Original article published in the Mower County Independent, Thursday, September 29, 2022. Reprinted with permission and gratitude.
By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Andrea, Karly and Jessica are all about the velvet tableau, then renting it out for the scene serenity.
“The reason why we started this business is that Karly got married in June, and we had to go all the way to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to return her rented furniture…Karly and Hunter were on their honeymoon, and Steve and I had to return everything that Monday morning, and we thought that it was crazy driving all that way,” recounted Andrea Atwood, pointing out the collection of brightly-hued and moody velvet couches that she, her daughter Karly Irish and daughter-in-law Jessica Atwood have rounded up to offer for rent through their company, Sweet Serenity Design & Decor, a family business that brings all the beauty to weddings and special occasions but leaves wedding and special occasion furniture and décor storage to the Atwood family, collectors of interesting household furnishings, artifacts, backdrops and props.
Avoiding the nearly-$1,000 extra charge on top of Irish’s wedding expenses was the catalyst that gave Atwood, Irish and Atwood reason to spend money as they determined they needed to provide a shop closer to home in which couples who are planning weddings could choose the furnishings they want to have at their celebration but don’t necessarily want to keep forever after the candles are extinguished and the guests have returned to their hotel rooms. The trio enlisted their husbands’ assistance – well-known carpenter Steve Atwood, groom Hunter Irish, and Nick Atwood to give the former Total Look salon in downtown Spring Valley a facelift to ready it for use as a showroom for their finds gathered at auctions, flea markets and gift markets and to serve as home of Karly’s salon, Serenity Salon by Karly. The building, currently owned by Kylie and Mitchell Tart, needed some paint and removal of three of its four hairdressing stations before it could be put to work hosting various tableaus to show potential renters that they could have that velvet couch and enjoy getting to return it closer to home, too – no road trips.
Andrea related, “Steve came in and started demolition in here, and we’ve been shopping at auctions, marketplaces, sale stuff, getting stuff by word of mouth. I think we have a pretty good se- lection – we’ve got church pews for outdoor weddings, we’ve got some old chairs…somebody wanted gallon jugs, so we ordered those and rented them out twice already. We have a lot of vintage and boho-style things, and we have things for all colors of weddings – we try to accommodate everybody’s colors. We’ve got things for rustic and vintage weddings, for boho-modern weddings. We’ve got signs, arches, couches, rugs, candles and goblets, cake stands, neon lights, vases, table runners, a buffet that we’ve rented out, old windows to write wording on, table linens, lights for tents, the bouquets from Karly’s wed- ding–we have ten bouquets. We have just about everything. We’ve driven to La Crosse to find things, and we like to go shopping. We do offer delivery for parties–we deliver décor so that there’s one less thing for people to worry about. Right now, we’re not setting things up, but maybe in the future, we’ll try that. But it’s still one less thing for people to worry about.”
Andrea went on to point out, “It’s not just wedding things; we have baby and bridal things. I have a vintage baby buggy that I’m excited to bring in.”
Jessica contributed that while the family goes on shopping excursions and has brought home a small mountain of furniture – a collection that Andrea explained is also housed in the Thrivent building across the street–they’re always shopping for more or taking donations if someone has something that they’re not quite ready to permanently dispose of but feel is quirky, attractive and portable enough to be part of a reception or party’s scenery.
Andrea commented, “We can always use more couches, chairs, more colors. We never have enough stuff. We’ve already outgrown the spot we’re renting in the Thrivent building where we keep the arches and windows. We try to keep the basic stuff here. We want to really expand so it is not just wedding – so that it’s baby and bridal. And we rent out our couches and settings to photographers if they want to rent them for photos.”
Jessica is also a photographer, so she understands that oftentimes, when someone wants to have their photos professionally taken, they want to bring the “fancy” to their family memories, but for photographers themselves, keeping all the furniture and props on hand isn’t always feasible. Therefore, the benefit of having an outlet from which to rent a couch, perhaps some gauzy arch, autumn pumpkin props and that “just right” goblet for pictures of a young Halloween knight in training lies in being able to put some money down, take it out for a ride to the right place and bring it back when done with it.
The challenges of incorporating a business have shown themselves in the process of renovation, shopping, preparing items and managing schedules. Andrea acknowledged, “Our free time…with us all having busy schedules….”
Jessica picked up where her mother-in-law left off. “We all have our own other jobs, kids…everybody has their own opinions, and we’re doing business with family.”
Karly concurred that the management part of the endeavor proves itself to be the most notable challenge, but her mother stated that once the family has a moment together to round up tasks and tables and delegate who’s delivering the furniture and dishware to a wedding or other event, things work out.
Jessica observed that “it’s scary, exciting, nerve-wracking” to be venturing into commerce but that she’s optimistic, and Andrea said, “This is adventurous…an exciting journey. We want to offer southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa an easier option for special occasion rentals. It’s an honor if we can help someone with their special day.”
The hardest part of becoming merchants of Sweet Serenity for a wedding or other celebration is remaining serene themselves as they await the moment they step back and survey that what they’ve gathered and assembled is inextricably present in a couple’s or family’s forever memories, their photos. It’s just too much excitement to bear.
Jessica concluded, “We’re here, and I can’t wait to see the weddings, the events … I can’t wait to see the photographs.”
Sweet Serenity Design & Décor is located at 122 N. Broadway Ave., Spring Valley and is available by appointment unless otherwise noted. For more information, log onto Facebook at @sweet- serenitydesign, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Andrea Atwood at 507-517-0574.
Courtesy of the Mower County Independent, 135 E Main St. LeRoy, MN 55951, (507)-324-5325