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Winterlights at the Purcell Cutts House, Masterpiece of Prairie School Architecture

By Homesmsp @HomesMSP

On a narrow lot on a short, quiet street near Lake of the Isles sits one of the most significant examples of Prairie School architecture in the country... the Purcell-Cutts House, designed and built by William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie in 1913.

Purcell cutts1

Now decorated for the holidays, this gem is open for tours on Saturdays and Sundays through January 1, 2012. The Purcell-Cutts House  is located at 2328 Lake Place, Minneapolis, MN 55405.

During the rest of the year it is open the second weekend of the month. If that doesn't fit your schedule consider a private tour. We brought a small group of 8 for a private tour this week and it was a real treat! Uncrowded and docent-led, I was surprised to discover how affordable it was and how easy it was to schedule... I highly recommend it!

It is hard to imagine now how revolutionary this design was when it was built nearly 100 years ago. William Purcell had worked alongside Frank Lloyd Wright and George Elmslie in Chicago under Louis Sullivan, who has been called the father of modernism.

When Purcell moved to Minneapolis he specifically chose a narrow city lot overlooking Lake of the Isles to build his home that was in sharp contrast to the revival style homes popular at that time. With an open living area 50 feet long adaptable for multiple uses, this was the forerunner of today's open floor plans... except for the kitchen, which was not to be seen!!

In his own words...

In so far as the house represents a departure from customary forms it does so because in designing it a conscious attempt has been made to first establish a real modern American family life, and then give it expression in real forms. This is indeed a departure.

Its open spaces make it feel more spacious than its modest size of about 2400 sq ft, and its 500 leaded art glass windows give it the feeling of a glass jewel box. Purcell did the architectural design and invited his friend Elmslie from Chicago to do the detail design work, including the windows, stenciling, built-ins and furniture which flow through the entire home in a unified design.

It's easy to miss this house as you drive down this street in spite of its unique design because of its setting on the lot. Another indication of how carefully Purcell considered every part of the design and its relationship to its surroundings, he situated the house back about 30 feet from the street so windows faced the neighbors' backyard gardens instead of their houses.


The Purcell family only lived in Minneapolis a short time, and when they sold the house in 1919 it was purchased by Anson and Edna Cutts, who lived in it for 66 years. They realized the architectural significance of the house and made virtually no changes except for adding a detached garage. The Purcell-Cutts House was bequeathed to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1985 and after restoration work it has been open for public tours since 1990. They welcome visitors from throughout the world.

Located in the prestigious East Isles neighborhood of Minneapolis nestled between the east shore of Lake of the Isles and Hennepin Avenue north of Lake Street, neighborhood homes average $628,633. See homes for sale in East Isles, Minneapolis, MN.

 Sharlene Hensrud, RE/MAX Results - Email - Minneapolis Realtor

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