Sarah Carlson: Theisen Design Studio
Interior designer Sarah Carlson uses broadband to build a thriving small business
When you’re stuck in Twin Cities traffic and grinding through a daily commute, there’s a lot of time to think. It was during those quiet times behind the wheel that Sarah Carlson often thought about home.
Not the destination at the end of her daily drive; not arriving at her home in the city; but the place her heart belonged.
As an up-and coming young professional, Minneapolis-St. Paul had been good to Carlson and her budding career ambitions. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in Interior Design, the metro area was where she got her career off the ground and gained her first experience as a professional designer.
But even with a fondness for urban life and an appreciation for the city where she got her start, Carlson felt a strong pull back to west-central Minnesota and her hometown of New York Mills.
In 2010, at age 27—despite having an enjoyable and challenging job with a design firm in the Twin Cities, Carlson’s call to her rural roots was too strong to ignore. So she went home—and she did it with a plan for the future and an idea for a business of her own.
Later that year, Carlson established Theisen Design Studios, a work-from-home small business based out of her New York Mills-area home.
A dream, a desire and an internet connection
Ten years have since passed and Carlson—now well established in the area—says she’s still amazed at the support of her local community and the Otter Tail Lakes region.
“I am continually blown away at how this area of the state and these small towns I call my own have supported my dream and keep me working doing exactly what I love to do,” Carlson says.
Carlson’s approach to each design project is multifaceted. She draws inspiration from a love of storytelling and problem solving with an eye for color and a passion for sustainable practices.
“What I love most about commercial spaces is the ability to tell the story of the business and company with the interiors,” Carlson says. “From space planning to finishes to color, furniture and artwork, bringing in branding through interiors is one of my favorite ways to design.”
Carlson doesn’t overlook the importance of technology and the internet to almost every aspect of business ownership and the design process. Without high-speed broadband, mobile connectivity, Wi-Fi, and the cloud, working from home—and in the region she loves—would not be possible.
“Without the internet, I would not be able to complete my work the way I can now,” Carlson says. “I use the internet to search for inspiration in the beginning phases of design, to power the software I need to communicate the designs to contractors and also to connect me to employees.”
Carlson contracts with an outside hire for drafting work. They have yet to meet face to face, but because of email and the internet, they haven’t needed to. Every day involves some kind of online communication—usually email—not only with the drafter, but other project collaborators, including architects, employees, product representatives, clients and others. The internet is a crucial link, keeping the lines of communication open and accessible.
“Staying connected to other industry professionals as we collaborate on work together is another way that I could not do the work I do from where I live without great internet,” Carlson says. “I also spend a large amount of time curating a vision for the spaces I’m working on, finding inspiration online and saving ideas to online boards (Thank you, Pinterest).”
Online and in the zone
Every design project is an evolution, starting with inspiration, space planning, drafting, design, 3-D models and meeting with clients and other stakeholders to implement a vision for the commercial space. Carlson relies on cloud-based and online software for modeling, drafting, photographing and developing her action plan for each project.
“I have a studio, but I don’t keep every sample of every finish available to me onsight, so I order all my interior samples through manufacturers websites to be delivered here for projects,” Carlson says. “When I get ready to meet with a client, I usually have image heavy presentations showcasing inspiration images and 3-D models I’ve created.”
From there, the project data, including images and associated files, are sent to a local printer for development. That information gets incorporated into a project plan and shared electronically with architects, lighting designers, electrical engineers and others through a file sharing platform.
“There are very few parts of my day that don’t require me having access to the world through my computer and the internet,” Carlson says. There is a portion of my time that is spent being hands on selecting materials and finishes and meeting with clients, but that comes after all the computer work where the internet is completely necessary to accomplish it.”
Carlson has lent her design talents to many businesses in the region, including a recent refresh at Brew Ales and Eats, the interior renovations at The Cactus, Cove Coworking, to Disgruntled Brewing, The Nest, an exterior remodel at The Otter and the Arvig Building, which underwent major remodeling beginning late in 2020.
For any business to succeed, the pieces have to fall into place. Carlson’s story shows that when talent and passion combine with community support—and a little help from high speed internet—the pieces that create a successful small business can be found just about anywhere.
For Carlson, though, there’s no better place than home.