The Golden Rule: A Dream Career Built From Love, Loss and Resilience
PHOTOS BY: 2ND TRUTH
I’ve interviewed a fair share of people throughout my career, and what I’ve come to learn is sometimes the story you thought you were telling evolves into something else entirely. This interview is one of those cases. I recently sat down with Erin Duininck of the GOLDEN RULE, the owner of a gorgeously curated makers boutique in Excelsior, Minnesota. Our in-house photographer at the studio mentioned she had a pretty interesting story to tell, alongside owning one of the most beautiful stores in the Twin Cities. I had heard of her shop before and quickly reached out to see if she would be interested in meeting with me. She was kind enough to say yes and invite our team into her home + store for a chat, some delicious glazed donuts, grapefruit basil beverages, and a heartfelt tour into her life.
Upon walking into her store, it’s everything you could imagine and more. If you’ve ever seen her Instagram @goldenruleexcelsior, it’s even better in person, if you can believe that’s possible. It’s dreamy, really. So much color and light paired with a million curated and organized goodies that make you want everything in arms reach. During our talk that day, I learned that a good majority of the products in her shop come from American makers and artisans. All hand selected by Erin personally. If she would want it in her home or for herself, she will buy it for the store. While at the shop I noticed Erin has amazing taste and I could tell right away that when it comes to decision making, her acute decisiveness must play a key role in her continued successes.
When we sat down on her cozy, rich green velvet chairs and began chatting, I had so many questions for Erin, so I thought the best place to start was at the beginning. As the interview unfolded I was overwhelmed by Erin’s realness, there is a certain magic about her that you can see right away. I found myself tearing up a few times as we talked, mostly because her stories were so heartfelt. And as our conversation unfolded, I realized Erin really does have a great story to tell.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this conversation as I drove home from her shop that day. Stories like hers are the ones I live for. As an interviewer and storyteller, there’s always an unexpected story waiting behind the one you think you’re about to tell and that narrative always has a wonderful way of unfolding as you get to know someone. With Erin, my preconceived story was one of a beautiful, perfectly curated shop that’s Instagram-worthy to every inch, one of a mother, artist, and successful entrepreneur. But behind the shop and store owner, there is so much more to her story. I found Erin has countless lessons to teach us and life wisdom to share. And even though at certain points in her life she has experienced immense grief and sorrow, her story ends up reading poetically, and I attribute this to Erin being beautiful from the inside out. I don’t know how else to put it other than – she’s one of the good ones, and her wonderful energy must be helping her along in her life journey. That’s the theory I came to understand about Erin after only meeting her less than a handful of times.
I’m so excited to share Erin’s story with you today, take you on a tour of her gorgeous GOLDEN RULE shop and show you her light and beautiful lake home. I left our heart-to-heart feeling more soulful than ever before and even picked up a few interior design tricks along the way.
How did you come to open GOLDEN RULE? Tell us a little bit about your inspiration and how it all began?
GOLDEN RULE is the result of a natural and organic progression over a long period of time. My parents were artists and musicians growing up. When I was young I was making jewelry in this very overwhelming and prolific way and my parents were like, “Okay, let’s funnel this energy.” They set me up with a silver-smithing apprenticeship when I was 14. Honestly, I always assumed I would be a singer/songwriter. I went to school for vocal performance and left school to make an album. I played in various bands and did a lot of writing.
When I married Ben and moved out to Excelsior, the late night gig lifestyle didn’t fit and I knew I wanted to play a supporting role for local artists I admired and needed to be creating myself. I started sewing and making more jewelry and opened a gallery on our property. We lived on an old orchard so I called it Orchard Art House and it was a mission of sorts for me. It was open by appointment and we sold artwork, taking no commission as a way of giving back to a community that I felt had really fed, empowered, and supported me growing up and also during my divorce. All of this eventually led to me opening the Golden Rule.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
I enjoy the freedom to let things unfold naturally without somebody overseeing or micromanaging me. I am a person of action so never having to jump through hoops or deal with red tape is key. I also enjoy the relationships. This community feels creatively alive. People play nicely with one another and everyone seems to be cheering each other on. I like that everyone seems to find their niche and crowd here.
What is the hardest part about being a business owner?
Wearing all the hats, feeling like I’m always winging it and saying no to people.
Who is your inspiration?
I am inspired every time I see someone stepping into their calling – doing something that feels true and beautiful, profound, or deeply kind. We live in a city teeming with talent and heart. Inspiration is around every corner and in your own backyard. You just have to be open to it.
I’m inspired by what I read and listen to and a lot of what I do has been informed by Joan Didion, Joni Mitchell, and the writers in my family.
