Last week was an exciting week for Hannah’s Treasures. Not only did we get to celebrate the arrival of 16 palettes of awesome retro wallpaper from Canada, but we also had the privilege of taking a short trip to Minnesota to visit the most incredible paint, glass, and wallpaper shop we’ve ever seen.
Our favorite thing about collecting vintage wallpaper is the people we meet and the places we see. It may sound cliché, but it’s so absolutely true: every wallpaper collection is different and traveling to new locations, meeting unique individuals, and hearing their fascinating stories is really what makes our job so rewarding. We’ve recovered old wallpaper from all manner of places—abandoned buildings, closed family stores, attics, basements, air plane hangars, north, south, east, west (and now Canada too!)—but this small-town paint store in Minnesota is definitely the most beautiful and lovingly preserved location we’ve ever encountered.
When we walked through the doors of the old paint and glass shop, we were immediately overcome by all the remarkable things to see.
The antique ceiling tiles, stained glass window panels, and floor-to-ceiling wooden cubbies created a handsome setting. We imagined what it would have been like to browse for wallpaper while your paint was being mixed or mirror being cut, all by hand. What a magical place it seems to us now, even though 60 years ago, it was probably just another stop on a long list of errands for busy wives and mothers. The store was built in 1912. “The same year as the Titanic,” Linda said. And through all those years, the store remained in Art’s family.
Linda also took us to the basement where the old machines for mixing paint were kept.
Samples of all the wallpaper patterns in the store were displayed in a breathtaking patchwork on the wall. Written in the corner of each piece, the stock number guided you to the paper’s location in the front room.
In the middle of the room sat two long tables where a customer could browse through multiple books at a time or maybe even unroll an actual roll of wallpaper to see the full pattern.
Four large and illuminating windows cradled a cozy seating area that offered a space for design consultation. The little black adding machine on the table made determining square footage, paper quantities, and price much easier. I am still in awe of this room and could see myself browsing through samples there for hours.
When Art arrived, we were so pleased to meet him and hear about the history of his family’s paint, glass, and wallpaper business. He told us all about the intricacies of mixing paint by hand, revealing the true art form that hand-mixing was and is. He also showed us how to hand cut and polish glass and the beauty of free form mirrors. Of course, he was a wealth of information about vintage wallpaper as well.
When his family’s store opened in 1912, wallpaper was priced at 3 cents for a single roll (6 cents for a double). Art told us about how the store would fill up in the fall and spring with housewives needing wallpaper for their entire house. In the spring, they would repaper their walls to cover the dark soot from winter fires. In the fall, they would repaper to cover fly spots leftover from summer pests. Wallpaper provided insulation for the house, offered a new decoration, and freshened up the walls making the house cleaner and happier.
At a time when furniture was more expensive and less disposable than it is today, wallpaper was the practical and affordable way to redo a room. People would flock to the store each season to select a new look for their house. While today we think of paint as the more temporary wall treatment and we make wallpaper selections with more permanent visions in mind, it was actually just the opposite situation 70+ years ago. Back then, paint was the more expensive method and wallpaper was easy and painless. (So, if the idea of wallpapering your home yourself scares you, just think—half a century ago, women were doing it 2 or 3 times a year! Of course, we have a helpful How to Hang Vintage Wallpaper tutorial that makes it much easier too.)
We purchased quite a few wallpaper patterns before we left, browsing through the thoughtfully organized cubbies and even climbing the ladder to the highest shelf to reach our favorite papers. These are a couple of the wonderful wallpapers we found.
Before we said goodbye to Art and Linda, Art gave us a mirror that he had hand cut and polished himself along with this antique wallpaper book from the store’s earliest days.
It was a beautiful day and a wonderful blessing to meet Art and to see his incredible store. His enthusiasm for wallpaper and paint was inspiring, and we appreciated his kindness and joyful spirit. We are so grateful for the opportunity to visit his store and learn from his years of experience. What an amazing man with an amazing story!