Ten Chimneys

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in the library

This past Saturday I had the honor of touring Ten Chimneys - the longtime home and retreat of Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne tucked away in the remote town of Genessee Depot, Wisconsin. This amazing property is richer in theater history and riveting stories than it is in architectural and interior design (which it has in spades). So much so, in fact, that I am at a loss as to how to begin.

Do I start with the story of Alfred and Lynn and talk of their enduring (and endearing) relationship? Do I tell you about their rise to fame and how this incredible estate came into existence and evolved throughout their lifetime? Or maybe the real story is the one peppered with the names of huge celebrities of stage and screen from the 1930s through the 1970s who would commune at Ten Chimneys for glittering conversation and inspiring creativity.

Ten Chimneys Main House

Each of these is a story worthy of its own telling and doesn't deserve to be glossed over.

So... as much as I want to write a short novel about all the amazing things I saw and learned, I'm going to keep it appropriate to our blog and talk about the fact that Alfred and Lynn - with all their riches and fame - were makers just like us.

As hard as it is to believe, these super-famous, exceedingly wealthy people loved to sew, cook, garden, and decorate their home.

Alfred studied at the Sorbonne in France and was, by all accounts, an amazing chef. It's said that Lynn would go to the fashion shows during New York fashion week and study the garments - then go home and sew versions of them for herself. The interior design - including nearly all the wall murals - in the Honeymoon Cottage (pictured below) was done by Alfred. Lynn sewed all the curtains, slipcovers, and most of the bedspreads in both houses. The property housed chickens (about 200 of them), pigs, a green house, a creamery, and a massive garden - all of which were tended by Alfred and Lynn, when they were present on the estate.

Alfred & Lynn in the cottage kitchen
The Honeymoon Cottage

Helen Hayes was a frequent guest at Ten Chimneys and her preferred bedroom has a bedspread, curtains, and a "headboard" that were designed and made by Lynn.

The "Helen Hayes" Bedroom
 As a matter of fact, Lynn made all the drapes in the house including the impressive examples in the rooms below:

The Dining Room
A bit of the Living Room
The Garden Terrace Room

Alfred was known to cook for the estate staff. The staff was invited to eat in the dining room but preferred the kitchen (I can't imagine why...). My only gift-store purchase was the Ten Chimneys Cookbook - a collection of Alfred's recipes.

Alfred serving the estate staff

Our docent, my dear friend John, was so full of great trivia and enthusiasm for the subject that our tour of 2+ hours flew by and I'm already planning my next trip to the property.

Best. Docent. Ever. xoxo

So, as much as I'd love to prattle on about the house and the Lunts, I'll just leave you with a few more photos and some bits of trivia. I hope that you'll take it upon yourself to learn more about Alfred and Lynn and, if you're ever in south east Wisconsin, that you'll take some time to visit Ten Chimneys.

- Alex

The most important piece of trivia is this: when Lynn passed away in 1983, the house was "closed up" and simply maintained to ensure that it didn't fall into disrepair. It remained that way until 1995 when it was purchased with the intent of preserving this perfect slice of history. Unlike most historic homes, this one remained intact - furniture, documents, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc. - as if the residents had just stepped out for the afternoon. It is, perhaps, the purest representation of an historic home that exists.

The "Studio" was an outbuilding on the property where friends would gather to play, practice, and create. There's a rumor that they would occasionally lock a playwright in the studio and not let him out until he'd completed some piece that they could perform.

The Infamous Studio
The Lunts built the first in-ground pool in the state of Wisconsin, using only local labor. The dome on the bathhouse was a cistern. The sun would heat the water in the dome and guests could take a hot shower before heading back to the house.

The Bathhouse & first in-ground pool in Wisconsin
While the photo below doesn't do justice to the kitchen, it was well-used and well-loved with a set of sinks dedicated to food and a set of sinks dedicated to dishes. A dumbwaiter, which Alfred built himself, lifts packages from the lower level laundry room to the kitchen above.

The Kitchen (well, about 1/3 of it)

Sir Laurence Olivier was a frequent guest at Ten Chimneys and the photo below is of the room where he stayed during his visits. He's famously quoted as saying, "Everything I know about acting I learned from Alfred Lunt."

The Olivier Bedroom

The Lunts closest friend from their earliest days as emerging stage actors in London (and from before they were married) was Noël Coward. His photo can be found in nearly every private room of the house.

Alfred, Lynn, and Noël - BFFs

No comments:

Post a Comment