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Continued: Home in Woodland was inspired by its owners' love of Africa

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 28, 2013 - 12:26 PM

That’s not to say Andy didn’t weigh in from time to time, such as when he decided that the interior woodwork needed raw, scraped edges for a rustic African aesthetic. “The corners were too sharp. It reminded me of my attorney’s office,” he said.

Stonemason Luke Busker of Roberts, Wis., played a pivotal role in the project. “He’s not just a mason, he’s an artist in stone,” Andy said.

Busker made 12 trips to Montana quarries and brought back tons and tons of stone for the house and grounds. The handcut, drystack stone arches in the kitchen were especially challenging, Busker said. “It required a lot of math.”

He devoted nearly two years to the project. “That was my baby,” he said. “It’s not like it’s my house, but it has a special place in my heart. A lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

The 6,400-square-foot home includes a gallery, where the Stillmans can display their African art, as well as art-friendly niches and alcoves.

When it was time for finishes and fabrics, McNeal called in interior designer Abby Wettleson of Charles Cudd DeNovo. Wettleson met first with Cass to understand why the African theme was so close to her heart. “She had lived there and always loved it. It was important to both of them,” Wettleson said.

During the project, Wettleson learned the difference between African and Indian elephants, where to find crocodile-shaped hardware and how to use limestone tile to mimic the look of ivory. “There was so much permanent detail in the house, like carving, that the other things didn’t need to be so obviously African,” Wettleson said. “We chose organic things and warm, earthy colors.”

Wettleson and Cass even got their hands dirty fabricating the laundry room countertop, which is made of blue glass and concrete. “My favorite color is blue,” Cass said. “We collected Skyy vodka bottles for a year,” with help from a restaurant in Hudson, Wis., then crushed them and mixed them into the concrete themselves.

At the end of the project, the Stillmans treated McNeal and Wettleson to a trip to South Africa to see its wonders for themselves.

“That was like a dream,” Wettleson said. “It was the project of my career — the most involved and rewarding, and the most unique and personal home I’ve done.”

Andy, who christened the house Mwamba Boma, which is Swahili for “big stone homestead,” loves every inch of it. “This is everything I wanted, room by room,” he said.

The couple, who entertain frequently, have hosted many gatherings in their new home, including several fundraisers for African-related causes. Andy’s favorite compliment came from a guest: “Someone said, ‘It’s big, but it doesn’t feel too big. It’s very warm.’ That was music to my ears.”

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

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