I have been so greatly influenced by my parents and their open-hearted, faithful, and artistic way of moving in the world. The driving force in all their decision making is love of God, love of people, connection, and calling. They modeled such an admirable way of participating in society and being self-aware, reflective, and intentional.
I’m more than a little nostalgic and I assign meaning or collect meaning in the work of my family that went before me. My paternal grandfather ran Coffman Union at the U of M until his death in the 70s. I never met him, but his legacy was community building and I have taken that to heart. My paternal grandmother was a world traveler and social activist. I didn’t fully appreciate her radical activism until the past couple years. My maternal grandmother was an antique dealer, a writer, and ran her own estate sale business. She had a lot of get up and go and I think I’ve taken that on. My mother’s sister was a published poet before she died of cancer at age 27. Her absence has been a presence in my life since day one. She’s all the cool and composed brooding girls I’ve ever met that I worry think I’m too big and loud. In some ways, I feel like I need to carry on all of these legacies and more in tiny ways that feel true to my being. Like I’m surrounded by this heavenly host.
Being a tiny link in an infinite chain is inspiring and comforting to me.
Who is your mentor?
I don’t have a proper shop-keeping mentor as I didn’t necessarily set out to do what I’m doing. But there are a handful of wise people I look to in my life for guidance in different areas. My mother is a spiritual director and my father is a pastor, so there is a lot of built-in guidance in our relationships by nature. I grew up in intentional community with four other families and have been greatly impacted by that. I find myself looking to these women as examples in everything from parenting to entertaining.
If I could choose a shop-keeping mentor, there would most certainly be a solid group of shopkeepers in the twin cities. I think that Mille and The Foundry both just kill it in their spheres. What they do always reads authentic and fresh to me. I’ve also been pretty into popping into the new Arlee Park. Those twins are just a dose of happy.
How do you balance it all – motherhood and owning a business etc.?
Balance is a myth just as control is an illusion. Whenever you say yes to one wonderful thing, you’re inevitably saying no to a whole host of other fantastic things. I’ve had to do some painful prioritizing since opening GOLDEN RULE and having River. Of course, kids win out over career every time, but there are definitely gray areas where I have found that I have to be more mindful. I, by no means, have it down. I haven’t had any semblance of regular childcare since River was born almost 16 months ago. I’ve seen a huge loss of income. But I think half of life is rolling with it. And trusting in seasons. This is the season that I get to be with my beloved and longed-for son. There will be other seasons. The best gift I can give my kids and myself is to be present for this one. And then the next one. And so on.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hopes have always been general. I hope that I am never stagnant, that I never settle, and that I never stop learning or growing. I hope I can do the very best I can with the hand I am dealt. My aim is always to tell the truth and to make beauty out of suffering. And I don’t mean that I would like to meet suffering with a shield of platitudes nor would I seek to sugar coat it or sweep it under the rug. My life’s work is to face both suffering and joy full on, press into them, be taught by them, and turn it outward however that looks. My life’s work in any and all facets is to sing with joy. And when it comes to tangible hopes, I would like to finish my unfinished EP.
What are your favorite parts about Excelsior?
Excelsior is such a charming place. The people have been very careful over the years to keep chains to a minimum and to keep historic integrity on the main street. I understand that sometimes it feels like it halts progress. But on the flip side, not all progress is positive. I feel like Excelsior has done a commendable job trying to balance old and new. It’s a beautiful slice of quintessential Americana with its baseball field jutting up against the lake, the trolley, and its plethora of ice cream offerings.
What is the perfect day in your neighborhood?
I love every day in Excelsior, it is like Mayberry, you know everyone. I love it when the lilacs are blooming and when Minnesotans jump the gun and get on their shorts early. Everyone knows that Minnesotans do spring and summer right. We don’t waste a minute. The hustle and bustle on the street down to the water is pretty magical when the weather is right and spring brings new life and promise.
What brands are you loving right now?
I’m not huge on brands per se, but I am drawn to makers, artists, and small batch companies who I find I align with on multiple levels. The shop is filled with my favorites. If I would buy it, hang it, or proudly gift it, I want to carry it. It’s really hard for me to narrow it down, but I guess I could say that for clothing I wear my Winsome, Hackwith, and Raleigh day in and day out. And I can’t stop buying Ashley Mary and Missy Monson art for my walls. My personal jewelry collection apart from what I make myself is lots of Neal and Kiki Koyote for every day minimal vibes and Annika Kaplan and Britta Kaupilla for gems. I’m also really into what apprvl and otherwild are doing and Rachel Alicia’s living installations really inspire me.
What advice do you have for someone who is considering opening up a brick and mortar?
