Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The yellow house February 23, 2015

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You can't miss this bright yellow house along a Redwood County road just off U.S. Highway 14 in Lamberton.

You can’t miss this bright yellow house along a Redwood County road just off U.S. Highway 14 in Lamberton.

WHEN I SEE A HOUSE painted a jolting hue like this bright yellow house in Lamberton, I have questions.


Is this the homeowner’s favorite color?

How have people reacted to this color choice?

What do you think of houses painted in unexpected, bold colors? Have you ever chosen an unconventional traffic-stopping color for your home? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Jolts of color: OK or not? January 23, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:52 AM
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AS A 1970s ERA TEEN, I painted my basement bedroom a vivid lime green.

That vivid house in Lansing.

That vivid house in Lansing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Would I paint my house that psychedelic hue? No. But someone in Lansing, north of Austin, did as seen in this photograph I shot several years ago. Would you dare brush this green onto your abode?

In 2009, the owner of Los 3 Reyes Bakery painted his rented building in a vivid green shade that some neighboring business owners deemed unsuitable for historic downtown Faribault. The objectors approached Mariano Perez and asked him to repaint his bakery exterior. When he told them he couldn’t afford to repaint a building he’d just painted, they pooled their money to buy paint.

Now you might think that was a kind gesture. I don’t see it that way. To this day I wonder why Perez was shoehorned (or whatever word you want to use) into changing his building color to a softer gray-green. At the time, I interviewed Perez and he told me the bright green represented a “happy color” common in his native Mexico and his culture. Click here to read my interview with Perez, who no longer owns the bakery.

That bakery story came rushing back today as I sorted through photo files searching for bright-colored buildings I’ve photographed through the years. I intended to publish a post that would add a jolt of color to a wintry January day in Minnesota.

But then I started thinking about that bakery and about why buildings are painted the colors they are and if we have any right to tell a property owner what color he/she can/can’t paint a building.

Perhaps a color is chosen based on personal preferences. Remember that lime green bedroom of mine? I doubt my mom really liked the color, but she didn’t demand I paint the walls pink.

The NAPA store in Fergus Falls.

The NAPA store in Fergus Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Perhaps a color connects to the identity of a business as in NAPA Auto Parts’ signature blue and gold. My husband works for NAPA and he will tell you just how much I dislike that strong, strong blue. Dislike is a toned-down version of my actual opinion. You can bet that you won’t miss a NAPA store in Any Town, USA. And that’s exactly as the company intends.

Perhaps a color relates to culture as in the case of the Mexican bakery.

Whatever the reasons, I view paint color as mostly a matter of personal choice.

However, I will agree that, in certain contexts, color guidelines are necessary to retain the character of a historic district. That was the argument in the bakery situation and for months the subject of debate among locals and the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission. I can’t even honestly tell you what they finally decided. Bakery owner Perez was not, at the time, violating any type of guidelines.

What are your thoughts on building colors?

Just to get the conversation going, here are several more examples of colorful buildings I’ve photographed in recent years.

Dad's Good Stuff in New Richland

Dad’s Good Stuff in New Richland. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I grew up on a dairy farm and the color of the Calf Fiend in Redwood Falls reminds me of calves, but not in a positive way.

I grew up on a dairy farm and the color of the Calf Fiend in Redwood Falls reminds me of calves, but not in a positive way. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It's the trim on this building in Kenyon that caught my eye.

It’s the trim on this building in Kenyon that caught my eye. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The City Limits in Sleepy Eye

The City Limits in Sleepy Eye. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Whole wheat and we’re not talking bread February 4, 2011

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MY FRIEND MIKE called Thursday morning, just after I switched off the vacuum cleaner. Thank goodness I didn’t miss his call or I would have been so mad at myself.

You see, Mike is a color expert, a former floral designer, an interior decorator, a guy with an eye for color.

I needed his advice on the paint color for our living room.


My living room walls, patch primed for painting, are currently boring beige. I've been looking for a neutral color with some warmth. Here the couch is pulled away from the wall in prep for painting.

I’d narrowed it down to two Sherwin Williams’ colors. But all week I’ve gone back-and-forth, back-and-forth. Nomadic Desert or Whole Wheat. Whole Wheat or Nomadic Desert. Whole Wheat. Nomadic Desert.

Every day was like a tug-of-war as I held the paint samples against the living room walls at different times of day and night.


The expanse of beige behind the entertainment center.

But, more and more, I was leaning toward Whole Wheat.

Yet…, I wasn’t sure and I’m not the kind of person who likes to paint so I had to be certain.

Then Mike called and the weight of making the right or wrong decision lifted from my shoulders. When he arrived at my house, Mike quickly looked at my preferred paint samples and a few others from the paint sample card pile of possibilities. He held the samples to the walls and briefly contemplated.

But he didn’t agonize, didn’t sigh, didn’t even hesitate and promptly endorsed my selection.

I was giddy, relieved, thankful—all rolled in one.

However, my friend warned me that initially I might find the color too dark, too bold, compared to the existing beige walls. I figured as much. But he assured me Whole Wheat was the right choice.

Then he burst my happiness bubble. “Be sure to apply two coats of paint.”

