Gift Store Teaches Lesson about Subtlety in Decor

The boys and I took our annual summer trip to Grand Marais, Minnesota, last week and we followed the same agenda we do every year. We stopped at Rydens Border Store to buy beef jerky, chocolate bars and American sodas.

Runnigans Furs Hovland Minnesota

Then it was on to Runnigan Furs to chat with Larry and look at all his pelts and antlers. Finally we pulled in to our favourite parking spot by Drury Lane Books, which happens to be right beside the World’s Best Donuts (they are).

Drury Lane Bookstore in Grand Marais MN

World's best Donuts in Grand Marais MN

Grand Marais is located 35 minutes south-west of the Canadian border (near Thunder Bay, Ontario). Voted the ‘Coolest Small Town in America’ in 2015, Grand Marais is a quaint, friendly harbour village. It’s a creative town full of eccentric personalities that complements the surrounding natural beauty.North Shore of Lake Superior

Quiet harbour of Grand Marias MN

Every year we look forward to our day-trip to the area. It’s a wonderful combination of outdoor activities, shopping, dining and history.

Bait House Grand Maria MN

Like any tourist town, there’s no shortage of gift stores selling sweatshirts, post-cards and touristy trinkets. There’s also a good selection of outdoor gear and a lovely gallery that carries some really beautiful local art. We’ve visited them all and have become familiar with each store’s offerings.

UpstateMN outdoor sign in Grand Marais

This year we came across a new store and what a treasure. Upstate MN brands itself as northwoods modern. When you walk in the door, it’s immediately evident that this store embraces the local geography, but on a whole different level.

UPSTATEMN in Grand marais

Owner Kristofer Bowman has filled his shop with beautiful useful things crafted by artists and makers from around the United States. His mission is to carry objects that represent the geography of the area through tones and materials, simple craftsmanship and clean lines.

selection of pottery from Upstate MN Grand Marias

jewelry selection from Upstate MN in Grand Marias

I immediately fell in love with his concept. In a tourist town, his approach is more abstract than literal. You won’t find any paintings of moose or fish, yet everything in his store speaks of the area.

Upstate MN gift shop in grand marais minnesota

There’s a subtlety and understatement to his goods that I find fascinating. Everything is paired down so that the true beauty of form and function can meet as one.

wood turned bowl featured at Upstate MN in Grand Marais MN


I admire the restraint Kristopher has shown curating his goods. He is passionate about what he sells and carefully selects artist made goods that reflect the area’s landscape through element, tone and material. 

3 boys playing on the shores of Lake Superior near the town of Grand Marais Minnesota

raw beauty of lake superior near grand marais minnesota

The trip to Grand Marais this year was inspiring.  I saw first hand how Kristofer was able to capture the raw intense, and sometimes overwhelming, beauty of the area and translate it abstractly in a sophisticated and understated manner.

Sometimes the hardest part of decorating is showing restraint and using a subtle hand. It’s not always about big and showy and literal. Sometimes it’s about details like texture, line, form and function. Upstate MN reminds us that surrounding ourselves with artist made objects that have an organic refinement can be captivating in a visceral way.

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Karen Fron Interior Design is a Calgary based design firm. We believe that a well functioning and beautiful home makes life better. It's not about how much you have, it's about using what you have to create beauty.

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