Georgia Bartlett had a love affair with Venice, making more than 30 trips to the city famous for its canals. So when it became too difficult for her to go to Italy, Bartlett brought Italy to her: She built a Tuscan-style villa on a wooded hilltop in Bloomington and filled it with treasures from her decades of travels.
Architect Dale Mulfinger had a passion for Italy, too.
He'd lived and studied there and was well acquainted with the kind of living experience Bartlett wanted to re-create in the Twin Cities suburb, where Bartlett commissioned Mulfinger to design a one-level house surrounding a private courtyard.
Bartlett was no typical client. She understood the nuances of good design, and came to Mulfinger with a strong sense of what she wanted. Authenticity was high on the list. The 4,100-square-foot house would have just two bedrooms, but plenty of space for parties and gatherings. And many of the rooms would open onto the courtyard, creating a garden retreat with blue stone patios and a bubbling fountain.
"This is very much Georgia's design," said Mulfinger, who collaborated on Bartlett's home with architect Tim Fuller. "She had the diagram all worked out before we got involved."
Because Bartlett wanted to have a visual connection to the outdoors, she knew that the flat-roofed house would have to be carefully sited.
"She knew where the bedroom should be so as to receive the rising moon and setting moon in her windows," Mulfinger said. "Our task was to test, develop and detail her design," he said.
To create the ideal proportions for the courtyard, Bartlett worked from a passage in the Ken Follett novel "Pillars of the Earth," a historical tale of the building of a fictional cathedral in an English town. Mulfinger situated the courtyard to maximize its exposure to the sun so that its plantings grow at the same pace. And to make sure that the house wouldn't look as though it belonged in a suburban subdivision, Mulfinger hid the four-car garage in the lower level and added an elevator.
While Bartlett couldn't import the patina of age that comes with generations of use, she found other ways to create character.
In the living room, she suggested a divided-light bay window based on a design by Edwin Lutyens, a British designer famous for his graceful country homes. In a hallway, she insisted on poured concrete floors haphazardly cracked to resemble pounded dirt floors common in Italy. (The builder, Holly Erotas, said that some of those floors had to be poured and cracked several times before Bartlett was satisfied.)
Bartlett lived in her own little Italy until she died in 2005. Later, the house was sold to George Mori and David Jacobson.
The two said they fell in love with the house at first sight and made an offer the day after they first saw it. Now, however, they're ready to downsize to smaller digs so that, in the spirit of Bartlett, they can indulge in their love of travel.
In the five years they lived there, they've made few changes to the terra cotta-colored stucco house, aside from filling it with their own furnishings. And while their treasures now fill the walls and shelves, Bartlett's legacy is still very apparent in the finishes and fixtures, including the hand-blown glass Murano chandelier in the dining room and a rustic antique Italian cupboard in the kitchen.
With only two bedrooms and a floor plan that's unconventional for the Midwest, Mori and Jacobson know that the house isn't for everyone.
"You have to be emotionally and aesthetically qualified to live in the house," Mori said. "You're buying a legacy."
Rory Anderson of RES Realty has the listing, www.resrealtygroup.com, 651-335-7270.