About the Estate
Yes, there are ten chimneys! Lynn and Alfred named their Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, estate after the number of chimneys on the Main House, Cottage, and Studio combined. The elegant three-story Main House has six chimneys and eighteen rooms (including the: Entry Hall, Garden Room, Flirtation Room, Drawing Room, Library, Belasco Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, Helen Hayes Bedroom, Laurence Olivier Bedroom, Noël Coward Bedroom, Master Bedroom, Lynn’s Dressing Room, and Lynn’s Sewing Room). The Lunts’ quaint country Cottage has three chimneys and five main rooms (Living Room, Kitchen, Syrie Maugham Bedroom, Library, and Bugbee Bedroom). The one-room Swedish-style log cabin Studio has one chimney. The 60-acre estate, nestled in the rolling Kettle Moraine of southeast Wisconsin, also includes a charming pool and pool house, a creamery, a greenhouse, barns, stables, and other bucolic outbuildings.
In 1913, Alfred Lunt came into an inheritance from his father and purchased undeveloped land in Genesee Depot where he and his family often picnicked. He then personally designed the first portion of Ten Chimneys’ Main House as a home for his mother and sisters. In 1922-23, after the Lunts were married, the house was extensively remodeled and the chicken coop was converted into a cottage for Lynn and Alfred to live in when they weren’t performing.
Most of the renovations and additions to Ten Chimneys took place during the 1930s. In 1932, eight years after signing the contract that gave them every summer off, the Lunts moved into the main house themselves. Alfred’s mother and sister moved into the cottage (the former chicken coop), which the Lunts renamed “the hen house.” In the same year, a Swedish-style log cabin was assembled on the grounds of the Lunts’ estate as a Studio for artistic creation and collaboration. In 1940, final additions were made to the Main House, giving it six chimneys (from a multitude of fireplaces and Swedish stoves). Added to the three chimneys at the Cottage and the one at the Studio, the estate now had ten chimneys, and, by 1943, a formal name from its devoted owners.
The décor at Ten Chimneys mirrors the lives and experiences of the Lunts, with mementos from international trips, remembrances from treasured friends, pervading theatrical techniques, and countless personal references. As guests journey through the estate, they are surrounded, and often inspired, by Lynn and Alfred’s creativity, passion, and humor.
The estate is filled with remarkable collections of original furnishings, art, and artifacts: Delft china, Staffordshire figures, rare original prints, converted pre-Civil War oil lamps, French bottles, Spanish statues, and much, much more – all with personal connections, theatrical references, and coexisting in perfect harmony. Desks, closets, safes, and bookshelves are overflowing with irreplaceable and treasured artifacts from the Lunts and their friends: scores of first edition books hand inscribed by friends like Alexander Woollcott and Edna Ferber; personal hand-made gifts from intimates Helen Hayes and Noël Coward; snapshots of the Lunts with Charlie Chaplin or the Queen Mother; letters from devoted protégé Laurence Olivier; and on and on. Even outdoors, the birch trees that populate the estate were a gift from Alexander Woollcott, and the beautiful copper mermaid on top of the pool house was designed by Cecil Beaton, who crafted it himself as a gift to the Lunts.
The Lunts also invited a prominent scenic and costume designer, Claggett Wilson, to visit Ten Chimneys and help them. Wilson painted murals on walls and ceilings throughout the estate, in addition to creating other unique decorative effects using intricately cut-out wallpaper and a variety of inventive stage techniques.
Ten Chimneys is as personal as a diary. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne designed and decorated Ten Chimneys the same way they crafted each performance – one delightful detail building upon another. Each room was carefully dressed as if it were a stage set. Their choices were more about theatricality and whimsy than opulence. After all, why use real marble when you can tease your audience with surprising trompe l’oeil? Yet, despite meticulous planning, Ten Chimneys exudes an easy comfort.
“Ten Chimneys is like a very large elves’ cottage, a white nook-and-cranny house. Lunt drew on his family’s Scandinavian background in designing the house. There are Swedish chimneys and fireplaces, and color everywhere. Green shutters adorn each window.” National Public Radio, Jacki Lyden