Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shady Island Cottage

I built this 1/4" scale model a year ago in a pathetic attempt to stay sane during the dreary, never-ending winter season, which seems to go on forever here in Minnesota. It is a replica of my childhood home on Shady Island, on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. Actually, it's not an exact replica --of course I made a few "improvements," such as placing the kitchen next to the dining room instead of on the opposite end of the house, an arrangement that I never quite understood, even at such a tender age. But what do I know from architecture?

The house was built around 1910 in the Arts and Crafts style. It was constructed of redwood 6X6 timbers and sheathed with tongue-and-groove redwood planks. That was it! (It was originally a summer cottage). The overall ambiance was of a cozy, rustic lodge. The fireplace, flanked by French doors to the porch, was made of stones pulled from the lake. When my parents purchased the house, it came with all the accumulated hodge-podge of furniture, including a suite of hickory "twig" furnishings (possibly Stickley) and a screen porch full of Art-Deco wicker. An ancient, upright piano stood sentry under one side of the the double stair. Boston McPhail read the plaque below its swagged garland of carved oak leaves and above its yellowed, ivory keys. There were taxidermy trophies scattered throughout: a deer's head here, a pheasant (with broken wing) there, antlers galore and most disturbing, a headless fish (chewed off by a foraging raccoon)! The vaulted living room was lit by electrified brass lanterns salvaged from the original cars of the dismantled trolley line that once crisscrossed the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The children's bedrooms were located up in twin open lofts that looked down to the main floor --girls on one side, boys on the other. Privacy was pretty much non-existent. But who cares about that when you're ten or twelve? It was a magic place. Nooks and musty crannies for days. I can still hear the rain tap, tap , tapping on the exposed rafters above my little twin bed.

I remember the perennial "rock garden," filled with the old-fashioned flowers which are still my favorites: iris, columbine, peonies, bleeding hearts, lily-of-the-valley. The lake-side, porch facade was lined with Annabelle hydrangeas. There was a ruined, ramshackle gazebo (that I swear to god was haunted). The best part was the view from the back porch: the sloping lawn with its zig-zag walk of flagstones heading down to the the lake. The shimmering, silver lake itself with Spray Island off to the right, Goose Island off to the left, the whole panorama framed by tall, flanking pines...

The house underwent an unfortunate 1970's redecoration and then we moved on to a more conventional, modern split-level. But I got my own bedroom! (Which suddenly seemed much more important to me at fifteen)! Eventually, the humble cottage fell into unsalvagable disrepair and was torn down when the lot it sat upon became increasingly more valuable. A horrendous, nondescript McMansion now sits on the site today. I hear they saved the fireplace.


Karin Corbin said...[Reply]

Your model is very nicely done. You have a real touch for miniatures.

Did you realize the house was probably a precut house kit out of California?

You can find the same redwood plank on frame houses, craftsman, precut house kits in Honolulu. I used to cat sit for a friend in one in the Kaimuki neighborhood near Diamond Head. Somewhere around here I a CD full of photos I took of those little houses.

Much nicer than a hotel as one gets to know the neighbors and has a real sense of history of circa 1915 on through the 1920s. No air conditioning, no insulation either.

Jeri said...[Reply]

Thank you, John. That was beautiful...

John said...[Reply]

Karin, does your knowledge know no limits!? My father was a builder and he always referred the house being made from "California Redwood." I'm not sure if it was known to be a kit house, or not --I don't recall hearing anything about that. I'll have to ask around...BONUS ROUND: What is the name of the company that provided the kits?

Karin Corbin said...[Reply]

I don't know the name of the companies that provided the kits but I know a good place to find out, American Bungalow Magazine. They will probably answer the question if you write to them, they are located in California.

There probably would not have been a local lumberyard carrying a big supply of redwood lumber in the area your house was located so that means the most likely source of the house was a kit shipped by railroad. Kits were and still are an economical and popular way of quickly building a summer cottage.

My depth of knowledge on vernacular architecture and the Arts and Crafts era in particular is pretty deep. I have read and owned hundreds of books on the subject. I create buildings in miniature because I love architecture, it is the subject I chose in my work as an artist.

My blog today features photos of a real 1915 cottage I used to own. It had the basic bones of a wee little bungalow that I upgraded by adding authentic detailing such as the front porch and more appropriate window trims and of course an English style, cottage garden.

Missy said...[Reply]

Shady Island Cottage sounds like a heavenly place - the flowers you mentioned are some of my favorites too. Hearing your story made me think of summers in a log cabin on Silver Lake near Milwaukee. I also love your quoins - Merriman Park is looking great! And thanks for the review of the book. I'd love to read it.

Cassandra said...[Reply]

Thank you for this entry.