Growing creativity in rural Audubon

by Rick Schara, Live Wide Open coordinator

As I drove into the Center of Design parking lot south of Audubon, near the intersections of highway 6 and 11, my immediate thought was: “How cool!”

Jayde and Elizabeth Carlson outside their Center of Design building.

Jayde and Elizabeth Carlson outside their Center of Design building.

I was there to meet Elizabeth and Jayde Carlson, Center of Design owners. But I didn’t expect the “wow factor” as I viewed the facility and imagined the rehab and remodeling effort to turn a rural convenience store into a true destination for home design.

But while the outside was a visual treat, the inside felt like a real smorgasbord. House design elements, artwork and key features were everywhere. You could pick out carpet, flooring, fireplaces, lighting and so much more. How did this incredible business start?

That was on my mind as I met owners Jayde and Elizabeth Carlson over coffee. Together they spent more than 30 years in the corporate world. But a third child prompted Elizabeth to leave her financial job of 14 years and there was a smoldering entrepreneurial passion. It was time to strike out on their own.

Jayde left 18 years at his corporate job. The option to move to the Twin Cities was given, however, Jayde and Elizabeth believed it was very beneficial to raise their family in a rural area, close to family and in the small school district.

Store manager Megan Brown and construction assistant Nathan Rice are thankful for the opportunity to work in a rural setting.

Store manager Megan Brown and construction assistant Nathan Rice are thankful for the opportunity to work in a rural setting.

Jayde had dabbled in construction since he was young and in his spare time he continued to build, remodel and create.  “I learned that I really liked the building business,” he said, and then chose to make that his new profession. Elizabeth, too, had a passion for home décor and design.

So think of that. Young children at home. No regular paycheck. Yes, there had to be that moment of doubt.

Funny how things work out.

The Center of Design wasn’t quite on their radar, at least not at first. They purchased the closed gas station convenience store without knowing exactly what they were going to do with it, but knew they needed the space for their new endeavor. It evolved into a home design center and they invested quite a bit to upgrade and keep the gas pump open.

One of the reasons they opened Center of Design was that while they started getting busy with remodeling and new construction design, along with the build, they found that quality products and product knowledge was seriously lacking in the building & design industry.

Their business niche is that they truly understand how design and function work together. “There are lots of ideas out there,” Elizabeth said, “but will it work with what you have?” Elizabeth estimates that 80 percent of their business is word of mouth and very local.

The Carlsons said they like the small community feel of their rural home and that they keep up with friends both old and new. “It’s the people you run into at the store or while getting gas,” Elizabeth said.

They like the four seasons, spending a lot of time outdoors, and they can’t say enough about the Lake Park-Audubon school system. “We have a sense that other people are looking out for our kids” in the schools, Elizabeth said.

Part of their business philosophy is that people need to renew and redefine their small community. For the Carlsons, they also feel a need to spruce up the area. “I like taking old and making new,” Jayde smiles.

They remodeled a small rental house near their home design center and recently purchased the old home next door that needs a considerable face lift.  Jayde is exploring the idea of renovating that building to house a childcare center since the location would be ideal.

“The community needs one,” Jayde said.

If it happens, you can bet it, too, will be cool.

Family is key for the Carlsons.

Family is key for the Carlsons.