Artist Robert Olson is best known for his romantic-realism paintings of women and children. But he applied his artistic vision to another very personal creation: the Medina home/studio he had custom-built for himself in 1993.

"My home is my canvas," Olson told Mpls.St.Paul magazine when it featured the unique house a few years after it was built.

Outside, the two-story home is all crisp New England Yankee, with cedar shakes and white trim. "It looks very traditional," said listing agent Melissa Murphy of Edina Realty. "You expect to walk in and see four bedrooms up."

Instead, you walk into an Old World European fantasy filled with antiques, one-of-a-kind built-ins and a dramatically different floor plan, including a cozy main-floor parlor that opens into a huge great room/studio with 22-foot ceilings.

Olson, who painted in the studio, made sure it had windows facing every direction, for optimal light.

But the room also provided a distinctive place for entertaining. "There's all this space for people to mingle," Murphy said. There's also a lofted second kitchen overlooking the studio, as well as a massive chandelier that can be raised and lowered for romantic candlelit dinners and parties.

The home remains outfitted with architectural antiques that Olson collected, including a 200-year-old carved fireplace mantel brought over from England, copper and bronze doors salvaged from a former Stillwater bank and a studio staircase that was rescued from the University of Minnesota.

Rough-hewn beamed ceilings, wide-plank wood floors and custom built-ins, such as a mahogany bookcase with an artist's palette carved into the wood, add to the studio's ambience.

Even the walls got the Old World treatment: Olson directed painters in an ancient fresco method, using a mixture of buttermilk, eggs, oil of clove and soot, to give the plastered walls of his studio a warm, parchment-like cast.

The home's walkout lower level contains its main living quarters, including a living room, dining room, kitchen and master bedroom.

"It's like a New York flat; it could almost be a separate apartment," Murphy said.

The 3,888-square-foot home's lot is also pastoral and picturesque, set on nearly 9 wooded acres that include a cobblestone driveway, an English-style garden designed by Olson, and a small barn that predates the house by several decades.

"The details, the finishing, are what make this home unique," Murphy said.

Kathy and Melissa Murphy of Edina Realty have the listing: 612-328-4039,


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Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784