I am probably the worst person to ask as I purposely operate without a business plan and let things unfold how they seem to want to. I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing that normally works out. But I will say that having a clear vision or mission statement of sorts and an open mind is invaluable. I try to be extremely realistic while maintaining a sense of wonder and possibility. And it’s worth noting that with most jobs that appear to be a hobby on steroids, there’s a lot of grunt work behind the scenes. I put in my fair share of 80 hour weeks. I do feel, as an artist, a pressure to have a work ethic that goes above and beyond to combat the flaky artist stereotype. I make a point of doing the math and doing it right. And let’s be honest, I definitely answered a work call in the hospital two hours post c-section.
What does the name GOLDEN RULE mean?
While I was running Orchard Art House, I had a beautiful piece of typography done by Krista Armbrust of Armed Creative taped up by my computer that read simply “The Golden Rule.” It spoke to me and invaded my psyche. Partly because Krista is the most pure and kind soul I’ve ever known.
And of course, I think most people are familiar with Matthew 7:12 – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It just felt fitting to the vibe I envisioned for this place. I opened GOLDEN RULE as a reaction to not being able to have a baby. I decided to have a shop baby. And it just seemed like I should try to build the most loving, beautiful, and life-giving place possible. It’s that constant reminder that we are called to be servants to one another. And it’s painted quite conspicuously on the side of our building so it’s a reminder to everyone including myself. We all need reminders not to be selfish jerks sometimes.
Describe your style.
Nostalgic, informed, opinionated, and quite disheveled. I’ve never been accused of being boring. For better or worse.
What are your thoughts on style and motherhood? How do you achieve both?
If you wear a cute baby facing outward, you can get away with anything because nobody will look at you. Kind of kidding?
I don’t have anything figured out. I just do what I like/have time for and don’t take my appearance too seriously. I usually look like I just rolled out of bed (after getting approximately 3 of my necessary 9 hours of sleep) and picked clothes up off the floor. Because I probably did. This is a season in which I express my style much more in my home and shop than on my ever-changing body.
There was a time when I used my clothing as an artistic expression, but that’s not the season I’m in presently. I’ve been around long enough to see things coming back that I wore in middle school so there’s a perspective that comes with age. There are some styles I’m happy to embrace again (overalls)! And others that I’m fine letting the younger crowd have without me. Mom jeans look less cute when you’re a mom.
And obviously, true style is so deeply based on knowing yourself and feeling at ease with who you are in the world.
Tell us about your experiences as a mother.
Motherhood is one of those natural pulls that I felt strongly from a young age. The girls at the shop call me mama bear. I never played wedding as a child – I always played house. And I was always, always the mother. I didn’t pray for my future husband like the other girls in my youth group. I prayed for my future children. I babysat from a young age, helped with my younger brothers, and took a position as a nanny as a young adult. I had a lot of opinions and ideas, but I was short on grace or real world understanding. I got pregnant with my daughter Lillian when I was 23 and in a marriage that I wasn’t very sure was solid. We divorced when Lil was 18 months old and I found myself single parenting. This was a very bittersweet time. Lillian was my darling sidekick everywhere I went and adapted to my lifestyle. But I couldn’t keep up with single or childless friends in any real way. I remember, distinctly, friends asking if we could catch up and grab coffee without Lillian. I felt stunned, hurt, and at a loss. We were a package deal in my mind and heart. I couldn’t afford childcare and didn’t really want to leave her anyway. We kind of clung to one another during those years.
When Ben and I got married, we made sure to include Lillian in our vows and even took her on her own version of a family honeymoon. He stole my heart when he professed that he was getting the best deal of all: a two for one.
After being married for a year, Ben and I began to try for a baby together. After months of disappointment, we finally conceived. We announced our great news to his family during his mother’s 70th birthday party. I miscarried a couple hours later at my in-laws’ home in their basement bathroom. I still can’t make myself linger on this moment for any length of time.
After more pain and disappointment and all of our friends getting pregnant once and then twice, we began fertility treatments. We went through six IUI cycles with meds to no avail. And then moved forward with the dreaded IVF cycles. Each round of IVF produced pregnancies and devastating losses. The first round of IVF was successful, but only momentarily. Long enough for me to tell my family at Thanksgiving and then miscarry in my Uncle’s bathroom. I had to be carried out of the house and driven home as Ben reminded me that I had to breathe and had to walk me through the process. I didn’t know a person could forget how to breathe. The next round we had twins with twin heartbeats and bought matching cribs. I went in to have a routine ultrasound to measure their growth only to find out both of their hearts had stopped beating at different days earlier in the week. Ben hadn’t attended as we thought we were surely in the clear. I somehow drove to my friend’s house as I sobbed and convulsed. I don’t know if I have ever felt so lost or broken. And to add insult to injury, I had an expensive surgery to remove the babies and send them away for genetic testing. I was coming to the end of my rope and was willing to do anything even if that meant I needed a surrogate. The results said my body was just doing what it was supposed to do: ridding itself of nonviable babies. We tried a third time and I can honestly say I don’t even remember it. My heart had grown hard.
