Reimagined Minnetonka Foursquare
A house with history—and a hole in it—gets a thoughtful makeover
A glowing white stairway, flanked by lovely flower gardens, leads up the embankment from the waters of Minnetonka to one of the most romantic cottages on the big lake. Glistening with light and built-in charm, this is home to Susan and David Gartner and their three daughters. It is also an historic house originally designed and built in 1890 as a Foursquare by the popular 19th-century architect, Harry Wild Jones.
Locally, the Carson’s Bay cottage has long been known as the “house with the hole,” a reference to its defining feature. Its front foyer holds a small atrium, which opens to the second floor through a circular opening. Other rooms radiate out from this central space, where a charming round table laden with flowers welcomes friends and family into the house.
When the Gartners first saw the cottage in the mid-1990s, they were immediately captivated by its site overlooking the lake, but also realized it would require much work to be livable for their family of five. In the 1960s, an attached garage had been added to Harry Jones’s design, and now the Gartners commissioned Jon Monson of The Landschute Group in Excelsior for a major renovation.
Monson retained the atrium and relatively small scale of the original house, but added bedroom and family-room space to the rear of the second floor. He also revamped the feel and flow of the front of house by moving the fireplace—not an easy task. Jones had placed the fireplace in the middle of the living room, separating it from the dining area and cutting off the lake views. Landschute’s crew of fine craftsmen completely rebuilt the fireplace, mostly with fieldstones, and placed it on the south outer wall.
Next, the Landschute architects tackled the old porch, which ran across the entire lake-facing façade. Maintaining the original footprint, they removed the porch and replaced its walls with windows and French doors that open to the dramatic view of the lake—now also visible from the enlarged living room and new dining-room space.
Transforming the kitchen was the next remodeling challenge. Once relegated to the back of the house, it became part of the new “great room” facing the lake once the fireplace was moved. New structural elements, such as the old fireplace mantel over the cooktop and the columns holding the header of the island help define the kitchen, while the all-white detailing—moldings, wood ceiling, and doorways—unifies the space.
The result? A sparkling modern kitchen that features deliberate historic touches. For additional structural support, Monson installed fluted columns flanking the range and inverted arching trim that serves as a pediment.
An original stairway to the second floor culminates at the “hole in the middle” atrium, which needed a taller railing for safety. But the most ambitious project was the 1,250-square-foot addition over the garage and breezeway that holds a sizable family room—large enough for a big antique pool table—and two bedrooms with adjoining bath for two of the Gartners’ daughters. Monson designed the built-in platform beds, shelves, and bookcases, which are all painted white to help these rooms appear larger. An existing third bedroom just beyond the atrium belongs to the eldest daughter. The two bedrooms originally on the lake side of the house were converted into one large owners’ bedroom and bath that celebrate the vista.
The interior was a special challenge for Susan Gartner, an interior designer who maintains her own studio, Gartner Designs, in Deephaven. She worked with Monson on the textiles, furnishings, colors and lighting throughout the house, creating the bright feminine charm of the girls’ rooms as well as the traditional lake house sophistication of the other living spaces.
A decade after the renovation was completed, David Gartner decided one room was missing: a proper wine cellar. Accordingly, the Landschute crew was called back in late 2008 to begin work on the basement of the house. After improving the stairway, they created a space that speaks of Old World grandeur by building a barrel-vaulted brick ceiling that gives the illusion of added height. The room features dark-stained wood paneling and brick walls, and continues the arch motif used by the original architect throughout the house.
The wine cellar itself, containing 1,500 bottles of wine in a carefully climate-controlled room, also serves as an occasional dining space. The larger room, furnished with comfy couches and chairs, doubles as a family TV room. Lighting is purposely dim to emphasize the glow from the glass-enclosed cabinets that store wine glasses. An adjoining room, carved from another part of the basement, became an exercise area.
Remodeled old houses oftentimes seem dark, uncomfortable, and out of scale. Not this one. The inviting entry showcases the intriguing “hole in the middle” and maintains the historic connection to the first architect. The bright, white expanse of the great room, with its breathtaking view of the Big Lake, is a modern “wow” moment, courtesy of Monson’s remodel. Altogether, this old place is set for another century of lakeside living.
Bette Hammel, an architectural writer who lives in Wayzata, is co-author of Legendary Homes of Lake Minnetonka.
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