It happens every spring. The lake resort town of Culver, IN, swells to twice its size as it welcomes back homeowners for the summer season. Come February or March, as these homes are reopened and their interiors reevaluated, one of the first calls made is to Boetsma Interiors.
When Anita and Larry Boetsma take the call they pretty much are
prepared to handle whatever comes next. Boetsma Interiors, originally
begun as an upholstery business in the 1920s, offers customers furniture
(including some vintage furnishings), carpeting, ceramic tile, wallpaper
and a little bit of everything including canvass work for boat coverings
and roll curtains. That, of course, is in addition to a full line
of custom window coverings.
With one stop at Boetsma Interiors residents surrounding Lake Maxinkuckee
can redo a room or their entire home, porch, patio and deck. “I
don’t know how to say I can’t do that,” Anita admits.
“And that is unusual,” she continues. “Most people
will tell you to pick a niche, stick with it and milk it for all
it’s worth. That’s fine if you’re not surrounded
by cornfields in a tiny little town in the middle of Indiana. Living
where I live, people call me and ask, ‘Who do I call to buy
a cherry tree?’ People call me and ask, ‘Who can I get
to clean my house? Do you have somebody who can wash windows?’
I get calls about anything and everything.
“In this town, if I want to catch that residual business, it
pays for me to know a little bit about everything and how to get
things done. The people who come here are coming into a resort community
from bigger areas. They’re used to picking up the phone and
having things done.”
Working in a resort community has its own problems. Most notably,
everybody comes all at once. “I liken it to standing on a hill
with horses coming toward you,” Boetsma says. “You see
them in the distance, and then all of a sudden the ground starts
to shake under your feet and by the time they get here the ground
is moving really fast. That’s what happens between February
NECESSITY AS TEACHER
Out of the necessity created by this annual surge, Larry and Antia
work closely and well together to handle the needs of their clients.
Larry is a third-generation Boetsma in the family business, which
he took over from his father in 1979. His training began in his
grandfather’s upholstery shop and continued through his graduation
from design school.
“He’s a big part of what goes on in the business today,”
Anita says. “He’s big on quality control, and he makes
sure that all the ideas I come up with won’t fall back off
the wall! He is the engineering brain. I get the idea. He has to
figure out how to make it work. It’s his function to keep things
Anita joined the company in 1986, coming out of a customer service
background. Believe it or not, she did not know how to sew. “I
had no idea how to sew. I did not have a clue how to make a pattern
for anything. Basically, all I really knew how to do was sell and
talk to people,” she says.
At the time, Boetsma Interiors was an upholstery and furniture store.
It was Anita’s idea to add a custom workroom to the business
because she could see a market developing for it. Necessity being
the mother of invention, Anita learned her craft while on the job.
“I knew what I wanted, but I did not have the skills to create
what I wanted on the sewing machine. I could see how it should be
done—and I can’t tell you why I knew that, but I could
see how it needed to be done. I just had trouble translating my
ideas through somebody else’s hands. So I started sitting down
at the machine myself just to show how it was to be done, and after
finishing several projects myself I just decided it was time I did
it rather than pay somebody.”
That’s the same way Anita learned upholstery and slipcovering.
She was asked to slipcover an old sofa, but the state in which she
found it reupholstering was the only solution. “I really liked
it. I thought, ‘You know, I like doing this.’ And I liked
the way things looked. I find upholstery much easier than slipcovers,
and we do quite a bit of it.”
Anita did not start doing custom draperies until she attended the
International World of Window Coverings show in Indianapolis in
1996. There, in a raffle, she won a week at Cheryl Strickland’s
drapery workroom school. “Of course I came home feeling very
confident that I could do my own draperies,” she says.
EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME
By this time a big change was taking place in Culver. What was in
the 1920s a quaint, summer resort with seasonal cottages—neither
heated nor insulated—was seeing an influx of people “with
a little more cash,” Anita says. Many of these new residents
began remodeling the cottages and others tore them down to build
new, higher-end homes. “What isn’t new construction is
a complete refurbishing,” she says.
