Category Archives:Interiors

Spark Letterpress in Northeast Minneapolis

Spark Letterpress, located in the heart of the arts district in Northeast Minneapolis, opened its new showroom and print shop this summer after about a ten year hiatus of leaving the Twin Cities. Growing from a business of two, husband and wife duo Jim Watne and Valerie Carlson, to more than ten full-time staff, Watne and Carlson knew they wanted to return to the Twin Cities to grow their business even further. We sat down with Valerie to get the inside scoop.

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How did you and your husband become interested in design and how did that carry over into custom letterpress?
I always considered myself to be creative and worked as a designer in my 20s for some large accounting firms. As much as I enjoyed the challenges of those positions – to be creative within a confined set of design standards – I wanted to branch out on my own. I began doing freelance design work for other companies and somewhere along the line I met Jim. We fell in love and he ultimately joined me in doing freelance design work since he had also been working as a designer. We designed our own wedding invitations and found that stationery was a great outlet for creativity in comparison to our regular freelance work. We decided that if we wanted to be truly successful and profitable that we should invest in a printing press. We happened upon letterpress for it’s beautiful impression left in the paper as well as the simplicity of the press. I’d say the rest is history but that is certainly oversimplifying the past 10 years.

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How long have you been doing letterpress and how you made the leap to starting a letterpress business?
We’ve been doing letterpress since 2004 and are so thankful to be pursuing that dream today. We knew that letterpress was a growing niche printing market and have worked really hard to become a print shop that people can trust to produce their ideas. Whether it is a gorgeous wedding stationery suite, your one-of-a-kind business card or just a simple note, we handle projects big and small.

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How many employees do you currently have and what are their roles to make everything operate smoothly?
There are 10 of us at Spark. We have four people in client service and design, three in production, two in operations and myself overseeing everything from creative direction, production management and cleaning the kitchen! We have been fortunate to find the right staff person for each position. We like a balance of skill, personality and flexibility because being in a small business is no small feat. We all need to function independent of one another and come together as a team to keep Spark running smoothly.

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Can you name a few of the publications your letterpress work has been featured in?
Spark’s custom invitations have been featured in national magazines such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides (national and regional), Print, Communication Arts, Inside Weddings, Real Simple Weddings, The Knot, New York Weddings, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Stationery Trends, InStyle Weddings, Minnesota Bride, Seattle Bride, World Bride, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style and more. Spark has also been featured on numerous online media including FPO, Oh So Beautiful Paper, Paper Crave, The Brides Guide, Style Me Pretty, Merci New York, Casa Sugar, The Knot,,, Always a Blogsmaid and Communication Arts web pick.

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What would you say to the aspiring creative entrepreneur?
If it is your true passion or calling you will know because you won’t allow anything or anyone to get in the way of pursuing your dream. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have doubts or haven’t been through hard times with Spark. I have and I will continue to experience that. Success doesn’t just happen, it is the result of working harder than you ever imagined possible. When your friends are having fun on the weekends, you should be writing your business plan or developing your marketing materials. When you want to get that new car, you should be evaluating whether it is a necessity and consider instead saving for that next big unexpected expense for your own company. I make difficult decisions each and every day and owning a creative business is not for the faint of heart.

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Content and photography by Sara Chars.

Made by Hand : Studio Visit with Kat Hicks + Zoe Ahlgren

Made by Hand | Taupe & Birch

Meet Kat Hicks and Zoe Ahlgren. Kat and Zoe are currently building a business constructing surfboards on a ranch in  Pacifica, California. I met Kat in college back in Baltimore and we recently crossed paths in the bay area. While their business is just starting off, I thought it would be interesting to document the lifestyle and process of a young business in California.

Zoe was born and bred Pacifica, a city just south of San Francisco. His family has owned and operated Shamrock Ranch since the gold rush. Being raised on a ranch, Zoe was raised with a steadfast work ethic that shows in the quality and quantity of his work. He is a conscientious craftsman who sees every piece as an opportunity to push himself and his craft.

