Last Friday, I went (for my second time) with friends, Andrea, Sue and Sandy to visit the Historic House, Ten Chimneys, in Genesee Depot, WI. It is quite simply the most enchanting place I’ve been. It was designed to be enchanting, by it’s actor-owners, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who dominated American theater in the first half of the Twentieth Century.
Alfred bought the original property to house his mother and siblings and provide a retreat for himself and Lynn during the off-season, a place to rusticate. No one ever went a’ rusticating in such style! Through the years, their decorating genius and inspired hospitality transformed the property of a house and several utilitarian buildings to include two residences, a stable, a studio, an extremely posh chicken coop and a bathhouse next to the pool. A friend of the Lunts, set-designer, Claggett Wilson, spent two years painting the walls and ceilings of the residence. The foyer, dining room, and for lack of a better description, living room are decorated with figures of hospitality, Biblical narratives and other devices. One newspaper article called Ten Chimneys the Lunts’ “Swedish Manor House,” and though I had to reflect a moment, that is probably quite accurate. Alfred was Swedish and as a child had lived on in a Swedish colony in Helskinki (caled Helsingfors in Swedish), Finland. His Finnish design roots tickle me! According to Design for Living, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, A Biography by Margot Peters, “Finland thus became a large presence in Alfred’s life: its lakes and forests, timbered buildings, vivid textiles, and short bright summers….He enjoyed his Swedish cousins, took countless photographs, sketched Scandinavian decor, sang Finnish folk music. His father had been Swedish; in Scandinavia he felt at home.” The designs in the main house are sophisticated and cosmopolitan, but in essence, Scandinavian. The cottage is wholly Scandinavian.
A Swedish Tile Stove
There are a number of great black and white photos of Ten Chimneys and the murals created by Claggett Wilson may be viewed at this Website.
Some of the inspiring things I learned were that Alfred employed teenagers from the community to cook, under his supervision, for the dinner parties they were fond of holding. Lucky kids to learn from a Cordon Bleu graduate! Some of the wall painting in the cottage was done by Alfred himself, including a room decorated to surprise and honor a friend and associate, who would henceforth be sleeping there.
I also love the fact that they staged their candid shots, as below. Lynn would never be caught in curlers! A little artifice for the sake of creating an idyll in others’ minds acts works, to my mind, as a sort of benediction.
The Lunts’ designing, theatrical minds created a magical haven for their friends. They may not have lived the country life we know in reality, but they provided the country life we dream of. We need to believe in charm. We need to believe that beauty is possible in everyday life. Ten Chimneys inspires us to do whatever we can to make life lovely! Go there!