By Chloe Rettinger
Turning off of WIS 59 and onto 83 into the quaint town of Genesee Depot, WI, my heart was fluttering with anticipation. As I drove on Depot Rd, the town quickly disappeared in my rearview mirror and on my right side stood amongst the snow covered trees, a stately main house trimmed with green shutters. I had left a world of chaos behind and had entered a new one, a world called Ten Chimneys. I pulled past the gates and followed the driveway up to the Lunt-Fontanne Program Center. Stepping out of my car, I was suddenly overwhelmed with memories of the wonderful times that I had already spent at Ten Chimneys. Walking through the front doors, I exhaled a sigh of satisfaction; I was home. For the past three years now I have been working with Ten Chimneys as a docent and an intern, conducting research on Scandinavian design and chinaware for the foundation. Ten Chimneys is the home of theater legends, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The king and queen of the New York stage built their kingdom of rest and relaxation right here in Wisconsin. Their home became a beacon for artistic design and was frequented by friends like, Noël Coward, Helen Hayes, Katherine Hepburn, and Sir Laurence Olivier. It also became a place where craft could be trained and allowed to truly flourish. Today, Ten Chimneys is a world class House Museum of the first order. The estate has been restored to its former glory and lives up to the Lunts’ legacy by still serving as an educational resource for the theater and the arts across the country. If the idea of celebrities creating their home in a small town in Wisconsin didn’t seem unheard enough, it was also a farm that Alfred ran himself. The farm is what brought me to Ten Chimneys on that chilly Friday afternoon. My dear friend Erika Laabs is in charge of the historic agriculture at the Foundation and has done extensive research about farm life at Ten Chimneys. In fact, I am happy to say that she hopes to have her research published very soon. I was to have the pleasure of interviewing her about her family’s history in farming and her newest research and work at the estate. I walked upstairs in the program center to the foundation’s office which was quiet on that Friday afternoon. Most of the staff had already left for the day but Erika had stayed behind to meet with me. I was immediately greeted by Erika and we went downstairs to the Volunteer Lounge. Now this is not an ordinary lounge with a table, chairs, and a fridge. This lounge is designed to make the volunteers feel at home and stay immersed in the life style of the Lunts. There is a sitting area of comfy furniture surrounded with shelves filled with books, a round table that many of us spend our downtime chatting together, and a row of darling hats to help us feel more in character. We sat at the table and as I began to set up my recording equipment, Erika poured us cups of coffee and laid out a sweet little spread of biscuits and chocolate on the table. Only at Ten Chimneys would I find such caring hospitality! The Lunts wouldn’t have expected anything less. Once we really began to dive into the interview and discussing the Lunts and their farm, it was as if we were talking about old friends. We laughed and giggled over funny stories about the Lunts naming their animals and Lynn fleeing for her life from manure, and shook our heads in awe over the passion that Alfred felt towards his farming. I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable first interview. It was wonderful to be with old friends once again discussing Alfred and Lynn’s design for living. It was bittersweet leaving Ten Chimneys that day once our interview had finished but I had one more chocolate with me for the road and I left with a smile on my face. Ten Chimneys is truly a magical place, filled with beautiful people creating a beautiful life. I’m sure the Lunts are smiling down on them all from heaven.