Kat hails from the right coast, originally from Virginia Beach, VA. She has been drawing all her life and has a particular love for illustration and line work. After graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD she caught a ride west to San Diego with no plans other than to drop off a painting. While traveling up the coast she was introduced to Kevin Ancell, an amazing artist and painter who is affiliated with the RVCA ANP (artist network program). Relating to her artwork, he invited her to come be his assistant in Newport Beach, CA. She jumped at the chance and after finishing a road trip up the coast she found her way back to Newport where she spent the next 3 months learning from Ancell, helping him prepare for an upcoming show in Santa Monica, and mulling around the RVCA HQ. Kevin knew Zoe from Pacifica, where he was living before Newport, and asked him to come down to make him some large scale canvases. Kevin had taught Zoe a lot about shaping surfboards and Zoe ended up shaping two boards for Kev’s show.

Once Kat and Zoe met they were pretty much inseparable. Kev, realizing he had already lost his assistant, sent her back to Pacifica to continue some of the work from his studio. A year later Kat and Zoe are still together and currently live on the ranch together where they’re developing a unique style of both foam and hollow wooden surfboards.

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What made you interested in making surf boards? Kevin taught Zoe how to shape boards. Zoe was determined to design a hollow wooden board that was comparable to a foam one. Kat is still learning how to shape.. and surf..but she’s been interested in designing them since a young age. She liked the idea of someone not only owning her artwork, but riding it. Kevin showed her how to work with abalone shell and Zoe has taught her a lot about wood inlay. Between the two of them they’re making some insanely unique boards.
 What’s your average schedule like?
Zoe works on the ranch most of the day which can range from general maintenance things like, fixing broken pipes and roofs, to more interesting tasks like chasing down liberated horses. Kat works for Barbara Butler treehouses, building, you guessed it, treehouses. Lately their off hours have been devoted to refurbishing the old dairy processing building into a house for themselves.


Tell me about the property you live on. 
Zoe’s grandfather bought the property, a much more expansive version, during the gold rush at the turn of the century. He started off as a furrier and ran a pawn shop in the city. They had a variety of animals and livestock come through the ranch over the years and have dabbled in farming as well. For a long time they had cows where they processed and bottled local milk. Presently, the ranch is owned by Zoe’s mom, Dana, but managed by him and his sister, Serena. His twin sister, Ari, and brother, John, live on the ranch as well. They operate a dog kennel and daycare and have over 100 horses on the property.
What’s your favorite and least favorite part about making surf boards? 
Zoe’s favorite is sanding, the part of the shaping process where you make the board look less like a chunk of foam or pieces of wood, and more like a surfboard. You get to make it beautiful. While Kat loves sanding too, she really finds an almost masochistic enjoyment in tiny, meticulous, wood and shell inlay. They both hate glassing, it’s the worst. It’s really hard and is always presenting new challenges that are either incredibly difficult or impossible to fix. Plus fiberglass is itchy and resin is toxic.’s the worst.
How long does it take to make a board? It varies greatly, depending on wood vs / no art.. is it a shape we’ve worked with before (are we replicating a board) or is this a whole new shape..? Generally for foam about 4-5 days of solid work. A wood board takes a good bit longer just because theres a lot of waiting around for glue to dry. It can be as short as just over a week to a whole month though depending on the board shape and amount of detail.

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What’s next from here? We don’t have any definite plans. We’d like to launch a website and maybe make some sort of order form but both of us are a little gun shy when it comes to commissions. First and for most we’d love to just sell what we’ve already made out there. So after the gallery show ends this week we’ll look for restaurants and other galleries that might want some boards.
What are your sources of inspiration? Danny Hess is an obvious one, though after learning a lot of his boards now are foam with wood veneer..we can’t lie..he’s a little tainted!  Reynolds Yater is also an awesome shaper who you can’t help but respect and look up to. Alex Pardee is a huge one for Kat, as well as James Jean, Margaret Kilgallen, Ed Templeton and Ben Horton.
The Keatings..Dick and Penny Keating are two amazing people who have lived in Pacifica since it was called San Pedro Valley. They own that dock we took you out on. Dick is an amazing shaper and surfer, we call him all the time for help and he’s always super generous with his time and knowledge. They’re definitely the first ones we run to when we finish a board, its gotta past the Keating test. DK is also Kev’s surrogate father..that’s how Kat was introduced to the Keatings, Kev brought her home to meet “the family”. And of course, Kev.

