Throughout the span of George Maher’s career from the late 1800s to the 1920s, he was part of an enclave of well-known Prairie School-style architects, apprenticing at Silsbee and Kent in Chicago during the time Frank Lloyd Wright and George Grant Elmslie were draftsmen.
Maher went on to dream up famous estates for prominent families, including the Winton family. The lumber magnates commissioned the Chicago-based architect to design their 1910 Lowry Hill mansion on Mount Curve that Jim and Shahnaz Costa now live in, and which continues to be studied for its design.
“Like his Prairie School colleagues, he believed architectural form should follow function and American architects should strive to create a new vocabulary of forms,” reads an excerpt from the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Lake of the Isles Tour brochure spotlighting nine architecturally significant Minneapolis homes.
“The Winton House, based on a house Maher designed for Charles and Helen Winton in Wausau [Wis.], reflects Maher’s ideals of symmetry, mass, and centralization. Its overhanging eaves and low, horizontal roofline and entryway are typical Prairie-style features.”
Like his contemporaries, Maher used Prairie-style characteristics such as horizontal lines, motifs and natural materials.
Maher preferred symmetry in his designs, prominent throughout the Costa home. The living room features bay windows on opposite ends of the room. Both the living room and primary bedroom suite have center fireplaces with two sets of double doors on either side that lead to four-season porches. Even sconces in an upstairs hallway are designed to hold two light bulbs – one facing up, another down – for symmetry.
Maher also incorporated unifying elements. In the case of the Mount Curve house, poppy flower motifs can be found in leaded windows and fixtures throughout. “The poppies [on the stained glass] turn blue or peach color depending on the time of day and how the sun hits it,” Jim said. “It’s a very complete home.”
He added that the house also benefited from having a prominent lumber family behind it.
“Because this home was commissioned by the Winton family, you could imagine what nice pieces of wood products were incorporated into the home,” Jim said. “The house has this really nice mahogany and quartersawn oak wood.”
Preserving its integrity
The Costas have appreciated that the house has been carefully preserved.
At one point in its history, architectural designer Elizabeth Hyatt, behind several noteworthy historical homes including in the Lake of the Isles-Lowry Hill area, lived in the house with her husband, Henry.
“The Hyatts renovated the home while they lived in it for several years,” Jim said. “It’s meaningful to have Elizabeth’s hand in this historical home. … As old as this home is, it’s in remarkable condition.”
When living there, the Hyatts also connected with the Minneapolis Institute of Art. They donated pieces such as three poppy flower window panels along a kitchen wall that are now on display at the museum. In addition, the Hyatts made the museum the steward of some noteworthy items currently in the home, such as light fixtures.
“They wanted to be sure the history of the home was preserved,” Jim said.
The Costas have kept up the home as well, making upgrades such as adding landscaping that included a perennial garden and fruit trees, sprucing up the stucco exterior with fresh paint in a richer hue, putting up a retaining wall and updating the roof. Inside, they’ve updated the kitchen and interior finishes.
“We just want to make sure it’s maintained,” Jim said. “But the condition of this home is in amazing shape. It really doesn’t require a lot of updates.”
Now that their kids are grown, the Costas are downsizing.
So after eight years, they’ve listed the seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom house spanning 10,400 square feet. The half-acre lot also comes with a four-story carriage house/garage, with a finished second-level apartment and two stories underground.
Listing agent Meredith Howell said in addition to the home’s rich history, the place offers plenty of amenities such as a third-floor recreation room with a kitchenette and a lower-level entertainment and exercise room. The chef’s kitchen has two refrigerators, two dishwashers and three sinks. The primary suite comes with a fireplace, sleeping porch, en suite and walk-in closet.
She added that the extent of the home’s preservation is not something one comes across every day. “I just love the fact that the history of it was embraced and things were kept,” Howell said.
The Costas said a new owner will appreciate how well designed and built the house is, not to mention its timeless nature.
“It has a modern feel because there’s a lot of square design [elements]. The design feels current despite being 110 years old,” Jim said, adding that despite its size, the house feels quaint between the layout and details such as pocket doors that allow for rooms to be closed off. “It’s a hybrid of an open layout but there’s still compartmentalized, generous rooms.”
Shahnaz said the house has been great for entertaining, especially in spaces such as the formal dining room. “It’s just beautiful with all of the original woodwork and light fixtures and cabinets and how it looks over Minneapolis,” she said.
For the Costas, they hope the next homeowners will carry on the tradition of its previous inhabitants.
“The fellow that sold it to us when he was leaving said they viewed themselves as the caretakers of the home. We feel the same way. We’re just glad to have had the opportunity to live in it and preserve it,” Jim said. “We’ve enjoyed living in the home and hope to pass it on to the next caretakers who appreciate the architecture and design as much as we have.”