Once upon a time people didn’t put a lot of money into their
cottages and residents didn’t need to have a lot of money to
own one, she recalls. That’s no longer the case. Boetsma estimates
the minimum price for a lot would be a half-million dollars, which
would include “a fairly small house that would probably be
This demographic change led to changes at Boetsma Interiors. For
one, it became smarter and easier to custom order everything than
to stock anything, Anita explains. “We basically went from
being a showroom furniture store with medium-grade to upper-grade
furniture to working through the Chicago Merchandise Mart on custom
interiors. We started out doing outdoor cushions and light upholstery
work—dining chairs and things like that—and some canvas
work,” she says.
There are some 400 homes around the lake these days, and virtually
every owner is a client of Boetsma Interiors. To reach them, the
company advertises in a newsletter put out three times a year by
the Retail Merchants Association, which Anita chairs. “Our
success with that has been phenomenal. It is direct mailed to 1,250
of the people who already do business with us,” she says.
“When people come back to their summer homes, they like to
feel that they know you,” she adds. “The biggest thing
we’ve done with this newsletter is we use our first names.
When somebody walks into my business, whether they’ve been
here before or not, I want them to know to ask for Anita.”
Ask Anita Boetsma what type of job she enjoys most and she’ll
be stuck for an answer. She willingly admits there isn’t any
part of the workroom she doesn’t like. She also finds she loves
teaching. This year again she is an instructor at the annual Custom
Home Furnishings Industry Educational Conference & Trade show
(see page 43).
“I really love the teaching,” she says. “It is so
much fun to have a group of people and just take them with you.
I think maybe the only thing I love better than actually putting
together something beautiful is teaching.”
Boetsma tries to explain that to area high school students. In Indiana,
many schools still teach sewing. In fact, the state has placed commercial
sewing machines in some schools. Every year Boetsma lectures in
the home economics classes about some of the opportunities available
to them, and students are always welcome to come by for a tour of
“There’s an industry now in sewing that wasn’t considered
before. It’s a coming thing,” she says. “I try to
tell them that. I don’t know how much of that sinks in. I think
the next generation of seamstresses is not going to be coming straight
out of high school. I think it will be people who get into it when
they have children. The sewing industry has become the cottage industry
of this new generation because more and more people want custom
work as opposed to off the rack.”
Something that distinguishes Boetsma Interiors is their work with
canvas—often as boat covers, but usually as roll curtains because
they are so practical.
“The houses that haven’t had new windows and screened
porches put on a lot of times will have roll curtains around the
porch to preserve the furniture,” Anita says. “They don’t
want to haul the cushions in, especially on the east shore. The
storms blow in from the west and they’ll blow right into the
house if you don’t do something.” She even has installed
roll curtains with “windows” in them.
This type of treatment highlights two of Boetsma Interiors’
strong points: flexibility and accommodating the client. Anita describes
flexibility as the willingness to try new things. “The things
that we do now that are extremely profitable are all things that
we’ve added in the last 14 years as the demand has grown,”
It also means keeping an open mind. “Sometimes we create a
niche in our minds that may not be the niche in our communities.
It’s nice to say I’m only going to do thousand-dollar
duvets, but if that’s not what your community will back, then
you’ll have to be flexible.
“My key to success has been taking an exclusive clientele and
making sure that whatever they want I find it or get it to the best
of my ability. I do my best to be extremely accommodating to my
clients. When I work in a house, nine times out of ten, nobody’s
there—even in the summertime. My key to growing the business
has been being willing to cater to a clientele that has certain
expectations and they are willing to put their money where their
expectations are. I know what they want. They can afford to pay
for it. I do my best to give them what they want.
“I don’t always succeed: I experience delays in materials
sometimes, I get into something that takes me longer than I thought
it would to figure out how to do, I put my foot in my mouth, and
a lot of times I have to scream, ‘Help!’ to my husband.”