By Anna Hoeschen.
“What’s your story?” That’s one of those questions we’ve been hearing a lot recently. Sometimes we hear stories are perfectly constructed works of fiction. Sometimes we hear the complete truth. The problem with words is that they often allow you to hide. But the things you surround yourself with? Those don’t lie as readily. Our things give us away no matter how hard we try. Belongings and space always reveal far, far more than words.
That’s something Anna Hillegass, owner of The Foundry Home Goods Store in Minneapolis, knows and understands well. Her shop tells a story. Talking to Anna, you realize that her retail pocket of the world tells her story.
Anna’s background is creative, unexpected, and comes in many shades of hard work. She grew up in the first original pioneer house in Hennepin County Minnesota (now a museum) and after attending the Waldorf Art School as an adolescent, Anna went straight to work. She earned a top spot at Holly Hunt (Minneapolis and New York), as both a stylist and sales rep.
Her keen eye for clean, contemporary objects, coupled with her farm girl roots, make for an enchanting blend. The simplicity of her space is brilliantly acute; it creates something airy, open, breathable, and warm. While meandering through the store I thought, “This is how I want my stories to look. This is how I want my stories to be.” Simple? Yes. Meaningful? Absolutely.
And luckily, Anna gets that.
One of Anna’s main motives for creating a space like this was to bring quality design to her customers at an affordable price point. She gets that Minneapolitans are curious and passionate about good design. She gets that my friends and I will want to furnish our new homes and apartments with fewer objects of greater value. She gets that quality over quantity is a basic and modest idea, one that many people can recognize and appreciate.
The place is so thoughtfully curated, and so sans-clutter that I could spend hours there without feeling underwhelmed or overwhelmed.
This time, instead of bee-lining it towards the door, I’m headed straight for the beeswax candles.
How did you get your start in design? After I graduated from the Waldorf School, I deferred additional school. I didn’t love the idea of going to college and I started working right away. I did graphic design and web design and thought maybe I wanted to be a creative writer. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do yet.
Finally, it ended up at International Market Square I was walking through the Holly Hunt showroom with my stepmother, an interior designer. I almost started crying, it was so beautiful. The proportions and the quality… It was like a church; everything was singing, and it was gorgeous. I told my stepmother, “I have to work there!” They started me out as a minimum-wage, part-time office assistant, and I worked my way up.
Then what? In 2008, I left Holly Hunt Minneapolis to take part in a History of Art and the Art Market program at Christie’s Auction House in New York.
After I graduated from the program I was doing some freelance photo styling and working as a design assistant for a friend. I called myself the “gypsy of the design world.” I went to the New York Holly Hunt showroom, and I didn’t really think I was qualified, because they’re such a big deal and it’s a fancy place. I didn’t think they’d take me on. They hired me that same day though when we went in to say hello. I think my manger in Minneapolis, who is lovely, must have called them. They hired me as show room support. I helped with events and floral arrangements, and then I left and started doing sales and styling. I booked the showroom’s single largest project sale the year I left. It was so cool to be in the best showroom and to have worked my way up in this company that I respect so much.
I moved home January of this year to start this [business], which I began working on full-time in June. I opened September 8th, and it’s been like banana-pants ever since. I haven’t had a day off since June, and it’s awesome.
Describe the transition. How is being a store-owner different? I’m connected to everyone now. It’s opened me up to a whole new demographic of people, which was the idea. I was selling high-end things and meeting incredibly interesting people. I love design, but I wanted to take the elitism out of it. I wanted nice things and great design for everyone. Everyone can understand it. Everyone can understand good quality and good design and good stories.
What’s your perception of Minnesotans and the design scene? I think they’re hungry for it. I think this is something you see a lot on the coasts, and it’s starting to happen here too. It seems like people are really excited about it. I didn’t really know what to expect when opening this store. I had a feeling it was a safe business plan, because it’s not anything trendy. Even if times are tough, people can still rationalize good, simple things that are useful and reasonably priced.
How do you feel about being a business owner? It’s everything. It’s wonderful and it’s freeing because I get to make up the rules, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. I’m always working, even when I close. I’m placing orders and doing research. It’s been moving so quickly that I haven’t had time to reflect. Hopefully, with distance and time, I’ll be able to see it all a little more clearly.
There’s a history to this place. Tell me about that. My dad bought this building back in the 1970′s; he owned the building next store for a while. It was still industrial at that time. He stripped it down and started a software company. We were also renovating our house out in Long Lake, Minnesota. It’s a museum now. It’s the first pioneer house of Hennepin County. It was all I knew growing up, just running around barefoot and hanging out. My dad would wake up in the middle of the night to stoke the stove. It was amazing; I had a really magical childhood.
Did that upbringing inform your aesthetic? It totally instilled in me the beauty of things being messy… paint chipping and things falling apart and also being beautiful. My mom was a gardener. It was natural and easy and everything was really minimal. We didn’t have a lot of stuff. It totally shaped who I am. I get nostalgic for things; the glass bowls here look a lot like the cereal bowls I had growing up. I didn’t live much with extra or fussy things.
Favorite customer? One of my favorites was this little boy who had been coming to the store every weekend with his parents. His brother was taking French classes nearby. He came in one day, and it was the first day he ever received an allowance. It was folded up in this tiny $2 square. He was as high as the counter, and he pushed the money over the edge of the counter and pointed at some candles. He asked, “How much will this buy me?!” and we picked out some candles. It was his first day as an independent consumer, and he decided to come here! I never unfolded that little cube; I kept it in the back of my drawer. It was so sweet. He was on his tippy-toes across the counter and there were fingerprints all over the counter!
How about being home? I love that my family is here. I love that people have a sense of excitement and wonder about these shops. I love that this is a possibility. I love that I’m back in this building. There was that duality of growing up in the farm house and then coming to this office, with cubicles all over the place. I used to ride my tricycle and do laps around the building! Being back in this building is like coming home. It’s cool to see this neighborhood liven up.
Is it important for you to sell things sourced locally? I don’t want it to be just one, single thing. The idea is just good things, handmade, from good people, whether near or far. What really matters to me are the artists, the practices, and the stories behind the objects.
All images courtesy of Caitlin Cooreman.
Edited by Natalie Powell.