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Style as Destiny
For this collecting couple, art is life.
Stephanie Lake never intended to come back to Minnesota. When the design scholar turned jewelry designer married her high school crush nine years ago, she had been living a bicoastal lifestyle far from her hometown of Minnetonka in the Twin Cities metro area. Husband Cory, the owner of American Guitar Boutique, had just begun a complete remodel of his midcentury house. It made perfect sense for the newlyweds to reinvent the home together.
The duo have since curated their living space with a layered mix of pieces Stephanie acquired as the protégé of legendary American designer Bonnie Cashin (1907–2000), and art and artifacts they’ve collected together. We asked the couple to share how they’ve crafted their very personal living space.
How do you describe your aesthetic?
Stephanie: Contemporary bohemian. We blithely move from antique to modern; the result is an easygoing glamour.
Cory: As a whole, our style is a counterpoint to cookie-cutter styles that dominate so many places. More than a look, it serves as a constant reminder to operate from a place of originality in all that we do.
What’s your goal in your home?
Stephanie: To have something that makes me smile everywhere I look. It is a simple goal that results from building a collection that is a work of art unto itself, not a random grouping of objects.
Cory: The goal is physical comfort and emotional contentment, and that requires surrounding ourselves with pieces that are highly personal. The contents of the house form a history of our lives together. We love to entertain, and our home is also something of a haunt for our friends and, even more so, for Stephanie’s clients.
What’s the greatest influence on your home’s unique style?
Stephanie: My graduate degrees [in the history of decorative arts, design, and material culture] are the foundation for mixing styles and eras. That connoisseurship is extremely important to me. But even more important is a sense of wonder. That is the highest priority, to open a door or turn a corner and experience something breathtaking. I will never forget the first time I walked into Bonnie Cashin’s United Nations Plaza apartment. The living room was full of Noguchi and Eames and Ed Wormley pieces; it was piled high with books and folk art – just a merry modernism.
Our home is an echo of many encounters. I went through Versailles with curators opening rooms that had been sealed for 40 years; everyone had to practically hold their breath when we came upon cabinets covered in butterfly wings. I was once in talks to move into Geoffrey Beene’s Oyster Bay estate to work on his archive and would have lived in his leopard-print guest room. Sotheby’s sent me to go through Pauline Trigère’s bound Vogue magazine collection at her country place; which, incidentally, was crawling with her signature turtle in every possible incarnation – a warning against having a signature animal, because that is all you will receive as a gift for the rest of your life.
Is there a piece that is most special to you?
Cory: We both grew up huge fans of Kiki Smith, Stephanie through study and I through my parents’ art collection. They gave us a set of 12 Smith panels, Banshee Pearls, as a wedding gift.
Stephanie: It is the centerpiece of our home.
Tell us about your relationship with Bonnie Cashin and how it influences your work.
Stephanie: She was like a big sister, one of my dearest friends in the world. She took me under her wing and trusted me as a biographer and intellectual heir and protégé. Her absolute joy in good design permeates everything. In the most basic way, she takes up a lot of space in our home. There is something that she created or collected in every room, and her spirit is everywhere. She had a famous “graffiti hallway” in her apartment where she wrote quotes from her intellectual heroes. I have all of the hallway doors in my jewelry showroom, where they serve as reminders of why I design. Her entire clothing collection – thousands of leather coats, cashmere sweaters, gloves, hats, and her original 1960s designs for Coach – is here. It is the most personal and surreal presence imaginable.
Besides Cashin’s work, are there other great American pieces in your home?
Stephanie: Our Elie Nadelman sculpture and James Mont cabinets are top of my list, as well as a Beatrice Wood bowl, Silas Seandel molten metal table, and Dorothy Liebes textiles. All used traditional techniques to create their own iconic design signatures.
Cory: For me, it is our first art purchase together: a Rauschenberg litho, Romances (Epic), that we found at auction. It was our first step toward putting collecting at the center of our married life and a nod to the culmination of our romance, which started with high school crushes on each other.
You love redecorating your house. What triggered the most recent renovation?
Cory: There was a wall dividing our bedroom, and I asked if I should just tear it down.
Stephanie: I just sat and watched, in total bliss. We always add and subtract furnishings when there is a change. A suite of furniture left, and we brought in tufted sofas, an art deco light fixture, a few paintings, and some monumental chinoiserie mirrors.
Is there a connection between adorning yourself and adorning your home?
Stephanie: My doctorate focused on issues of taste and identity, examining centuries of material culture; the most intimate and interesting part of this is how we look and live, and why we make the choices that we do. I have a rallying cry that interior decorating and personal adornment are destiny. They deserve the utmost effort because they are the manifestation of who we are now and can be in the future.
Here’s a tough one: What’s your favorite spot in your home?
Cory: The bedroom, which was a cave but is now more of a tree house, with a wall of windows overlooking the woods.
Stephanie: The bedroom and the living room are tied. Both involve evenings curling up with our pugs, Truffle and Bee, watching movies, and Cory playing his latest guitar. We love nothing more than being with each other and the pups without distractions.
Know someone living a thoughtfully crafted life in a unique living space? Email your Crafted Lives suggestions to [email protected].
Sara Glassman is a Minneapolis-based style writer.