THEY SAY YOU CAN TAKE THE GIRL OUT OF THE country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. Thankfully, Anna Hillegass doesn’t have far to go when she misses country life. She just gets on I-394 and heads west. As she nears her mother’s heirloom tomato and dahlia farm, Two Pony Gardens, the city landscape gives way to horse farms and groves of trees. Suddenly she’s brought back to her barefoot, fancy-free youth in the Wolsfeld Woods of Long Lake.
Hillegass’s childhood home was the first pioneer house in Hennepin County (it’s now a museum), a property adjacent to her mom’s farm. In winter, she and her big sister slept under flannel blankets next to a wood-burning stove. In summer, they chased ducks and geese down to the lake and raised caterpillars to watch their transformation into magnificent monarch butterflies.
“It was a magical childhood,” Hillegass says while preparing coffee in her North Loop apartment from a pour over coffe maker into a matte-white ceramic mug she grabs from an open kitchen shelf. She stocks these pieces of stoneware from the Portland company Notary at her shop downstairs. The Foundry Home Goods, her general store, is filled with many of the things she keeps in her own home. Hillegass is attracted to clean, carefully designed, utilitarian objects—ceramic cereal bowls, wooden brooms, Turkish towels, glass bottles filled with laundry soap. Because she sells what she herself uses, there’s a nice harmony to this upstairs-downstairs arrangement, which she describes as “my own city farmhouse.”
Hillegass’s apartment, bathed in sun and painted white, looks out on the brick and stone warehouse buildings of the hip and growing neighborhood. Her father, Jim Hillegass, is her landlord: He purchased the building in 1979 and did some remodeling to the rooms within it—sandblasting and painting, mainly. But he kept the timeworn bones intact—a wall of exposed brick in the kitchen, uneven wood floors, and original window frames. In the middle of the dining room, a door leads to nowhere; if opened, it overlooks an open-air building that Hillegass imagines someday “filling with pea gravel and tables for beer-drinking and a spot for food trucks to pull into.”
The Waldorf-educated Hillegass is drawn to organic materials—the beautiful imperfection of antique side tables, dining chairs, her great-grandmother’s bar cart, and wooden furniture shaped by hand—such as the farm table made by family friend Richard Brown of Lamprey Pass and the bowl carved out of a solid piece of walnut by Cooper Ternes of Nordic WoodenWare. Fair-trade tin lampshades from Bitters Co. in Seattle hang above a sturdy kitchen island, which Hillegass made herself from wood shipping crates and an old cupboard, then added wheels so she could roll it away for dance parties.
Hillegass is also a student of art and high-end interior design—she completed the History of Art and the Art Market program at Christie’s Auction House and worked as a stylist and sales rep at the Holly Hunt showrooms in New York and Minneapolis. “That Christian Liaigre shelf is my pride and joy,” she says, pointing to the tall black ebony and steel shelf she won in a sales contest. The woolen and embroidered rugs she chose are from Aubrey Angelo at IMS, and a pair of small teak chairs were found with her design mentor Alecia Stevens at ABC Carpet and Home. Distressed and slightly more downmarket pieces hold their own in the mix—oversized daybeds from World Market, a chipped lacquered-and-glass coffee table from Wisteria, and unfinished IKEA dressers.
Hillegass’s family is represented throughout. She hung up a few favorites from her father’s collection of ethereal, abstract watercolors and oil paintings. “He only started painting last summer—isn’t it great?” she asks. The rest of his work is currently on show at the Veronique Wantz gallery next door to The Foundry. “Dad works downstairs Monday through Thursday, and he always goes to Surdyk’s at 11:20 am, so if I catch him, I’ll order a tuna melt and then we’ll have lunch together.”
On the side, he helps her with some of her apartment projects—like the Douglas fir bookshelves in her living room, which they cut over her dining room chairs. Hillegass’s toolbox is stored on top of the washing machine for such occasions. “I get that excited tight-chest feeling when I walk into hardware stores,” she says. “All the little brass clips and wood tools . . .” She’s currently working on the shower fixture in her bathroom—and used porch paint to give the floors a slick white coat.
In the bathtub, Hillegass started a crate of clover for her spring window display. She works as an interior and floral stylist on the side, and she loves to fill her space with fresh flowers. She “shops at mom’s garden” in the summer, but hits Koehler and Dramm the rest of the year, arranging loose single-bloom bouquets in spots around the apartment—right now, it’s feathery star ferns, bright orange ranunculus, and a dramatic bunch of bells of Ireland.
And leaning into one window is a big avocado tree in a basket that stands as a testament to the very unique and rooted way this country girl was raised. “My dad and I started it at the kitchen sink when I was 15,” she says. “Now look how it’s grown.”