Our History . . .

     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.

Image: 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, then about 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. Then, Marc obtained some fabric sample books and went door-to-door selling draperies and slipcovers. Frequently, they paid their workshop employees with money they earned singing at weddings and funerals.

     The selection of fabrics led to color of walls, carpeting and furniture. The interior design business was 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 college English 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 Nielsen's settled the drapery workshop in South Shore at 71st and Exchange, a community that was thriving in the 20's, 30's and 40's. They stayed at this location until the business moved to Indiana in the late 1950's.

     But the Nielsen's didn't give up their original dream. They became acquainted in the Chicago music and theater community. When The Chicago World's Fair was
Image: Marc Nielsen 1933
Marc Nielsen 1933
Image: Helene Nielsen 1933
Helene Nielsen 1933
being planned, the Nielsen's 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.

     Since the Depression was so fresh in everyone's mind, with their new wealth the Nielsen's decided to invest in land, rather than in the financial world.
Image: Nielsen's Pre-Civil War house
Nielsen's Pre-Civil War house
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. Pre-jet, you know. With the money the Nielsen's earned with the 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 'til they were market ready. That Danish stamina held him in good stead.

     When World War II ended, the Nielsen's grasped the opportunity to travel to France, Italy, Denmark and England. The Europeans needed money, and they had beautiful things to sell. Thus the antiques aspect of MTN joined the custom furnishings. When 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 walls of windows. The view was of the Old Suman Mill Pond and across Suman Valley.

     Marc Nielsen and Virginia brought the fabrics, plans and drawings from Chicago, 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 giving a new flavor to his design business and 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 Dewey and Virginia were invited by Marc Nielsen to buy into the design firm in 1966, which they did.

Image: Marc t. Nielsen
Marc T. Nielsen
Image: The original Suman Valley Studio
The original Suman Valley Studio
Image: The original Suman Valley Studio
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.

Image: ... from the air     The barn had a distinctive Old English character. The antique shop on the main floor was created after the big cast concrete cattle watering tanks were knocked out. Grain had been stored in the silos; trucks pulled into the corncrib to unload or load the grains grown on the farm. Some time later the corncrib was finished to expand the antique shop and an apartment was built above.

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

Image: Valerie in Bali
Valerie in Bali
     Then in 1980, Valerie Steil joined Marc t. Nielsen Interiors. Valerie, from Wisconsin, made the transition easily to Suman Valley and has enjoyed developing her career. She is now the president and owner of Marc t. Nielsen Interiors, fulfilling the American dream. She, too, carries on the tradition of searching the world for those interesting and beautiful items.

      In 1999, MTN 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, do come. And as we enter our 88th year, we remind you we are here with our full interior design and workshop services to help you achieve your plans and dreams.

     The Designers Valerie Steil ASID, and Virginia Phillips ASID, are continuously viewing new lines from the many fabric, wall covering, and furniture companies they carry. And, we are continually adding to our one-of-a-kind items in the antique shop.

We look forward to your call (219) 462-9812
The Staff of MTN