When you walk into Design and Wine, located on Belgrade Avenue in North Mankato, you’ll immediately notice the colorful pieces of art that cover the walls. There are rustic farmhouse kitchen signs, patriotic American flags with bits of sheet metal for accents, pictures constructed out of cleverly strung string, oil paintings of beloved pets and many more.
But this space is more than just an art gallery. While you could certainly purchase a piece of artwork that particularly calls to you, you also have the chance to create your own. In fact, that’s the main reason for the space.
Owner Laura Doyen founded Design and Wine in 2014 with the plan to offer painting workshops to interested art lovers. Originally working out of the back of her vehicle, she moved into her studio space on Belgrade Avenue in 2017. Now, she and her employees offer workshops on everything from canvas painting to wood pallet art, while people can also schedule private events for friends, family, corporate team building or other gatherings.
“You name it, we’ll try to make it work for you,” Doyen said.
According to Doyen, she got the idea for her business after attending a canvas painting workshop in Rochester.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Mankato totally needs this,’” she recalled.
Doyen let the idea sit for some time as she went through a divorce and resettled. At the time, she was working full-time at a law office, but it became difficult to work so many hours away from her six-year-old daughter, so she started thinking of other possibilities.
“My dad said, ‘What about that painting thing you wanted to do?’” she said, adding that she had hesitated at first because she was concerned about investing the funds to purchase enough art supplies. “He asked, ‘What is your thing that’s going to cost you the most?’ And I said buying the easels. Two days later, he called me and said, ‘I have 22 easels made for you.’ So, I was like, ‘Okay, we’re doing this.’”
Doyen launched a Facebook page first, advertising canvas painting workshops that she would host on-site. She admitted that she didn’t really put a whole lot of thought into it because she “didn’t think it’d go anywhere.” But 20 minutes after her page went live, someone emailed her asking about setting up an event.
“By the time we’d had our first event, I had six more scheduled,” she said. “It went like crazy.”
For the first two years, Doyen traveled to people’s homes to lead the workshops, bringing her supplies in the back of her vehicle. Eventually, she was hired to teach the workshops as bars, restaurants, and other businesses in the area, often for corporate team building events but also for social events to bring more patrons into the establishment.
By this time, Doyen had married her husband, Ryan, who pointed out how much she was working between her job at the law firm and her ever-increasing workshops after hours and on weekends.
“He said, ‘You work entirely too much. You’ve got to give something up,’” Doyen said. “I said, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to give up my painting,’ but he went, ‘Keep doing your painting. Why are you working at the law office?’ So, I put my two weeks in.”
A New Location
Four weeks after Doyen quit her job at the law firm, she found her new studio space on Belgrade Avenue. She explained that the move came about because it was difficult to continually bring all the necessary supplies to on-site workshops.
“I was forgetting things, and my husband was having to drive them to me, and that was getting annoying for me,” she said. “He’s like, ‘You just need your own space.’”
Design and Wine had its official grand opening in September 2017, and Doyen said the business “went like wildfire.” She now has five instructors who work for her, and they’ve greatly expanded their offerings from the original canvas painting workshops. First, someone asked about a wooden sign to display their last name, so Doyen figured out how to offer it, and the requests just kept coming afterwards.
“It turned into a Pinterest-inspired do-it-yourself studio,” Doyen explained. “[But] we still love getting back to our roots with our canvas painting classes.”
While Design and Wine originally offered to host classes or events at just about any time when it first opened, Doyen said they’ve cut back their hours to give them some breathing room. Now, the business is closed on Sundays and Mondays, with the other days available to book activities. The studio itself also hosts several workshops and events a week, running the gamut from a string art activity for kids to a “paint your pet” class for older clients. Other events have included the chance to decorate cookies, create a custom bread board and craft a sign out of a wood pallet. In addition, there are also “open studio” nights when people can purchase and work on individual projects.
Doyen said there are typically 4-8 events running on a good week, and she’s still involved in more than half of them, even though she leaves the rest to her instructors as she works behind the scenes.
“I still need that interaction with the crafters, because that’s what fills my cup back up,” she said.
When it comes to her customers’ interests, Doyen has noticed some projects growing in popularity. Wood pallets are popular crafts right now, especially with bachelorette parties, and glitter tumblers are also in demand. In addition, canvas paintings are also making a comeback.
“[That] makes me very happy, because that’s where we started,” she said.
She added that Design and Wine’s fundraising kits have also taken off recently. These kits include all the supplies and instructions necessary to create a wooden pallet artwork, with two sizes available. Fundraising groups can choose from 36 stencil designs, as well as picking paint and stain colors. For every kit purchased, $10 is given to the fundraiser’s organization.
“It comes with everything you need to craft at home,” Doyen said.
Some projects, such as the glitter tumblers and wooden welcome signs, are more in demand during summer months.
Meanwhile, Doyen said she’s been looking into ceramic painting, since it’s becoming more popular on Pinterest.
“A lot of it is just how busy our schedule is,” she said. “There are things pinned on Pinterest that we want to do all the time, [but] we’re trying not to take away from what we already have when introducing new stuff.”
While Doyen works with clients from all ages, backgrounds, and artistic abilities, she said the average group age is between 28-45. She said that there tend to be more women who walk through her doors, but men also come to do projects sometimes—and they have a good time, too.
“When the guys come, I think that they actually enjoy it more than the girls,” Doyen said. “We’ve had women who’ve brought their husbands, and now their husbands are the repeat offenders.”
Crafting From Home
Like most businesses in the area, Design and Wine isn’t able to offer its usual in-studio events during the statewide stay-at-home order. However, that hasn’t stopped Doyen from making her art projects available to her customers. Customers can purchase take-home kits off the business’s website, and Doyen or one of her employees is available a few days a week for pick up.
Doyen added that she’s considering offering online events, which would run basically the same as on-site events but be cheaper because people would need to provide their own supplies.
“We want to start so that we can hit those people who maybe can’t get out,” she said.
The “Wine” Part
A unique part of Design and Wine is the fact that clients can bring in their own food and beverages to events—and those beverages can include alcoholic drinks, too. Design and Wine has a consumption permit that allows clients to bring these beverages, but the business isn’t allowed to serve them, which means that it also can’t provide anything like cups or bottle openers.
Perhaps surprisingly, Doyen said she’s never had a problem with people who bring in alcoholic beverages.
“We’ve never had anybody who’s gotten to that point,” she said. “It’s not like they have a lot of time to just down some drinks. We’re keeping them busy, creatively. I think that the people who are the most wound up, once they have a glass of wine, they chill out a little bit and actually enjoy the experience.”
She added that only about 20 percent of her classes make full use of the “wine” part of the studio. Instead, people mostly just bring in food.
“When I was getting this permit, I thought that it’d be part of the draw, but it actually isn’t,” Doyen said. “The art and the gathering exceed anybody who wants to come and drink and socialize.”