Purcell-Cutts House

By all means visit Snoopy. He's big and he's inflatable and your guests will want to see him standing there, a sentinel for Florsheim Shoes and Cinnabon, and all the other one-of-a-kind retail establishments down in Bloomington. Once you've received Snoopy's benediction, and your guests' bemused thanks ("Wow," they always say. "It's really just a mall"), take them to a more organic example of Minnesota architecture. Built in 1913 by Louis Sullivan acolytes William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie, the house appears deceptively simple in design. The color palette could be called "variations on a wheat field," and the rooms are strictly on a human scale. But the detail reveals an astonishing level of planning, artistry, and craftsmanship. (The docents who show off the house one Saturday each month for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts will point out hundreds of features on the hour-plus tour.) A triangular vault runs down the transverse of the first floor, stretching the rooms out to the eye. Instead of shutters, the exterior window wells showcase wood screens that recall the schemes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The sunken living room boasts a placid fresco of a heron at sunset, carefully set amid the arched wood trim above the fireplace. A few of the special-made chairs on the first floor let geometry get the better part of comfort. But what impresses you most when you tour this house is how modest materials and dimensions have been employed to such a precise and attractive result. This isn't what happens when you turn your keys over to one of TV's countless home-makeover crews, or buy a big box with a six-car garage in a township that was a cornfield two years ago. Purcell-Cutts House is a holistic conception of how light should glow, how spaces should connect, how a house should look and feel--and what the architects ultimately built is an urban prairie utopia on a 150-foot-by-50-foot lot in the middle of the city.


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