My enthusiasm deflated. “Why?” I asked.

He explained that no matter how hard I tried to cover the white primer, the primed spots would still show. Two coats would also add depth to the color.

I expect he’s right. Mike is a color expert. I’m not.

“I suppose you don’t like to paint?” I asked.

“I do like to paint,” he said.

But Mike is too busy right now coordinating a fundraiser on Saturday night. I know, though, if he had the time to help, he would. Mike is that kind of friend.


I ALSO WANT TO THANK my blogger friend Dana at Bungalow ‘56 up in Canada. She read my February 3 post, “Stressing over a home improvement project” and sent me a link to “Nesting Place Paint Colors & A Linky For Your Paint Colors.” As luck would have it, I clicked on one of the links and found a kitchen painted in Sherwin Williams’ Whole Wheat.



THANKS ALSO TO MY SISTER, Lanae, a floral designer and color expert, for the color suggestions she emailed. I wish I possessed half her decorating talent.

She reminds me many times that as a child I once picked a yellow dress with daisy adornments over a green sailor-style dress. I quickly regretted my choice. Lanae regretted it, too, because she had to wear my hand-me-downs, including that atrocious daisy dress.

Bottom line, my sister has excellent taste and I trust her recommendations.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Stressing over a home improvement project February 2, 2011


I dislike chaos and disorder.

I delay making decisions when I’m not confident about the topic that needs deciding.

So you might rightfully guess that a home improvement project would throw me for a loop. It has. It is.

For some time now, we’ve been dealing with a project that put five new windows and a new door into our aging home. Of course, in an old house like ours, issues arise. New windows didn’t fit quite like the old ones, necessitating lumber and sheetrock patching. That means I’ll need to repaint. More decisions. More work.

There are issues with the new door, which are in the process of being resolved.

I am stressed and I really shouldn’t be. I mean, it’s not like we’re building a house.

But all of the decisions, the upheaval, the time away from writing, are wearing on me.

Every day for nearly two weeks I’ve pulled on my old faded blue jeans, one of my husband’s discarded t-shirts and headed upstairs to a spare bedroom to stain and varnish wood trim. Foot upon foot upon foot of wood. Sand and stain and varnish. Sand between coats and varnish each piece of wood three times.

Here's just a sampling of the wood trim I've stained and varnished during the past two weeks.

After about the third day of breathing stain and varnish fumes, and, honestly, “tasting” the toxins, I began wearing a dusk mask. I also left an upstairs window open. Yes, even on 20-degree days.

Yesterday I finished varnishing the last eight pieces of wood, until the carpenter brings me more wood for the door threshold. Oh, joy, more trim to prepare for installation.

I'm into my second quart of varnish. Every piece of wood gets three coats of polyurethane varnish.

But I keep telling myself I am saving us hundreds of dollars by staining the 75 pieces of wood and varnishing each three times. Hundreds. Of dollars.

That’s good because the money goes fast when you’re house-improving. For a frugal person like me, such spending doesn’t come easily.

I’m struggling, too, with choosing a color for the living room walls, which need to be painted before the carpenters nail the window and door trim in place. This is causing me great angst as evidenced in the endless paint swatches I’ve plucked from displays in three stores. I think now that I’ve narrowed the color down to two choices. I need to decide because once the sheetrock mudding is done, we’re ready to paint.

I've picked up way too many paint cards, further confusing me. I'm leaning toward "Whole Wheat," a warm color from Sherwin Williams with a golden tint. Anybody have that color on their walls?

My living room is a mess with wood piled in front of the TV, our bed headboard in the corner next to a bucket of sheetrock mud. A canvas covers the carpet in front of the new picture window and cardboard leans against the wall. Two white showers curtains serve as temporary window drapes…

I don’t even bother to put away the vacuum cleaners any more.

A corner of my living room. I'm not showing you any other rooms, some of which are also in disarray due to this "project."

P.S. To those of you who drive by our house daily, yes, we are getting new siding on the front. It’s tough living on a fish bowl busy street where “everyone” sees what you’re doing.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The “truth” about the color of that pink Argentine palace June 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:15 AM
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IF YOU SEE A PINK building, you might think, “Oh, how beautiful” or “Oh, how ugly.” You also probably will wonder “why pink,” somewhat of an odd color choice (especially in Minnesota).

Argentina's presidential palace, La Casa Rosada, is painted pink. This is the back of the palace.

In Argentina, though, the presidential palace is pink. And there is, according to my daughter Miranda who is currently interning with a company that gives walking tours of Buenos Aires, a very good reason.

“La Casa Rosada is pink because they used to mix cows’ blood with the clay/rock to preserve the building against humidity,” she tells me after learning this trivia during her first day on the job.

“Yuck, gross, disgusting,” I inwardly react and then wonder whether this is fact or urban legend.

But brief online research confirms the cows’ blood angle. (Just a note here: The palace has been repainted, so when you view it today, this is not the original cows’ blood tint you see.)

Additionally, I learn that the pink symbolizes unity between the two main political parties—distinguished by red and white—at the time of palace construction in 1873.

Whatever the total truth, the cows’ blood angle has forever changed my perspective on pretty pink palaces.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling