The moment that Ron Beining and Mark Perrin stepped into the mansion on Minneapolis' tony Mount Curve Avenue, they knew it was the perfect house.
Or had been.
When they saw the 1906 house, built for a department-store magnate, the original gold-leafed ceilings had been painted over in garish modern colors. The Tiffany light fixtures that were custom-made for the house had been auctioned off. And the once-sprawling yard had been subdivided, severing a handsome coach house and a shady side yard from the property.
Nonetheless, as they toured the imposing, classically designed house they became smitten. Despite the fact that it has nearly 10,000 square feet, there was a serenity in the way one elegant room flowed into the next.
"It made me feel calm," said Beining.
At the time, Beining and Perrin weren't looking for a remodeling project. They'd already hired an architect and were planning to build a house in the western suburbs with room for two school-age kids and a bunch of pets. But they quickly scrapped those plans once they saw the house built for Lawrence Donaldson, one of two brothers who founded the Donaldsons department store chain.
Designed by Kees and Colburn, the same architecture firm that designed Donaldsons downtown Minneapolis office and the Minneapolis Grain Exchange building, the house boasted 10 fireplaces, a three-level carriage house with terrazo-marble floors and ahead-of-its-time central vacuum cleaning system.
Although Donaldson died young, the house remained in his family for more then 50 years. The second owners, who bought it in 1959, lived in the house nearly two decades. According to Beining, they made major modifications that weren't in keeping with the home's eclectic Arts and Crafts style.
The carriage house (where Mrs. Donaldson kept her 1923 Rolls-Royce) was sold off, as was an adjacent lot. Christie's Auction House was hired to sell all of the Louis Comfort Tiffany stained-glass windows, fireplace surrounds and light fixtures, including one bought by Barbra Streisand. And, shortly before the second owners moved out, they gathered up other architectural elements and distributed them to their children as keepsakes.
Although much of the character of the home had been stripped away, Beining and Perrin were determined to restore the house to its former glory. After studying the original home plans, they hunted for pieces of the house that had been missing for decades. In the carriage house, they found a stained-glass window that had been in the front foyer. In the basement, they found a set of cabinets that they used to re-create a dressing room.
Their biggest find came by accident. One day, when Beining was working in the yard, a man stopped by and said that he knew the family that had lived in the house after the Donaldsons.
Beining used that connection to locate the family, who somewhat reluctantly agreed to sell Beining and Perrin about 40 pieces that had been taken from the house before they moved. That cache included custom-made fireplace tools, andirons and stained-glass windows, a set of four hand-carved corbels depicting the four seasons and a set of 11 wooden window screens with carvings of peonies, which once had been in the sunroom designed by famed Arts and Crafts designer John Bradstreet.
Beining and Perrin didn't stop at restoring the interior. They also reunited the house with two of the lots that had been sold off, including the carriage house, which is connected to the main house via a tunnel.
After a top-to-bottom restoration and more than 10 years of living in the home, Beining and Perrin, now empty-nesters, have decided to sell.
Beining admitted it would be difficult to give up the house he so lovingly restored, but he said it's time for another family to get to know the house and, hopefully, fall in love with it the way his family did.
"Houses are like people to me," he said. "This house has an amazing spirit."
Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376
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