One day in 1952, Georgia Skogmo knocked on a farmer’s door to ask if he would sell some of his land in Bloomington so she could build a house.
Georgia, a resourceful 21-year-old newlywed, negotiated a deal to buy six acres. Then she drew a design on graph paper and hired an architecture student and masons to build a stone house next to a gnarly old oak tree.
When the home was finished two years later, Georgia moved in with her husband, Don Skogmo, scion of the family that owned the Gamble-Skogmo store chain and noted sports car racer. Together, they raised their children in the Old World-style stone and wood dwelling.
The house meant a lot to Georgia, according to her daughter, Talla Skogmo.
“Even at 21, my mother knew she wanted a fieldstone house,” said Talla. “She was always an innovator and ahead of her time. And she had exquisite taste.”
When Talla, who owns Talla Skogmo Interior Design in Edina, married, she did so in front of the massive fireplace in the home. And for the past 20 years, Talla and her husband, Mark McNeill, have raised their family in that hand-split stone house that her mother built.
“This house has always been the foundation of our family,” said Talla. “It’s the mothership.”
From the antique 16th-century buffet to the 1950s showroom kitchen, the home still evokes Georgia’s passion for decorating, architecture and cooking.
“In the 1950s, our house was so different from our friends’ ramblers with wall-to-wall carpet,” said Talla.
Georgia had designed a “great room,” with a soaring 18-foot cathedral ceiling framed by chunky beams, decades before such rooms came into vogue. The cool, quarry tile floors were warmed by in-floor radiant heat, an innovation in the 1950s.
But Talla’s favorite touch is the 6-foot-tall stone fireplace, which her mother designed to be in scale with the vast room. “We would watch ‘Bonanza’ and eat little rock lobster tails in front of the fireplace on Sunday nights,” Talla said.
On Saturday nights, a fold-down bar counter, added by Georgia in the 1960s, transformed the living room into “Mad Men”-style party central, said Talla. “My parents had a fast and fun race-car crowd,” she said. “We learned how to mix and serve drinks and then we would go to bed.”
Talla and Mark have hosted their share of graduation parties and family holiday gatherings in the gracious 4,500-square-foot house. And the kitchen has always been the hub. That’s where Talla remembers her mother, a “fabulous cook,” whipping up batches of her homemade spaghetti sauce or chicken and dumplings in the equally fabulous kitchen she designed for herself.
Today, the room feels like it belongs in a time capsule, with Georgia’s aprons hanging from a hook and the original Chambers gas cooktop nestled inside an arched brick alcove. However, the stainless-steel countertops and appliances Georgia insisted on look right at home in modern kitchen designs. “She was ahead of her time and wanted commercial appliances, like everyone wants Viking and Wolf today,” said Talla.
No place like home
While they’re entranced with living in Georgia’s dream home, Talla and Mark never planned it that way.
In 1994, Georgia was “in love with Venice,” said Talla. “Mother wanted to design and build her swan song: an Italian villa next door.”
So Georgia wrote a beautiful letter to each of the three children, telling them she wanted to keep the house in the family, hoping one of them would buy it. But she added, “If there is any fighting among you, I won’t sell it,” said Talla.
Talla and Mark, who owned a 1930s Art Moderne-style bungalow in south Minneapolis, had no intention of moving. But when Talla’s siblings didn’t jump at the opportunity, the couple revisited Talla’s childhood home. Mark had always been fond of the Skogmo house because it suited his traditional aesthetic — and his favorite wingback chairs would fit right in.
“I agreed to buy it if we could make some changes,” he said.
Talla had only one caveat. “I told Mark that if I come back, I’m not ever leaving.”
Over the years, the couple have tweaked some of the spaces. They’ve updated the bathrooms and remodeled a main-floor bedroom. But they were always careful to retain the essence of Georgia’s thorough and thoughtful design.
With the decor, they had a freer rein.
“When Mother left, it was traditional Fortuny elegance,” said Talla. “But we were raising small children, so now it’s become more rustic, casual and eclectic.”
Talla has added her signature to each room by mingling some of her mother’s antiques (which came back to the home when Georgia died in 2005) with contemporary furniture. Talla also introduced a few unexpected touches — such as pairing a traditional Italian wing chair with a side table made from an Indian drum — to make the rooms more personal. Still, she confessed, “I don’t need to do much.”
After being involved with design for 40 years, Talla has more appreciation for her mother’s accomplishments and her influence.
“I’m grateful that I grew up with a mother who exposed me to antiques and building materials like stone and brick,” she said, “and the importance of surrounding yourself with things you love.”
When Talla and Mark are ready to pass the torch, their son Jack McNeill will take the handoff.
“It’s been really cool growing up here,” said Jack, now a college student. “I want to buy it and raise my family here someday.”