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“This was a time of pattern-on-pattern, balloon shades, and a lot of patterned fabrics and wall coverings,” Twin Cities interior designer Mary Hickey says of Shirley Keller’s home.
Photographs by Jeff Johnson
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The cobalt blue floral wallpaper in the breakfast room extends to the ceiling, the chandelier's lampshades, and the cushions on the ladder-back chairs, painted a vibrant lime green that's repeated as an accent throughout the home.
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The green lattice wallpaper contrasts with glossy black chinoiserie chairs in the home's front entry.
Details mattered to Shirley, her son Frank says, down to covering light switches in the same paper as the walls, like this green lattice dimmer plate in the front entry.
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The traditional breakfront china cabinet near the kitchen gets an eye-catching jolt of bright green malachite-patterned wallpaper to show case Flow Blue china.
Shirley’s Flow Blue collection is dramatic still life against her favorite accent color, lush lime green. The color is timely: Pantone just named a similar shade of green its 2017 color of the year.
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Even the closets were covered in paper, like this coat closet filled with Shirley's collection of handbags and fur coats.
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The solarium overlooks a private backyard and Japanese fountain. The Dutch Colonial–style home was built on a diagonal, with a long lean look that conforms to the property’s geography. The dark scallop-edged floral canopy in the solarium has a current look with its suggestion of chinoiserie. A present-day, midcentury-style table shows how easy it is to add small updates to modernize Shirley’s already timeless look. This ceramic garden stool was coveted by many who toured the home when it hit the market.
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Interior designers speculate that the blue floral wallpaper in the master bedroom is a Ralph Lauren pattern from the early ’80s when Ralph Lauren Home first launched. The blue-and-white pinstripe in the master bath has a currency, especially given the popularity of designer Mark D. Sikes’s striped interiors and his new blue-and-white-striped women’s fashions. Shirley’s collection of white ceramic figurines, including foo dogs, owls, and cockatoos, throughout her bedroom suite makes it look as if the rooms were just finished today.
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The chinoiserie mirror and enameled chest of drawers punctuate against the busy floral and pinstripe patterns.
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The preppy pinstripe on a gold- painted French-style vanity chair is a smart juxtaposition of designs that’s just as en vogue today.
Love it or hate it. “It’s that visceral. There’s no in between,” says Lakes Sotheby’s International Realtor Josh Sprague of his wallpaper-saturated—and now celebrity-status—listing in Golden Valley. Sprague knew the intense colors and splashy patterns of the vintage wallpapers slathered over every wall and most ceilings made the 1960 Dutch Colonial–style house in the Tyrol Hills neighborhood special, but even he wasn’t prepared when the listing went viral on the Internet. “It got picked up by the Retro Renovation blog on Facebook and received national attention, not just from the media, but from consumers. That surprised me.”
The Keller family
Clockwise from left: The Keller family, circa 1968: Bob, Frank, Sandra, Tony, and Shirley. Shirley and dog Tres in the solarium. Shirley in front of Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice in 1980. "She and my dad traveled a lot," says son Frank Keller.
Built for his family by real estate developer Robert Keller and decorated by his wife, Shirley, both now deceased, the lavishly wallpapered home is “a tribute to my mom,” says son Frank, a New York City artist and curator with a BFA from Pratt Institute. He’s quick to put an end to the Facebook squabble over whether the house and its papers are midcentury modern. “They’re not. In 1960 the house was very Minnesotan with knotty pine walls, a huge fireplace of antique bricks, rocking chairs, and my mom’s Flow Blue collection. These wallpapers were its last incarnation by Shirley, probably from the ’80s, though the look is ’70s.”
And despite all the hoopla generated by the audacity of her decorating—in addition to creating wallpaper cocoons, she repeated the patterns at the windows and on the beds and furnishings—“there was nothing eccentric about Shirley,” Frank notes. “She wasn’t ‘the wallpaper lady.’ She grew up in Cambridge, where she was homecoming queen. She worked as a milliner at Donaldson’s, then when that occupation vanished with the Kennedys and Jackie’s pillbox hats, she began to concentrate more on the house. Other people hired her to decorate their homes, but it was entirely word of mouth. She also decorated all 2,500 of my father’s model homes. She was extremely sophisticated, attractive, and Amy Vanderbilt well-mannered. Crudeness and vulgarity were not in her vocabulary.”
Her style, says Frank, was “somewhere between Matisse and Mark Hampton. She loved color, but for her it was a matter of getting the right proportions. She didn’t need effervescence, but she didn’t want drab or raw. She wanted celebratory. The result isn’t Alice in Wonderland, but it is surreal.”
Lessons From Shirley
Discover what you love. “There’s a big movement today to reflect your own interests in your home, and that’s what the Keller home does best,” designer Mary Hickey says.
Go gutsy with wallpaper. “People hem and haw so much today, but it’s just wallpaper and paint,” says designer and Modern Mix author Eddie Ross. “I admire the era when people weren’t scared. They partied, entertained, and decorated with zest.”
Repeat a single pattern. “Use it on the walls, windows, and upholsteries,” Ross says. “It’s not as overwhelming to the eye as mixing patterns—it’s not as choppy as a stripe, a floral, and another pattern. Then use neutral carpets, like a sisal.”
Invest in quality workmanship. “These papers and draperies are all beautifully applied and crafted,” Hickey says. That’s why they still look pristine decades later.
Don’t overlook small areas. Shirley papered her closets, hallways, and even the laundry room (in a yellow Florence Broadhurst paper no less. “She even painted the rheostat to match the walls!” Hickey observes.