Made by Hand | Taupe & BirchMade by Hand | Taupe & BirchContent and photography by Heather Day


Workspace Envy

This month, we’re exploring some of our favorite workspaces from across the web.  As far as criteria, I was seeking spaces that were gender neutral. I like to stick with spaces that have a soft voice to avoid distraction while working. I was particularly interested in spaces that looked worked in.

Workspace Envy | Taupe & BirchWorkspace Envy | Taupe & Birch

Fashion icon, Jenna Lyon‘s work space.Workspace Envy | Taupe & BirchWorkspace Envy | Taupe & BirchMonotoned workspace by Hege Morris Workspace Envy | Taupe & Bircharielealasko

Workspace Envy | Taupe & Birch

Rustic studio of Ariele Alasko.

Content curated by Heather Day 

DIY : Copper Accent

Lately I’ve noticed how much I appreciate and started seeking out very simple clothing, home decor items, etc. — but the products that stand out the most are the ones with the subtle differences, i.e. the pocket in the lower right corner, the strip of gold just on the toe part of a sandal, the cuffs or small buttons on the sleeve of a sold colored shirt.

One of my favorite subtleties in home decor (and shoes as mentioned) is a pop of gold or copper which really gives an old/new aesthetic, especially if it’s part of repurposing something through a DIY project. Here are a few examples of fun DIY projects you can do to add a little copper accent to your space.


Love these copper painted pipes with concrete slab tops to create various height plant stands found on Camille Styles.


For the living area or your bedroom, this copper pipe wall sconce will be a detail noted piece.


Don’t have enough closet space? Make a stylish copper pipe clothing rack to display your latest fashion finds.

b3f1150f65b5b8af94694affd1c8671eIf you need to spice up your workspace a little, this DIY copper pipe pencil holder found on A Fabulous Fete will do the trick.

DIY_copper_storage2-767x1024I love the idea of hanging things from homemade ladders. Whether in the kitchen to hang pots from or in your bedroom to drape jeans over, this copper ladder has a nice duel function as an exposed design piece and storage.

Content curated by Sara Chars.


Pharmacie Home in Minneapolis, MN


Pharmacie Home, a design-centric home decor corner-shop, opened it’s doors early last November in the Lyn-Lake area of Uptown Minneapolis. Shop owners Roger and Sam are some of the most welcoming and friendly people I’ve met. You can feel their eye for design and passion in opening the store upon walking through the door. The shop is filled with handcrafted US products made by independent designers, always has a welcoming vibe and floor displays are changed up regularly to give it a fresh feel. With a great balance of product category from unique lighting to offbeat kitchenware and tongue-in-cheek accessories, Pharmacie offers a little of everything as your daily dose of medicine. 2743 Lyndale Ave S | Minneapolis, MN

IMGP2141IMGP2151T & B had the chance to chat with Roger and Sam to get the inside scoop.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! How did the name “Pharmacie” first come about? The name happened mostly by accident – several years ago when were first thinking about opening the shop – we had our eye on the old Burch Pharmacy spot at Hennepin and Franklin. We thought it might be a good location and we loved the building – and hey – why not name the shop “Pharmacie” as a nod to the building’s history. Obviously we didn’t take that space, but the name stuck. We love the idea that (the name) isn’t what we are – but we offer a similar idea – a corner shop where you can find a cure for what ails you – it’s just in pillow form, not pill form.

Haha, we love that! So how do you choose the items you want in the store? We are really interested in unique products that are handcrafted by small independent designers from around the US. We love things that mix unexpected materials, are twists on traditional crafts, or are created using new technologies (we’re suckers for anything 3D printed).


About how many artists (of every kind) do you feature in the store at a given time? It varies – we like to make sure there’s a good mix but not an overload in any given category. 

