July 28, 2017

Ten Chimneys

I finally made it to the absolutely charming Ten Chimneys, the Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne home in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. My brother-in-law, Bart, had worked on several pieces of the estate furniture during the restoration so he, along with our friendly and well-informed docent, provided some fascinating information on the Lunts, their home and their summer guests.

This is no grand scale palace; in fact, many rooms are tiny by Versailles comparison.These buildings have more in common with Marie-Antoinette’s little play farm. What the estate lacks in size, it more than makes up for in sheer beauty and ingenuity which may have been the attraction for luminaries such as Noel Coward, Helen Hayes, Charlie Chaplin, Edna Ferber and Carol Channing among many others.

A quote from guest Katherine Hepburn seems to sum up the spirit at Ten Chimneys: “Every time I was visiting with the Lunts in Genesee Depot I was in a sort of daze of wonder; the dining room, the table, the china, the silver, the food, the extraordinary care and beauty and taste…a sort of dream, a vision.”

Some of the visual beguilement is due to set designer and artist, Claggett Wilson who planned to visit for 2 months and ended up staying 2 years as he painted furniture, walls and even ceilings with his distinctive figurative and decorative work. Alfred Lunt himself was a jack-of-all-trades, from fabricating his own dumb-waiter to painting scenes on walls, to managing a creamery and other farm buildings to cooking gourmet meals for his ever-changing array of guests.

In the main residence, don’t miss the painted Steinway grand piano with its six cloven-hoofed legs and the Old Testament murals in the salon, the “bird bath” mural in the upstairs bathroom, and the David Belasco casting couch in the upstairs sitting room; in the red cottage, look for the Syrie Maugham designed white on white bedroom or the red herring joke in the Swedish grocery list on the back door of the cottage kitchen; on the walking tour, the red and white pool cabana with its solar heated shower and the rustic Swedish studio with its Scandinavian flavor will delight you.

It’s possible to view just the home, but I recommend touring the whole estate, including the studio, the farm buildings and the pool. Groups of 8 congregate at a new visitors building and are taken by shuttle bus to the grounds across the highway and are led by two docents in a two hour tour.

This is a must not only for theater-lovers, but for those wanting to spend a day away from the hustle and bustle of urban living if only to imagine oneself playing Scrabble with Sir Laurence Olivier, humming along to tunes played by Noel Coward or having one’s photo taken by Cecil Beaton in the Wisconsin greenery.

Ten Chimneys, Foundation Home of Alfred Lune and Lynn Fontanne
http://www.tenchimneys.org/

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