Taking the road less traveled is a phrase that certainly comes to mind when describing Siri Knutson’s journey as an artist and designer to where she is today. As a wearer of many hats, Siri began with a background in fine art with a BFA from the University of Minnesota, going on to work in Horticulture, K-12 arts education, and even had a stint fishing commercial salmon. Today, Siri owns and operates a full-service design studio, Siri Knutson Designs, while having an art business on the side creating intricate gold-leaf foil shapes on paper.
As a designer, Siri is thoughtful and intentional in every aspect of her designs and believes in the transformative power of a fully-considered space. Her background in fine art directly influences her work in interior design and vice versa, effortlessly blending together in her everyday life. Working out of her home in the Merriam Park neighborhood of St, Paul, she’s able to balance owning a business with her personal life (although it’s taken some time to perfect!). We got a chance to visit Siri’s studio and talk with her about the struggles + rewards of owning a small business and what inspires her to create every day. Read on below!
Photography by Jenny Li.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I wear a couple different hats! I own and operate an architectural and interior design firm, Siri Knutson Design Studio. I also make artwork mostly on paper, and mostly by commission. It’s a really nice balance and I feel so lucky to get to make a living doing something I love.
You wear many hats as a fine artist, educator, horticulturist, all while having a full-service interior design service! What is your background in each and how do you manage to effortlessly balance them all?
I have a background in fine art, horticulture and also as a K-12 Art teacher, but for the past 5 years I’ve been running my design firm, working as a designer and artist. I don’t think I would be the experienced designer I am today without the full background I have in other fields. I also used to work as a commercial salmon fisherwoman! It all formed who I am as a designer, and makes it more fun!
Where do you seek inspiration for art and design?
Everywhere! I have been lucky to live, visit, and work all over the world, and now try to travel as much as possible. I look for inspiration in the way people live in their own spaces. I love noticing different solutions to the tasks and comforts of private, daily life. I love the architecture of coastal Norway, Nova Scotia, rural Japan, and rural New Mexico. I’m always pouring over books in the library on Shaker design, Greek interiors and artists’ private homes.
You believe that art should be “uncomplicated yet fully considered”. How does this manifest in your work?
I really believe that good design is mostly about math.
Tell us about your studio space.
Oh my gosh! It’s a spare bedroom in our old house. I used to dream of leasing out a big bare studio space but this is really what works best for me and my family. Maybe someday, but for now this is a perfect fit for what I do. Most of my design work is actually on site with clients and contractors, and my artwork just has to fit within my small studio, along with my design work. I actually really enjoy the challenge of space. It keeps things fresh and relevant.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
My work as a designer is different every day. There are specific arcs to the creative process in both my artwork and design work. I enjoy the different stages, and wide variety of projects I get to work on, from remodeling a museum gift shop to redesigning a kitchen and its workflow for a family, to dreaming up a summer house for a client. My artwork is always happening in my mind, and when I get time to execute it I love seeing what I’ve been planning for months come out on paper or canvas. Limited space for many years has really forced me to do my rough drafts and preliminary sketches in my head. I now take a lot of pride in being able to do a lot of my creative work and the creative process of editing and reconfiguring things in my head, before I put it out in the physical world.
What, in your experience, have been the biggest challenges in starting and sustaining your own business?
Running a business is really complicated! I did not start out thinking I would be a business owner, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve really had to work hard at my business skills, through experience. I would say my greatest challenge—which comes with the greatest reward—is asking for help and identifying areas of my business that should outsource to someone who is a master in that area. I’m a really hard worker, so I also have to be very intentional about setting boundaries around how much I work. It’s been really great to set solid boundaries around time that is not for my business, but for the other interests and responsibilities in my life.
What is it like being a maker in America right now?
I’m having a great time, and feel so lucky to get to make work I love to share with others.
What do you love most about your community in Minneapolis-St.Paul?
This community is so supportive and collaborative. Minnesota has a long history of supporting the arts in a robust way. We’re all really lucky to live in this vibrant community where it’s possible to work creatively and support a family.
Top 5 places you need to visit in the Twin Cities area?
1.) I love Theo-Wirth Park in the summer for slow walks in wild nature, right in the middle of the city.
2.) The Minneapolis Institute of Art is a great place to visit. I especially love the collections of both Japanese and Native American Art.
3.) Kopplin’s Coffee in St. Paul makes a dreamy cup of coffee, roasted fresh by owners Amanda + Andrew Kopplin.
4.) Restaurant and Hotel Alma is perfection!
5.) Definitely visit The Golden Rule in Excelsior (just a short, pretty drive west of the city). It’s a great source for fresh work by local makers and artists, curated by shop owner, Erin Duininck.