There are two small gates at the east end of this property. Enter one, and it will take you past a garden shed and under a trellis to a pair of arched French doors framing an elegant mudroom. Enter the other, and you’ll travel through lush gardens, past stone fountains and rows of trees. Both end where the lawn dips down a steep hillside and stairs mark the way to the lake.
Indeed, every path on this residential lot seems to lead somewhere beautiful. That might explain why the original family stayed on it for more than 100 years. Mendon Schutt, a Minneapolis realtor, built the home as a wedding gift for his wife Clarissa in 1897. He hired Walter J. Keith, an enterprising architect with a large portfolio of published plans, to build it.
The Schutts were interested in wildlife, and maintained a 40-acre garden and farm in Eden Prairie township called the “Schutt Forty.” Pioneering botanist Eloise Butler, a friend of Clarissa Schutt, would travel to the garden to collect new species of plants for her wild flower garden and bird sanctuary in Wirth Park. Butler clearly had an abiding influence, as one of the Schutts daughters, Elizabeth, tended her own garden in the side lawn of her Lake of the Isles home, which drew many admirers in the neighborhood.
When it finally came time for the home to change hands in 2009, the current owners, who are passionate about gardening, were struck by its potential: “We were attracted to it because of the location and the remnants of what was once a spectacular garden.” But over the years, time had taken a toll. “It was kind of the Grey Gardens of the area,” says architect Laurel Ulland, who was tasked with restoring the neglected property.
The house was gutted down to the frame, but her team recorded every single detail so they could meticulously match it, from the new main-level millwork to the double-hung windows. “We wanted to open up the house as much as possible to the lake and garden views,” Ulland says. And she succeeded—there are 40 new windows, 20 French doors that open onto a porch, balcony, or the garden, and two second-floor balconies. Wherever you turn, you get a glimpse of the natural surroundings, creating the effect of a luxurious tree house.
Interior designer Charles Uehrke, a longtime friend of the homeowners, was part of the project from the start, working closely with Ulland on the design. “The former house was very dark with lots of turn-of-the-century cherry paneling,” says Uehrke. “We kept the original profiles but painted everything in a light palette.” During the day, the kitchen, which was once small and painted blue, is bathed in light that streams though a southern bank of windows and a door that leads to the garden. A generous 4-by-10-foot marble island holds court in the center, providing plenty of surface space for cooking and entertaining with ample storage underneath.
The entry hall, dining room, and living room open out onto a graceful front porch with a rounded edge and white rails. The southwestern corner of it is reminiscent of a gazebo, with a table and chairs for alfresco dining. Meanwhile the other half is screened in and connects to the formal living room, which has the home’s original tiled fireplace. Behind a grand piano tucked into a corner, a pair of doors lead into a shaded garden.
This connection between outside and in was important to the homeowners who love to entertain guests and often host fundraisers. The cedar shake garden shed behind the house is perfect for such occasions: It has a full kitchen with a pair of counters on wheels that are easy to move around. And if they need to pull new bottles of wine, the owners have an impressive cellar built into the limestone foundation where their collection is on display.
Michael Saphir, owner of Sticks and Stones Design, configured the landscape by planting trees, installing fountains and lighting, and setting down the paths. Once that structure was in place, the homeowners quickly got to work filling the beds with more than 1,800 perennials of various heights and colors, some well-known and others native and unique, with even a few from Elizabeth Schutt’s own garden. It’s an experiment they relish, as they grow better acquainted with their new surroundings and discover what is sure to bloom for many years to come.