By Sarah Hall
for The Beacon
What was for more than 100 years a dusty lumberyard is now a bright, stylish and expansive new home for Dulmes Décor.
But owner Gary Dulmes clearly values his company’s remarkable history as much as its handsomely renovated new digs at 822 North 14th Street in Sheboygan, where a succession of three lumber companies once sprawled.
Now celebrating its 60th year in business, Dulmes Décor got its start in 1960 when his parents, John and Ruth Dulmes, opened a paint and wallpaper store on the ground floor at 1901 South 8th Street. Gary and his older brothers Jeff and Daniel grew up in the apartment above it. The ad for the store’s grand opening – which shows latex paint selling for $3.49 a gallon and offers a free plastic cleaning apron “for the ladies”— is amongst a variety of memorabilia displayed along the new showroom’s entryway.
In 1973, Gary became the first of the three sons to officially join the company — and has presided over it ever since.
The store offers “anything you can put on the floor or in a window,” according to Dulmes, and does both residential and commercial work.
“It’s wonderful to be in a larger and more open space, in a more high-traffic location and with our own parking lot and a warehouse on the premises,” Dulmes said. “The improvement in efficiency is huge.”
“What’s kept me in the business is the people,” Dulmes noted. “I find it very enjoyable because the customers eventually become friends. We even have a number of third-generation customers! In our business, customers are literally inviting us into their homes – and we take that as a big honor.”
As if to prove the point, David Strach of Sheboygan Falls – who first became a customer when Dulmes Décor installed carpeting and tile in his newly built home 30 years ago – wandered in with his wife, Joyce. “You did a beautiful job here,” he told Dulmes. “I figured this would be the right building for you guys!”
But the business now is a far cry from when only paint and wallpaper were sold, and the Dulmes family flocked Christmas trees to boost sales during the slow season.
“What’s changed is that the selection of products has grown tremendously over the years, the fashions are changing fast and the consumer is much more educated,” Dulmes explained.
For example, while the store offered perhaps 30 different types of carpets in the 1960s, now customers have between 450 and 500 to choose from.
That makes it more important than ever for customers to work with trained salespeople, Dulmes pointed out. The store currently has seven of them, out of an overall staff of 15. At least three of them have been with the company for more than 30 years.
“We try to treat our staff as family,” Dulmes said. “We have been blessed over the past 60 years with phenomenal employees, the best installers we can possibly get, and more. We have a commitment to continuing that.”
The new space features original posts and beams from Pantzer Lumber – the first of the three lumberyards to occupy the property – other original, reclaimed wood incorporated into walls and designer workstations and exposed ductwork along the lofty ceiling, giving it an industrial and yet warm and home-like appeal.
Natural light floods in from large plate-glass windows along the side of the building. A huge, curved front desk is inlaid with a gleaming glass and stone mosaic.
Dulmes and his staff did all the designing themselves. Perhaps he takes after his mother, who started her career as a decorator for the Jacob Jung Company.
In the new showroom’s coffee bar area, a wall that appears to be made of tin is actually made of ceramic tile. Such look-alike products that are hard to distinguish from the real thing – and yet are often more durable and cost less – are one of the biggest current home decorating trends, according to Dulmes.
The larger, more open space has allowed the store to offer customers many new products, including expanded selections of Anderson Wood, ceramic tile and carpeting.
Dulmes is especially proud of his work over the past six years with Building for America’s Bravest, helping to construct smart houses for veterans who are quadruple amputees.
Even though he is 66 years old and has begun to think about retiring, he hopes that someone from his staff will take the business over. He and his wife Susan, a former schoolteacher, have two grown, married daughters who are pursuing their own adventures: Anna, who lives in Nashville with her husband, a musician with the Little River Band, and their 6-year-old daughter, and Ali, who happens to be residing in Milan, Italy – which her father draws inspiration from as one of the top style and fashion centers in the world.
Dulmes invites new and existing customers to stop in and take a look around. The store has also expanded its hours and is staying open later, from 9 AM to 6 PM on weekdays and 9 AM to 3 PM on Saturdays.