Lisa Dayton is the first to admit her house wasn’t a hot commodity when she bought it 12 years ago at a farm auction. “I was the only bidder,” she recalled.
The house, which sits on 64 acres in Independence, had been built in the early 1970s for an Australian engineer/survivalist and his family.
“There were shutters over all the windows — like a fortress,” Dayton said.
Then she discovered a fireman’s pole running from the third floor to the basement. “When I opened the door and saw the fire pole, I knew it should be mine,” she said. “I’ve always wanted a fire pole.”
In addition to the pole (presumably designed for speedy escapes), the house had other survivalist-inspired quirks, including a tunnel connecting the lower level of the house to the barn, and an enormous cistern, tiled like a swimming pool, with a filtration system to ensure a continuous water supply, in the huge garage. “He was worried about everything,” Dayton said of the home’s original owner.
The house itself was big — almost 5,000 square feet, plus the 1,650-square-foot heated barn — and well-built, although lacking in charm.
“Every room was unattractive,” she said. But Dayton, a professional stylist, knew she could change that. “I saw potential. I thought it could be an Italian country house. I was looking for a house to fix up. I wanted a project.”
Dayton gradually transformed everything about her home inside and out, from the landscaping to the interior finishes. “It was a very slow project,” she said.
She removed an unsightly carport at the front of the house and added a courtyard and a more formal ironwood entry. She painted the exterior a sunny yellow-gold, the hue of a Tuscan villa, and added a swimming pool.
She also hired architect Martha Yunker to design a “glass room” addition, including a TV that rises out of the floor. “The room overlooks the woods,” she said. “I wanted it for bird-watching and animal-watching.”
All the existing rooms got a makeover, using materials salvaged from old buildings and streets that Dayton incorporated into the house.
“I love salvage,” she said. “It gives a house a karma that’s just better than brand-new. I love the character of these places and the stories behind them.”
“These places” include the Sweatt house on Lake Minnetonka’s Bracketts Point, which was designed by renowned architect Edwin Lundie and torn down in 2007. Dayton salvaged shutters and sliding doors from the ballroom, which she repurposed in her dining room. The rustic doors on Dayton’s main floor came from an Old English-style barn on the grounds of the Leonard Carpenter estate in Orono.
Ornate lanterns from the Palm Beach estate of socialite and philanthropist Mollie Wilmot now grace Dayton’s exterior, while old reclaimed cobblestones from the streets of St. Paul were incorporated into the new courtyard and the flooring for part of the studio/barn. “We laid all the cobblestones ourselves,” said Dayton of herself and her “helpers.”
The living-room fireplace, originally faced with 1970s-era rock, is now clad with slate that Dayton found near the Crow River.
The kitchen was remodeled with a terra cotta tile floor, a Moroccan-patterned tile backsplash, gray Corian countertops and a pine ceiling.
Almost all the floors and ceilings were refinished with salvaged wood. “Every room got a treatment on the ceiling,” she said. “The house needed character.”
The grounds, which resemble an Italian countryside, already had character. The original owner had built the house in the middle of a hayfield, but then planted thousands of trees — black walnuts, white pine and spruce — with plans to operate a tree farm. “It was his hobby,” Dayton said. “Now I live in a forest.”
She named her home Forest Farm, which also was the name of the floral business she operated out of the barn/studio. “I’ve taught art and craft classes there,” she said.
The sprawling acreage includes wetlands, ponds and groomed trails, and also accommodates deer and duck hunting. “It’s very secluded,” Dayton said of the property, just 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis via Hwy. 12.
Dayton has enjoyed living and creating in the home, including its survivalist quirks. The warm, lit tunnel gives her comfortable access to the barn/studio during the winter months. And the fireman’s pole that first attracted her is a big hit when she entertains guests. “I’ve had some great parties,” she said. “Any kid who comes to the house goes nuts.”
But now that the home’s transformation has been completed, Dayton is ready to move on, to a smaller home with a smaller, low-maintenance yard, next to her brother’s house in Orono. “My family wanted me closer,” she said.
George W. Stickney and David Stickney of Coldwell Banker Burnet have the listing, 952-476-3694.