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City Spaces: A fashion fairy tale for dreamers of all ages unfolds in Minnetonka

That's Kiki Smith's "Banshee Pearls" on the left.

That's Kiki Smith's "Banshee Pearls" on the left. All photos by Lucy Hawthorne

We’ve never seen another house like Stephanie Lake’s. Because there isn’t one.

In the jewelry designer’s Minnetonka home, you’ll find the archives of pioneering American fashion designer Bonnie Cashin. The first designer hired by Coach and perhaps its best-known, Cashin left Lake her extensive collection when she died in 2000. It’s likely the largest privately held selection of fashion history anywhere, a singular situation that lends a certain sense of purpose and care—but also wonder and creativity—to the home Lake shares with her husband and daughter.

The archive isn’t available by appointment, though you can see pieces from it at exhibitions around the globe… or here, in this handy slideshow that takes you inside the Lake house.

Names: Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Franklin Lake III (Stephanie and Cory) and Odette
Where: Minnetonka
How long you’ve lived here: 6 years

You’ve described your lives here as a “fashion fairy tale.” Can you talk a little bit about what that means to you, and the person who’s partly to thank?
Stephanie: I’m the heir to Bonnie Cashin’s archive. That entails all the clothing—thousands of objects and related ephemera. I’m also the heir to a lot of her personal effects, works of art from her collection, the doors that are in the dining room that were lining her own hallway in UN Plaza in Manhattan. She’s considered the originator of American sportswear; she’s an icon. She was my mentor, and I was her protegee.

I’m not familiar with any other archival situation like this.
Stephanie: It’s really an unmatched circumstance in all of fashion history. To have a world-famous clothing collection within your home? And from a single designer of her stature? It’s really a surreal aspect to our lives. But at the same time, she’s like anyone else who’s been near and dear to us.

Some of the things I love most in here were Bonnie’s, pieces like those incredible doors you mentioned…
Stephanie: Yes, with quotes from her intellectual heroes. So she would write on them with Sharpie. She believed that there was a universal need for ornament and adornment and that desire to create, even if it’s writing on your walls—I certainly was a big fan of that when I was about 12 or 13. I think of her as a very early advocate of collecting words of wisdom, collecting inspirational quotes, and surrounding yourself with them. She chose to do that on her actual walls, she made them as tangible as possible in her day-to-day life, and that’s very much what our house is about, too: to be surrounded by objects and the stories imbued in those objects that inspire and inform how you view the world outside of these walls.

You sound like a lot of people I know who think objects hold a certain power, that you shouldn’t just surround yourself with any old stuff.
Stephanie: Exactly. My Ph.D. is in the history of decorative arts, design, and material culture. I am certainly one to live in the center of that argument, that yes—it’s about identity, it’s about possibility, it’s about history. Material culture is so beyond the superficial project of collecting or amassing things. It’s a very basic human need, and the choices that we make are fascinating. Odette and I were talking about style, and she said, “Well, what if you have no style?” And I said, “That’s impossible. Even no style is a style.” It’s the same thing with a home.

Can you talk about some of the works you love here that weren’t Bonnie’s?
Stephanie: The centerpiece here is Kiki Smith’s “Banshee Pearls,” which is all self-portraits, portraits of Kiki at various stages in her own life. “Banshee Pearls” is meant to represent the two extremes of women’s experience and femininity: being viewed either as the wild, screaming banshee or the beautiful, cultured pearl. It’s visually striking and psychologically compelling. We’ve had the work—they were a wedding gift from Cory’s parents—so we’ve lived with these as the centerpiece of our homes our entire marriage. And I think the meaning has changed, too, as the world has evolved.

 

How about you, Odette? You have a favorite thing in this room?
Odette: The crystals. I like that one… It’s big.

Okay so speaking of Odette favorites, I need to ask about this incredible Playmobil collection. When did that start? Where do you find them?
Stephanie: Odette, how old do you think we were when we started Playmobil?
Odette: Three?

And how old are you now?
Odette: Five and a half. And I don’t even know how my dad finds this. And this one right there magically appeared!
Stephanie: A lot of this stuff magically appeared. Over time.
Odette: Yeah, like the giant Pegasus. And the castle. The piece of the castle.
Stephanie: These are all 35 or 40 years old, vintage sets. This was a pursuit of finding toys with longevity. In terms of pretend-play, she’ll bring things out across the living room and set up different scenarios, which is very different than when she was just naming animals, going through: What’s this? What’s this? Now it’s very much about creating this world. And this era of Playmobil and design I just think is so magical and marvelous. The detail is so incredible. It’s here, and it will be here for years.

It’s cool that Odette’s toys are such a focal point.
Stephanie: With the spaces that we have, we wanted it to be so that she’s very much a part of the house itself. There isn’t a separate playroom; there isn’t a separate space or place where things are shoved into cabinets and drawers. It’s three generations of us every day in this house. My mother is always here, and plenty of adults will come here and sit down at this table with a glass of champagne and have a fantastic time. It’s having things that are visual splendor for all of us.

And that extends to her room, too. You could certainly see that furniture being something she holds on to as she gets older.
Stephanie: For Odette’s bedroom, we never considered children’s furnishings or decor. I have a dim view of disposable goods, and my motto is “heirloom or consume.” Nothing in between. Her room is unabashedly fanciful but also intellectually and aesthetically connected to the rest of our home, brimming with family heirlooms, fine art, and furnishings that she can live with her entire life, if she chooses. Even her toys can turn into curios. Her collections span centuries; there’s a story behind every object. We wanted her to always be aware of and curious about the context in which anything comes to be—and be appreciated—and how objects hold and gain meaning, as she develops her own eye.

Can people ever check out the Cashin archive?
Stephanie: The Cashin archive is entirely private and not available by appointment, but I actively participate in exhibitions around the globe. This past year, I’ve had works in shows in London, Paris, and Milwaukee, and I’m talks for a traveling Cashin exhibition across the U.S. Bonnie is a national treasure—her influence on contemporary design is unrivaled, and her personal design archive is the world’s most significant single designer archive in private hands. The interest in her work is global and inexhaustible.

The 20th anniversary of my inheritance of the archive is next year, and Cory and I announced in Women's Wear Daily this spring that we're opening the archive to collaborative, commercial partnerships, working on both documentary and art film projects. And we’re interested in developing a Cashin design lab in the Twin Cities.