Situated just a few blocks from Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota, Bari Kessler and Dave Marantz’s five-bedroom house captures all the historic charm of its neighbors, many of which were built at the turn of the 20th century as summer homes for wealthy Minneapolis residents. Kessler and Marantz’s house, though, is quite a bit newer—by about 120 years.
“I like to say it’s the ‘oldest’ new house I’ve ever helped a client build,” says Alecia Stevens, the Charleston-based decorator who spearheaded the project, along with Jean Rehkamp of Rehkamp Larson Architects. “It checked all the clients’ boxes while honoring their preference for something that had the patina of age.”
While Kessler herself holds a degree in interior design, she spent her professional life focusing on corporate projects before having a family, and wanted help with her own home. “She is very passionate about design; she can appreciate everything from super clean and modern to complex and heavily decorated spaces with a lot of pattern,” says Stevens. “I would say that a character of my own work is edit, edit, edit. I love traditional furniture, but in a really pared-down way. I think that makes it feel more fresh and not quite so stuffy.”
Throughout the house, furnishings are traditional enough to be comfortable, but never drift into the fussy or ornate. Color and pattern appear in the rugs and pillows, and in a particularly wonderful armchair in the living room nook that was upholstered in a vintage ikat of Kessler’s. But there wasn’t quite enough fabric to cover the whole thing, so Stevens added a piece of African mud cloth–inspired fabric from her own stash to cover the seat. “My degree is in textiles and design, and I’m just crazy for great vintage and antique pieces,” she explains.
Adding to that feeling of ease is the abundance of natural light. The hand-troweled plaster walls—which cover the entire first floor and much of the second—have a semi-matte finish that picks up that light and gently reflects it. “It’s not that shiny Venetian plaster from 10 or 15 years ago,” notes Stevens. In spaces like the dining room and the sunroom adjacent to the kitchen, reproductions of slender 1950s Danish chairs designed by Jørgen Bækmark, with their old-fashioned rush seats, feel weightless. Kessler loves to shop for antique rugs, and Stevens placed one of her finds under the dining room table and chairs, which softens the space and creates a chromatic division between the similar woods of furniture and floor. The bluestone floor of the sunroom was intentionally left bare: “The cobbles were so beautiful that we wanted to really highlight them,” says Stevens. “It makes you feel like you’re dining outdoors, which, in Minnesota, you have so little time to do during the year.”
There are no off-limits or precious spaces in this home. With three young boys who share an affinity for wheeled transport and toy trucks, Kessler was understandably cautious about the idea of painted surfaces—especially at ground level—and how they would wear over time, so Stevens came up with the idea of staining the wood in the kitchen, pantry, and laundry room, but in rich, vibrant colors. “It will just wear like iron. You can’t chip it. And it’s absolutely gorgeous!” says Stevens, who likens the effect to an old European finish, similar to milk paint. “It’s very thin and just soaks into the wood.”
Because Kessler’s taste skews a bit feminine, says Stevens, with an appreciation for curves and small patterns, the designer made sure to incorporate more rustic finishes throughout the home. “I always try to balance my projects, especially when there’s a couple involved. You want both people to feel really at home in the space,” she says. The archways and softer finishes have a counterpoint in the ceilings, made from rough, washed wood that looks as if it’s spent a century out in the elements.
While the overall effect is described by Stevens as “a kind of Modern Belgian Farmhouse,” the house manages to steer clear of any zeitgeisty niche. “I think the word ‘timeless’ can be so overworked, but we truly turned away from things that presented as too trendy,” Stevens says. “Instead, it’s simple, honest, and not overworked.”
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE FALL 2022 ISSUE OF FREDERIC. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE!