Stacy Bolson is the third-generation owner of S.B. Bolson & Sons, LLC, a painting and wallpapering business started in 1922 in Decorah by Bolson’s grandfather, Stephen Benjamin (SB) Bolson. (Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond)
Stacy Bolson is the third-generation owner of S.B. Bolson & Sons, LLC, a painting and wallpapering business started in 1922 in Decorah by Bolson’s grandfather, Stephen Benjamin (SB) Bolson. (Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond)

Anyone who knows Decorah’s Stacy Bolson knows he is not a person who likes to stand in the limelight; but when you’re as good at something as he is, you’re bound to occasionally draw some attention.

Bolson recently received the first place Residential Craftsmanship Award from the Wallcovering Installers Association (WIA).

According to a statement released by the WIA, the award was given “in recognition of his outstanding work on a two-story foyer with a spiral staircase located in Minnesota.”

“I was surprised, because I knew I was up against a lot of people who’d been doing this for a long time,” Bolson said. “I feel pretty good about it.”

Bolson was commissioned for the project by Marti Gray for the James A. Thompson House bed-and-breakfast in Lanesboro, Minn. Gray and her husband, David, are proprietors of the bed-and-breakfast.

A collaboration begins
When the Grays signed papers on the Italianate house in Lanesboro with the intention of restoring it and operating it as a bed-and-breakfast, Marti knew she wanted the best – and, where wallpapering was concerned, that was Bradbury and Bradbury. Founded in 1979 by Bruce Bradbury with the mission of rediscovering and recreating the best in historic wallpaper design, the company specializes in fine hand-printed art wallpapers.

“I had been studying the Bradbury and Bradbury art papers for about 30 years and when this opportunity to own and restore an 1870s Italianate home came to pass, I had already begun the design process,” Gray said. “Because of the specialty of hand-cutting the papers, I knew Bradbury had a list of craftsmen who could successfully install the ceiling treatments.”

She went to their site, expecting to find a qualified person from the St. Paul area (which would require extra money to house while they installed the papers).

“Imagine my joy to find someone in Decorah who could commute,” she said.

Enter Bolson, third-generation owner of S.B. Bolson & Sons, LLC, a painting and wallpapering business started in 1922 by Bolson’s grandfather, Stephen Benjamin (SB) Bolson. Stephen was joined in the business by his four sons when they came of age – Hubert and Ray, both now deceased; Kenny; and Stacy’s father, Spencer.

Stacy Bolson joined the business when he was 12, and went to work full-time when he graduated high school. He bought into the business in 1991, when Hubert and Ray retired. Kenny retired in 2001, and Spencer in 2006.

Bolson and Gray first collaborated on a project for the James A. Thompson House in 2016, which consisted of three rooms: the library, living and dining rooms. The project took six weeks to complete and required working around other contractors’ equipment and work in-progress.

“Stacy is a perfectionist, which was a blessing for me since I, too, have a discerning eye,” Gray said. “The dining room ceiling had over 80 cuts, which are then installed like a jigsaw puzzle. Having someone with technique and heart resulted in exactly the vision I had for the room.”

When it came time to restore the two-story foyer with a spiral staircase, Gray wanted Stacy to do all the work: painting, prepping and papering.

“The reason for this was because I knew my vision was going to be complicated and our working relationship from the year before was going to be critical in problem solving,” she said.

She turned the space into a tripartite – which meant splitting the wall space into three distinct areas.

“My husband installed a flexible chair rail to accommodate the circular staircase and Stacy did an amazing job of installing the paintable wall covering and inventing the painting process for making it look like leather,” she said. “Stacy was an excellent person to bounce my ideas off of, and together we produced an amazing highlight of this home.”

An award-winning project takes shape
“As you could imagine, the spiral staircase added to the uniqueness and complexity of this project which required a lot of thought, planning and layout work prior to installation,” a WIA representative said in a prepared statement about the project.

Bolson spent a lot of time laying out the 90 different pieces of wallpaper used in the project, making sure the patterns aligned and the design was balanced. All pieces had to be trimmed onsite and custom-designed to fit the space. He constructed special scaffolding to work in the awkward space created by the spiral staircase, and actually wallpapered the area twice – first with a blank “stock” paper to give it a good base, which would be able to absorb excess moisture and lock the seams into place.

“It can be tedious work, but it’s rewarding when you get to see the finished project,” Bolson said. “We were doing a first-class job here, and (Marti) wanted to go all the way.”

The entire project took Bolson five weeks to complete, during which time he put most other projects on hold.

In addition to feeling the satisfaction of a job well done, Bolson said his experience on the project was enhanced by the person who hired him to do it.

“(Marti) was great to work for,” he said. “She knew what she wanted, and she wanted it to be the best.”

And, according to the association devoted to Bolson’s trade, that is exactly what she got.

“The (first place Residential Craftsmanship) Award is intended to honor individuals who have exemplified their expertise in the wall-covering industry,” Kay Lowe, association executive with the WIA said in a statement. “As you can see, Stacy Bolson is well deserving of such an honor as he did an outstanding job on this project and produced stunning results.”

Gray agrees.

“I can’t say enough about (Stacy),” she said. “He’s thorough, honest, creative, prompt and will go out of his way to please.”

He is also personable and modest, she said.

“He could easily boast about his accomplishments, yet he prefers to not step into the limelight – even when I believe he should.”