As a designer, Nanci Wirt advises her clients to only buy what they love and never fill a space just for the sake of filling it. Since moving to Elkhart from a small town in northern California 24 years ago, Wirt has followed the same philosophy in her own life.
That path has not only led her to start her own interior design company, n.wirt design, but also landed her business in a two-story downtown Elkhart storefront where she achieved her dream of opening an art gallery.
Wirt purchased the building at 503 S. Main St. in 2014 with her husband. The upper level is home to her interior design studio, and the lower level is an art gallery showcasing 11 local artists.
Wirt says she has always loved bringing original art to her clients, and having a gallery to show it off has long been a goal.
When she first started n.wirt design in 2006, she worked out of a little studio next to her house, which her family nicknamed The Cottage. After seven years, when she found herself using the garage for overflow storage and inviting suppliers to her home for meetings, she decided the business had outgrown The Cottage and needed its own space.
In 2013, she and her husband started looking for office space downtown, and actually ruled out the building at 503 S. Main Street because they didn’t want to take that big of a step yet. Instead, they decided to rent a storefront in the 200 block of Main Street, which n.wirt design shared with Elk River Upcycle for a year.
“I loved the neighborhood feel,” she says. “The other merchants were so kind when we were moving in.”
That year, Wirt was able to start mixing in art from two or three artists among the Elk River merchandise to prepare for having her own gallery space.
Now, in the larger gallery at 503 S. Main St., she is able to carry art from many more artists, participate in Artwalk and hold opening receptions for new collections. This year, the gallery hosted its first solo show for artist A.R. Drew.
Wirt says she enjoys partnering with local artists both because she wants to support local talent and because it’s a priority for her clients.
“I get the question a lot, ‘Is this a local artist?’” she says. “There’s a lot of talent in the area, and giving them the opportunity to showcase their work has been great.”
When interior design clients visit the gallery and see a piece of art they want to buy, Wirt’s team brings the piece out to their home or business to see how it works in the space and to see if they still love it as much as they did in the gallery.
Even if you haven’t stopped by the studio, you’ve probably seen Wirt’s work in downtown Elkhart at 523 Tap & Grill. She designed the restaurant’s interior when Tony and George Anagnos renovated the building in 2008.
She has also worked on the Visitors Cottage at Wellfield Botanic Gardens, one of the downtown apartments, Spectrum Eyewear Gallery on S.R. 17 and Comprehensive Dental on Bristol Street—both the original design and a more recent refresh.
Wirt says that the downtown area was “pretty bleak” when she first moved to Elkhart, with not a lot going on aesthetically. Coming from Benicia, California, which Wirt describes as a small town with a vibrant downtown community, it was a bit of a shock.
She has been encouraged by how far Elkhart’s downtown has come in the last five years, with the Riverwalk, better streetscaping, The Lerner and NIBCO Water and Ice Park. Plus, she says, there’s just more going on downtown now. On August 27, the night of Taste of the Gardens, she loved seeing downtown packed with people enjoying the festival as well as live music at Arts on Main and other downtown venues.
Meanwhile, Wirt is happy living her own dream, bringing her dog Odie to the office every day where she does the work that she loves surrounded by beautiful art.