It’s been almost 30 years, but architect Tom Blanck of St. Paul still remembers the call that launched his biggest residential project.
The caller introduced himself as Steve Rothmeier, president of Northwest Airlines, but Blanck didn’t believe him.
“I said, ‘You’re not the president of Northwest Airlines — [M.J.] Lapensky is. I do read the newspaper,’ ” Blanck recalled. The caller informed him that he was, indeed, the airline’s president and had recently replaced Lapensky.
Blanck soon found himself working with Rothmeier on a most unusual home. “He said he wanted a Germanic castle, with a circular entry turret,” Blanck said. “Steve had just rediscovered his German ethnicity.”
Blanck’s firm at the time, Blanck & Farnan, was a natural fit for designing a new home with Old World character. Blanck and his partner, Bill Farnan, were known for historic preservation projects, restoring grand old homes on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue and other enclaves.
“I’m mired in architectural history,” said Blanck, who co-founded the Cass Gilbert Society to honor the architect who designed the Minnesota State Capitol and other prominent 19th-century buildings in the Twin Cities and elsewhere.
Rothmeier’s new house was to be built on a 2.62-acre wooded site in Eagan, a few miles from the airline’s corporate headquarters. At that time, the southeastern suburb was not yet widely developed. Eagan has changed dramatically since the house was built in 1985, but the house’s setting remains unchanged, thanks to its large, secluded site, wooded and filled with wildlife.
“It’s so unique — a Bavarian castle set into the woods. It transports you,” said listing agent Chad Larsen, Coldwell Banker Burnet.
The house isn’t visible from the street. But once you enter the security gate and start down the long, sloping driveway, it comes into view: a tower, turrets, a central courtyard, a carriage house, a formal English garden and a quaint chapel.
That approach is one of the features Blanck is proudest of. “It gives you a nice sense of arrival,” he said. “It’s romantic — it’s all about how it sits on the landscape. That was the most challenging part; the site is not huge and required a rather compact courtyard.”
Designing a European-style castle from scratch was “just a delight,” he said. The castle, nearly 8,300 square feet, was designed to accommodate corporate entertaining and overnight guests. In addition to guest suites in the main house, Blanck designed a carriage-house apartment with its own kitchen, attached to the main house by a second-story corridor.
The home’s exterior is stucco, hand-detailed to mimic the look of old stone, and the entry turret gives it a dramatic focal point. Outside is a cast-stone arch, sculpted by Blanck, and antique wrought-iron fixtures imported from Europe. Inside the front door, cut from an oak on the property, the entry has a soaring 32-foot ceiling and a circular stair.
The great room is the grandest space in the house, with high ceilings, exposed oak trusses with custom ironwork and a second-story balcony designed as a “minstrel’s gallery,” where musicians could play during parties. The great room opens to the courtyard, for indoor-outdoor entertaining.
For more casual entertaining, there’s a bar-equipped bierstube in the lower level, with pine ceiling beams and a knotty pine floor, just down the hall from the climate-controlled wine room.
Grandeur and whimsy
The private spaces also carry out the Old World European theme. The main-floor office/library has a fireplace, bay window overlooking the woods, oak floors and oak-paneled walls and ceiling. The owner’s suite also has a fireplace, as well as a small turret and balcony overlooking the back yard and “summer house” — a raised, screened gazebo.
The house was one of the first to cross the $1 million threshhold in construction costs, Blanck said. “It was the first $1 million house I had seen, by far the largest house I had worked on.”
But despite its grandeur, the house also has “a sense of whimsy,” according to Blanck, expressed in the tower, turrets and three-story carriage house. There are other whimsical touches, including gnarled tree branches used as decorative columns. “It’s not pretentious,” Blanck said. “It’s just a fun house.”
Rothmeier, who served as chairman and CEO of Northwest Airlines from 1985 to 1989, is still the owner of the house. He added the small chapel several years after the main house was built, as a place for prayer and meditation, Blanck said. It includes a raised altar, traditional Bavarian leaded-glass windows and a little bell tower, with a rope pull for hand-ringing the bell. “It was patterned after a couple of small chapels” in Europe, Blanck said.
The high-ceilinged chapel, which is attached to the house, could make a great studio space, Larsen noted, while the carriage-house apartment could be used for a caretaker, personal-care assistant or nanny. “You could use the space in different ways, for different purposes,” Larsen said. “It’s certainly an opportunity — for the right buyers.”
Barry Berg and Chad Larsen of Coldwell Banker Burnet have the listing, 612-925-8411, firstname.lastname@example.org