Where/how do you find the artists? We love design, so we’ve had a million ideas about which designers/brands we wanted to carry forever. We also go to gift/furniture shows a couple times a year and since we’ve opened last November, we’ve had a lot of people come to us wanting to collaborate. 

What do you want the store to feel like? What things have you done to make it feel this way/have a particular vibe? We want the shop to feel like home – warm, inviting, comfortable. Aside from how the shop is decorated – things like playing good music, bringing the dogs with us every day, and offering snacks and (of course) adult beverages to our customers – things like this are what we believe complete the Pharmacie experience.


How did you both get inspired to open a home decor store? And how did you make it a reality? Glutton for punishment??? 🙂 No – it’s something that we’ve always dreamt of doing. When we travel – we often find ourselves spending hours in smaller design shops and knew that Minneapolis, being such a design-centric city, would be supportive of a shop like ours. So far – that’s proven to be true. And it was brought to reality by a ton of hard work, planning, MAJOR help from our friends, family and awesome collaborators… and a few lucky chips falling into place at the right time.

What recent items or future items are you most excited about? We’re crazy for the magnetic lights from Bower studio in NYC. And seriously, the most robust bottle opener we’ve ever used from our friends in Chicago, Strand Design. But we’re especially stoked about launching our own line of furniture – “Chemistry Set” – a suite of table bases (coffee, side, and dining) that can be mixed and matched with different material tops (marble, wood, concrete) to make unique pieces. Stay tuned… we’ll be showing prototypes in the shop the rest of summer.

Photography and content by Sara Chars for Taupe & Birch.

The Copper Hen: Minneapolis, MN


T & B went behind the scenes with Danielle Bjorling, owner of The Copper Hen (along with husband Chris Bjorling). From their folksy, industrial interior to their adorable custom aprons to their farm fresh food and handmade delicious cakes, The Copper Hen is a must visit. The atmosphere is cozy with little dangling lights throughout and lots of natural light. Go for breakfast, lunch, dinner, the recommended weekend brunch or just pop in for a cupcake or some tasty local beer. | 2515 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN

2-IMGP3205 3-IMGP322410-IMGP3218 4-IMGP3231We had the opportunity to sit down with Danielle and get the inside scoop.

How did you first get interested in cake decorating? When I was 14, I took cake decorating classes at JoAnn Fabrics and loved it! And just continued on my own, and got more experience working in bakeries as I got older as well as doing weddings and events on the side.

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How did the name The Copper Hen come about? I knew I wanted “hen” to be in the name because of hens producing the eggs for baking and being “farmy”. Not only do we love copper but it adds a little more masculinity to our place and it’s charming.

Which item on the menu is your personal favorite for lunch or dinner? Dessert? Personal favorite dessert is the red velvet cupcakes, personal favorite foods are: our changing weekend brunches (always DELICIOUSLY the BEST!) and the Bourbon Pate.

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Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the feel of the space? I wanted our space to embody a rustic charm, while also having some clean white space with an open feel.

How did you transform the idea of wanting to open a restaurant to making it become a reality? Lots of very hard work, research, and a huge leap of faith. It took us one year from the original start of the idea to our opening.

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Stay tuned for The Copper Hen’s official grand opening in the next few weeks!

Photographs by Sara Chars for Taupe & Birch.

Greater Goods Gift Shop : Minneapolis, MN


Greater Goods is a cute stationary & gift shop located in the Eat Street neighborhood along Nicollet Avenue. Many new local restaurants and shops are popping up here making it a must-see area for both locals and travelers. Owners Lauren and Joel Gryniewski first started with their two stationary brands, the tongue-in-cheek Old Tom Foolery and the picturesque Modern Lore. Now with their new storefront at Greater Goods, which officially opened late November 2013, they feature around 20 artists’ handmade goods at any given month. | 2515 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404


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Not only are their goods great, Greater Goods strives to give back to its community as an even greater good. As seen in the mission statement painted inside the shop, they are dedicated to giving back a portion of their proceeds each year to various organizations in an effort to support the local community. This year they are supporting the youth artist program at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design.

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A special thanks to Lauren Gryniewski for letting us feature Greater Goods.

Photographs by Sara Chars for Taupe & Birch.