In 1928 the famous stage-acting couple Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt declared that from then on they would only appear onstage together. They also refused to act during the summer so they could spend the season at Ten Chimneys—their 60-acre estate retreat in the rolling hills of Kettle Moraine. Alfred had begun the construction himself in 1914, designing the first part of the three-story main house. In 1922 he and Lynn, newly married, began making additions: they converted the house's chicken coop into a private five-room country cottage and built a Swedish-style log cabin for use as a performance studio. Here, they lived and entertained a revolving cast of actors, writers, and artists until their retirement in 1960.
Today, trained docents lead small groups on tours through the cottage, the studio, and the main house's 18 rooms. Some of these confines bear unique titles such as the Flirtation Room, whereas others are named for past guests Helen Hayes, Laurence Olivier, and Noël Coward. Guides divulge the history behind many of the eclectic artifacts found there, such as Staffordshire figurines, pre-Civil War oil lamps, and Delft china, and reveal details about more personal pieces such as handmade gifts from Helen Hayes and Noël Coward, photographs with Charlie Chaplin, and murals painted by set designer Claggett Wilson. Outside, they lead visitors past a creamery and greenhouse, and point out a copper mermaid—designed and crafted by Cecil Beaton—that sits atop the estate's pool house to scare away sailors.
Throughout the year, Ten Chimneys hosts special theater-centric events. Play readings held in partnership with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater showcase the theater's interns as they read works connected to the Lunts or guests at their estate. During Music in the Drawing Room, cabaret artists from around the country gather around Noël Coward's historic piano to perform for small crowds and confuse unprepared time travelers. The estate also invites well-known local or national theater practitioners for a guest-speaker series inspired by the theater-minded talks that took place at the Lunts’ dining table.
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