The History of Marc t. Nielsen Interiors

The History of Marc t. Nielsen Interiors

We are frequently asked about Marc t. Nielsen, our founder. So we’ve put together a history. For some the story will be a trip down memory lane. For all, we hope you enjoy the history of Marc t. Nielsen Interiors.

Mar t. Nielsen
Marc t. Nielsen

In 1924 Marc and Helene Nielsen emigrated from Red Oak, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. Although Marc had worked for a well-known design firm, Orchard and Wilhelm (they were called “decorators” in those days), both Marc and Helene were singers and actors. And like so many young people have done, they followed their dream to the big city, Chicago.

Orchard and Wilhelm had a big drapery job to do in Chicago, some huge theater stage draperies. Marc and Helene packed their possessions, mostly music, in their Model T and drove, back then around 30 miles per hour, for what must have been many days to Chicago.

Marc, among other talents, could supervise the making and installation of draperies. So, Marc had the assignment. That drapery job was the beginning of Marc t. Nielsen Interiors. Next, Marc obtained some fabric sample books and went door-to-door selling draperies and slipcovers. He and Helene frequently paid their workshop employees with money they earned singing at weddings and funerals.

The selection of fabrics soon grew to include the color of walls, carpeting, and furniture. At this point, the interior design business formed. In those days it was not necessary to have a college or design school degree to become an interior decorator. In fact, Marc’s degree was in English, and he taught English the college level for awhile. Helene’s training was in music. Marc’s rich voice also earned him a job as cantor at Isaiah Temple, a job that he held for over 25 years.

The Nielsens settled their drapery workshop in South Shore at 71st and Exchange, a community that was thriving in the 20s. They stayed at this location until they moved the business to Indiana in the late 1950’s.

Marc Nielsen 1933
Marc Nielsen 1933
Helene Nielsen1933
Helene Nielsen1933

But the Nielsens didn’t give up their original dream. They became acquainted in the Chicago music and theater community. During the planning of the Chicago World’s Fair, the Nielsens and their friends thought they would put on Shakespearean plays. Marc went to the bank to borrow money, but of course that was after the Great Depression, and banks were leery of lending money to anyone without collateral.

The little group of actors found a way to build and create “The Globe,” and presented a condensed version of several Shakespearean plays every hour: 50 minutes for the play, 10 minutes to switch the audience. At 50 cents per person, affordable to most anyone, they made money.

Nielsen's Pre-Civil War House
Nielsen’s Pre-Civil War House

Since the Depression was so fresh in everyone’s mind, with their new wealth the Nielsens decided to invest in land, rather than in the financial world. They had friends who already lived in Porter County and could help them find some property. They bought the Colonel Suman Farm in Jackson Township. In 1938-39, the World’s Fair in San Diego was the venue for The Globe Theater group again. Marc continued his business and flew back and forth, to and from California, to manage the Globe business. In those days, it took many hours to make the journey. This was an era before commercial jets. With the money the Nielsens earned from their San Diego “Globe” venture, they built the big barn in 1943. They remodeled the old Colonel Suman pre-Civil War house that had no electricity and square water conduit, and moved to Suman Valley.

Marc drove to his business in Chicago, frequently stopping in Hammond to service clients there. This was before the Toll Road and the Skyway. Marc would then come home, jump on his tractor and till the fields, raising grain to feed the calves until they were market ready.

When World War II ended, the Nielsens seized the opportunity to travel to France, Italy, Denmark and England. The Europeans needed money, and they had beautiful things to sell. Thus MTN expanded its custom furnishings into the antiques realm. Marc decided to move the business, too, from Chicago to Suman Valley. He and Virginia Phillips, who had joined him in 1953, were already having customer presentations in the new studio on top of the hill (built in 1957, already gone). The studio had wonderful light from its walls of windows. The space offered a commanding view of Old Suman Mill Pond and the expansive Suman Valley.

Marc T. Nielsen
Marc T. Nielsen
The original Suman Valley Studio
The original Suman Valley Studio

Marc Nielsen and Virginia brought the fabrics, plans and drawings from Chicago. They pinned them up on the big pin-up wall for client presentations, and they all enjoyed a day in the country. Marc Nielsen saw this as a way to give a new flavor to his design business. He soon invited a few of his key employees to move to Indiana with the company. One of those employees was Dewey Kooinga, who had joined MTN in 1954. His father had been the Nielsen upholsterer for many years. Then Marc invited Dewey and Virginia to buy into the design firm in 1966. They accepted this offer.

The original Suman Valley Studio

When Marc died suddenly in 1970, Virginia and Dewey assumed the responsibility of Marc t. Nielsen Interiors. But they needed to find a new home for the business. They bought the big barn and renovated the hayloft to be the office and design studio, close to the L-shaped building, which housed the workshops.

...From the air
…From the air

The barn had a distinctive Old English character. The created the antique shop on the main floor after knocking out the big cast concrete cattle watering tanks. The silos had stored grain; trucks pulled into the corncrib to load or unload the grains grown on the farm. Some time later, they finished the corncrib in order to expand the antique shop,  and built an apartment above.

Virginia and her husband, Hal, took up the mission of searching for antiques. This project took them to England, France, Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Southeast Asia. Many of our clients have some of the treasures Virginia and Hal procured on these trips.

Valerie in Bali
Valerie in Bali

Then in 1980, Valerie Steil joined Marc t. Nielsen Interiors. Originally from Wisconsin, Valerie found it easy to transition to Suman Valley, where she has enjoyed developing her career. She is now the president and owner of Marc t. Nielsen Interiors, fulfilling the American dream. Like Marc, Helene, Virginia, and Hal, Valerie carries on the tradition of searching the world for interesting and beautiful items.

In 1999, Marc t. Nielsen Interiors moved the offices into the “workshop building,” combining the design studio and workshops. Those who have visited this renovated space agree that it serves our needs well.

The antique shop remains in the big barn. There are new “old” things arriving regularly. If you haven’t visited us recently, we invite you to stop by and enjoy a wander through our collection.

As we enter our 95th year, we are delighted to offer full interior design and workshop services to help our clients achieve their dream spaces. Valerie, along with designer Kathleen Cooper, are continuously sourcing new lines from a medley of fabric, wall covering, and furniture vendors.

We’d love to talk with you about your design project. Get in touch with us here.