An extensive renovation and expansion enhance a historic manor’s splendor
In the 1920s, summer in the Twin Cities meant a migration of wealthy families to the metro-area lakes where they maintained vacation homes. The crown jewel was Lake Minnetonka, far enough away from the urban hustle and bustle to relax into the countrified sprawl of a property such as Farview, an 8,000-square-foot Hamptons-style estate built in 1929, encompassing 12 acres of rolling meadows and woods, a “far view” of the lake, and the first in-ground pool in the area where the neighbor children came to take swimming lessons from a hired coach.
Approaching Farview, with its circular driveway and stately portico, feels a bit like entering a chapter of The Great Gatsby—the home whispers of grand parties and the clinking of fine crystal, of fun and flirtation in the rose garden, or a lively game of doubles on the tennis court. It was this casually refined East Coast charm and storybook quality that captured the attention of the current owners, who visited the old home in every season before purchasing it in 2008.
“We loved the tradition of Farview, and felt very much that we were being handed not just the keys, but a responsibility to honor the property,” says the homeowner. The home’s original architect was Ernest Kennedy, who specialized in designing mansions for prominent local families, but also designed the Essex Building at 10th and Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis. The house had been well maintained, but never renovated, which meant the historic backdrop had its old bones intact—a plus, since that meant nothing to undo. With a desire to restore and also reconfigure Farview for their large, active family, the new owners assembled architect Charles Cook of Cook Architectural Design Studio, David Erotas of Erotas Building Corporation, and interior designer Renée LeJeune Hallberg of RLH Studio, to tackle the 2-year assignment of updating the house, while preserving its original character.
The project wasn’t without its challenges, as both floors of the existing structure were divided into separate family and servants’ quarters. The original kitchen, for example, consisted of a series of rooms, including a servants’ dining area, a butler’s pantry, and a silver room. The house also had many relics whose time had passed—original toilets, sinks, plumbing, and wiring—as well as those that needed work or new placement, such as an oversized German silver sink, and a badly damaged but rare wallpaper mural in the dining room—the same Zuber et Cie design that Jackie Kennedy chose for the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House in 1962.
During the renovation, everything from newel posts to vintage light fixtures to butler’s call boxes were refurbished and reinstalled. New electrical, plumbing, and heating systems were put into place, and the imposing mechanicals occupy their own rooms off a corridor in the basement, which also includes a handsome recreation space with teen-friendly features, such as a pizza oven, pool table, and movie room.
The 1929 wing of the house was left almost entirely true to the original, though the almond enameled woodwork was painted linen white to brighten it up, and the original oak floors were stained a deep chocolate brown to maintain consistency with the maple flooring in the servant areas. The study, a masculine wood-paneled room that overlooks the front lawn, was reconceived to resemble an eclectic London men’s club—an onyx and custom-carved fireplace surround bears the family crest. The room is filled with antiques and lined in anigre, an African wood used in the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen, Colorado, that the homeowners admired. A collection of Jacques Henri Lartigue photographs hangs on one wall, behind which a secret door leads into a delightful hidden bar—possibly created in response to Prohibition—wallpapered in an Asian scene from Schumacher and featuring cabinetry glass custom designed by Cook.
Bathed in sun, the living room and its traditional furnishings are awash in buttery golden hues, bright greens, and pinks—“I am drawn to the light,” the homeowner says. And so is the 30-year-old schefflera tree, which holds court in the adjacent semi-circular sunroom, the brightest place to find yourself on a cold winter day. The room’s custom banquette packed with pillows along the bay windows is a favorite perch, with a birdcage-inspired light fixture hanging above it.
The home’s formal dining room was designed around the wallpaper, which depicts Vue de l’Amérique du Nord—Views of North America. The panels had been damaged from sun, water, and age, so the owners called in decorative painter Darril Otto, who spent weeks bringing the scene back to life by carefully painting over it. The corner china cabinets in the room are original, with new LED rope lights to give them a glow at night; a pair of crystal chandeliers by Dennis & Leen twinkle over the Theodore Alexander table and 19th century Hepplewhite-style dining chairs.
Beyond the dining room, Farview’s original footprint essentially stops at the kitchen, where the house was gutted and expanded. A 5-car garage was added, along with a new wing including 4,000 square feet of recreational spaces, a mudroom, laundry room, and additional bedrooms and bathrooms. “We wanted the house to flow, so you wouldn’t be able to tell where the old and the new joined,” says Charles Cook, the architect. He smartly added a porte-cochère—a pass-through where a vehicle’s occupants might alight under shelter—that leads to the rear of the house and breaks up the mass. An equestrian cuopola makes the tucked-away garage look rather like an old carriage house.
The kitchen was also opened up so that the breakfast and family rooms are one, connected by a porcelain checkerboard floor which stands up to pet and kid traffic. Side-by-side farmhouse sinks make it easy to wash dishes and wash hands simultaneously; and the giant German silver servants’ sink was reinstalled in the pantry to use for entertaining or cutting fresh flowers from the garden. A generous dog bed was tucked into the built-in cabinetry along the eating area so the family pets can gather for meals too.
Upstairs, each bedroom has its own color palette and design. The master suite is swathed in slate blue and ivory—Phillip Jeffries silk covers the walls, and an unlined linen scrim billows softly over the windows. The companion bathroom features a dramatic barrel-vault ceiling that frames the custom marble bathtub and his-and-hers vanities.
In updating the kids’ bedrooms and baths, Hallberg was able to restore many original details to preserve the home’s unique character. Old almond-colored bathtubs were refreshed with white surfaces; new penny tile flooring suggests the same era as the antique wall tile. “We wanted everything to look like it fit into this vintage time frame, so we kept and reused as much as possible, or found pieces that had the look of the era,” Hallberg says.
When the family moved in, each child found a surprise in his or her bedroom: one of the boys received a headboard fashioned out of gates from the Queen Mary ship, and one of the girls now sleeps under a painted cloud ceiling that, with the flip of a switch, lights up a fiber-optic galaxy. Every detail was carefully thought through, from those as big as the kids’ surprises to those as small as the sly fox knocker on the front door, which the homeowners found on a trip to London.
Cook chose to expand the home’s semi-circular portico and add extra columns to give the entry a grander presence. “This is in keeping with the way the couple lives,” he explains. “They love to entertain and throw parties and I wanted it to accommodate a bunch of people arriving at the front door.” Like a modern-day Nick Carraway or Daisy Buchanan, perhaps, ready to clink glasses with family and friends.
Megan Kaplan is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.
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