We stopped trying. I retreated into myself and my work. A year later we found out we were pregnant naturally. We were ecstatic. A couple weeks later at my daughter’s end of the year picnic, I found myself miscarrying again. Something like a month later I had been living with an ever-growing pain and finally mentioned it to a few people when they asked if I was okay (because I couldn’t stand up). After a series of tests and a middle of the night ambulance ride, I was in a hospital bed making crazy decisions about the future of my reproductive organs while my husband was flying home to be by my side. Once the doctor got inside to operate he was able to see that I had a 12-week ectopic pregnancy where blood was pooling in my abdomen. I was told in no uncertain terms that this had been a brush with death. My daughter caught wind and was greatly affected. In that moment, I was done. Done trying to attain the unattainable. It took me another year to make it past that and be done letting loss define every school year of my beautiful daughter’s life, to be done treating my body like a faulty incubator. In May of 2015 as all the hard and therapeutic work of opening GOLDEN RULE was coming to a close, I went to get matching golden rule ruler tattoos with Ashley Mary. We each got three inches. To me the three inches represented Ben, me, and Lillian as a whole family without any missing parts. I was done being unsatisfied and ungrateful for the incredible gifts that had been bestowed upon me. I felt peace for the first time in 5 years. We celebrated the grand opening of GOLDEN RULE within two weeks of that night. And a couple days later, I found out that I was again pregnant. Naturally. And for whatever blessed reason I became the mother to River on February 4, 2016 and every broken part of my heart, Ben’s heart and Lillian’s heart began to heal.
Motherhood has been the holiest journey of my life; the highest calling I’ve been blessed with. It’s not what I thought it would be: it’s deeper and more imperfect. Motherhood is calling up and out what I see in my children, standing back and letting them become, guiding, protecting, and knowing when to reveal harsh parts of the world a little bit at a time. It’s admitting that I am fallible. Being humble and asking their forgiveness. It’s cheering them on. It’s sacrificial and unconditional love. It’s telling them what I believe in my heart of hearts and earnestly telling them that they are free to question and believe whatever they feel is true in theirs. It is urgently reminding myself that I have them for this moment only and that nothing else is promised. It is a constant painful letting go.
My Lillian turns 13 in a couple weeks. My time with her is over half done. There is a part of me that regrets the pain she experienced and witnessed throughout her elementary school years. And another part of me that hopes it created a deep well of empathy and experience to draw from, that she will understand that life is adversity and we must overcome again and again and bear witness.
On this path, I have been broken and rebuilt. I’ve been to the depths and glimpsed the ugliness that lives inside me, but also the infinite possibility of beauty. And I do believe as the human collective that We Shall Overcome.
What is your advice on supporting a friend during a miscarriage?
There is no one-size-fits-all. Know who you’re dealing with and act accordingly.
Tread lightly. Be present. Acknowledge her pain privately. But acknowledge it. Don’t ever complain about your children. Don’t expect her to show up to baby showers. But invite her anyway. Don’t get on her case about being a good friend. That’s not her job right now. That’s yours.
Don’t ever say “everything happens for a reason.” If my life needed a book title it would be EVERYTHING HAPPENS (with
FOR A REASON in strike-through). Because everything happens. All the time. To all of us. And there isn’t a reason. Looking for reasons is fruitless. Things just are. Accept them as they come. And if you’re in a really good place right now, that means it’s your turn to support somebody else and help shoulder their burden. My theology has become quite simple over the years and can be distilled down to the Les Mis lyrics “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Love and empathy (not sympathy) are always the answer in this complicated, beautiful, painful life.
Tell us a little bit about the workshop space you have upstairs at the GOLDEN RULE.
WORKSHOP is meant to house all our creative endeavors and collaborations that spill out from the shop. It’s played host to showers, secret suppers, photo shoots, art camps, and of course workshops! Our aim is to create and cultivate a community-building and skill-sharing space with a specific aesthetic that can act as a pretty and lightly-styled backdrop when rented by others. We are currently playing host to a month long Golden Age Design pop-up and look forward to future partnerships of the like, hosting live music, and book club. WORKSHOP is directly above GOLDEN RULE and includes a main open area with great natural light and interesting lines, an attached sitting area with a new blush colored floor, and a full kitchen in back. To book the space or learn more about the workshop’s offerings contact us!