This past week, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the master upholsterers who works on Rapson chairs. Walt Thielbar is the owner of Walt's Upholstery in Harris, Minnesota. An hour outside of the metro Twin Cities and without a website or any advertising, Walt always has all the work he can handle. Why?
Well, Walt says he is "only as good as my last job," and that particularity for excellence has brought him a reputation as a top-notch upholsterer and made him a great partner for Rapson-Inc.
Walt started in the business 30 years ago, and got his first job out of college as a traveling dental chair upholsterer. They would send out fliers a week or so in advance, then arrive in each town from Minnesota to New York in their traveling restoration shop on wheels. He would restore the dental chairs on the spot and then move on to the next town. From the start, he grew a beard to appear older and more reputable, and though he doesn't need the beard as collateral today, he says he's afraid to get rid of it after all these years. Life on the road wasn't for Walt, so after 18 months, he settled in Harris and opened the shop he still runs today.
Walt keeps a small shop about an hour north of the Twin Cities in the old Harris bank. Using the old banking counter as his front desk, and the vault as a storage space for the textiles, the place barely resembles a bank aside from the original teller and cashier signs that hang over the two front doorways. The walls are bedecked with trophy catches and colorful wildlife. His joy is infectious when he talks of the 7 dogs he and his wife own at his lake shore home, which is perfectly situated on a hill to take in the sunsets over the lake. Aside from doing the job of his dreams, Walt is an avid hunter and animal lover. He raises numerous, beautiful varieties of pheasants, pigeons and chickens, and at one time, peacocks. As Walt garrulously talked of his home life, hobbies and work, I began to think that he may just be the happiest man on earth. It is absolutely impossible to leave his shop without a new spring in your step and a smile on your face.
Caroline Engel for Rapson-Inc.