ place, just down the road apiece from her grandparents. These symbols of generations past imbue the Becker home with meaning and connection. “This house has a big heart,” Kate says. “This is our safe space,” Tony says. “This is where we unplug.”

Staying Grounded

Certainly, between Kate’s businesses and Tony’s career in engineering management, the Beckers have to be intentional about carving out time to rest and recuperate. Wednesday night is date night, and Sunday is reserved for family.

“Family is one of our greatest core values,” Tony says. He carries the couple’s evolving list of core values on his cell phone. Other entries include fun, relationships, loving and serving others, respect for individuals, seeing the good in things, turning negatives to positives and taking risks. “And faith,” Tony says. “Our faith in God is very important to us.”

And the Adventure Continues

What’s next for the Beckers? Kate is busy training and mentoring budding photographers to help serve her growing wedding clientele. And the couple is considering franchising more photo booths—maybe even adding a third camper to the fleet should local demand continue to rise. But true to their entrepreneurial spirit, they are perhaps most excited about their dreams for the future—ever expanding, ever experimenting, ever exploring new business ventures. As Tony says, “Our world is driven by being different, being innovative.”

And, oh yeah—chickens. Tony has erected a charming outbuilding behind the house, half storage shed and half chicken coop. “It’s our one nod to actual farming,” Kate says with a laugh. Kate and Tony Becker are adventurists indeed, even in their own backyard.

(Photo by Kate Becker Photography)