Wednesday, April 23, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Nephew preserves his uncle’s passion for the past

Isi Murlowski held many lavish parties in this grand ballroom addition, which feels like it's from another century, with its antique French crystal chandelier, 1850s reclaimed wood floor, 1800s French carpet and ornate plaster-cast ceiling molding and doorway. SHNS photo by Joel Koyama/Minneapolis Star Tribune

By Lynn Underwood
Scripps Howard News Service

Peter Murlowski’s Uncle Isidore was eccentric. In 1959, he asked his brother, Henry Murlowski (Peter’s father), to build him a reproduction of a 1761 saltbox Colonial in New Brighton, Minn., nestled among the ramblers and split-levels.

Over the years, Isidore, an antiques dealer, put a unique, Euro-style stamp on his home. He added a stunning sitting room covered with 250-year-old dark French paneling. For his lavish parties, he built a 14-foot-tall grand ballroom and filled it with 18th- and 19th-century pieces. The Colonial is surely the only home in the neighborhood with a veranda surrounded by white Corinthian columns, which originally graced a 150-year-old Georgian Southern mansion. Peter and the crew from his business, TimberCraft Remodeling, erected those columns, as well as positioning heavy concrete statues on the rooftop.

“I was thinking how crazy Isi was,” recalled Peter. “I never, ever thought I’d be living in that house.”

Twenty years later, Peter and his wife, Patti, own the one-of-a-kind Colonial that reflects his uncle’s passion for antiques, art and architectural salvage. Isi collected centuries-old wood and ornate columns and recycled them in the millwork throughout his house, long before it was a popular “green” practice.

For the Murlowskis, taking responsibility for Isi’s eccentric endeavors wasn’t a cavalier decision.

In 2001, Isi, then 82, had heart failure in the home and later died. The Murlowski family was hoping a relative would buy the home, but “no one was stepping up,” said Peter. “Some of the nieces and nephews thought it was haunted because of the stories Isi would tell.”

So an antiques-dealer friend bought it and later decided to sell the sprawling home in 2010. But there wasn’t a single buyer with an offer.

Peter and Patti were living six blocks away in the home where they had raised their boys. “I was afraid to buy Isi’s house. It would be a full-time job to clean,” said Patti. With all the additions, the Colonial had grown to nearly 6,000 square feet. “The hideous lime-green living room needed painting, and the basement was scary,” she added. But for Peter, the house wasn’t just a building. It held many emotional ties from his childhood.

“Isi let us kids run around even though the house was full of antiques,” he said. Plus Peter’s company had done several of the remodeling projects over the years. Now that their sons were grown, the couple decided the time was right.

“This is our empty-nester project,” said Patti. “We didn’t get the memo to downsize.”

After a half-century, the home needed many improvements. The Murlowskis updated the furnace and plumbing, painted several rooms and landscaped the weed-infested yard.

“My uncle would spend $20,000 on an antique bookcase but never cared much about maintenance,” said Peter. A few months after they moved in, the master-bathroom shower sprung a leak, and water poured into the hearth room below. That was the only time the couple second-guessed their decision. “But I can feel Isi laughing at us for taking this on,” said Peter.

The neglected home did hold many silver linings. In 2000, Peter had finally persuaded Isi to remodel the tiny 1950s galley kitchen. TimberCraft put a 150-square-foot addition off the back of the house and created an updated Tuscan-style kitchen with black granite countertops and poplar plank floors. An adjacent sunroom built at the same time was paneled with late-1800s antique doors, collected by Isi.

The Murlowskis love to read in the original cozy hearth room, which boasts a massive masonry stone fireplace modeled after ones that families in the 1700s used to cook meals. Peter scavenged the ceiling’s antique iron chandelier from a job demolition. “I’m starting to follow in my uncle’s footsteps,” he said with a laugh.

Uncle Isi couldn’t stop collecting antiques, so he continued to add new rooms to hold them, said Peter. “My father thought he was nuts, but gave in to him in the end.”

In the 1970s, Henry built his brother the extravagant ballroom — decked out with antique wood-plank floors and a 19th-century French crystal chandelier — to host his famed Halloween and New Year’s Eve parties. Today the ballroom is furnished with an antique Chippendale-style, red leather camelback sofa, an 1860s French carpet and other pieces the Murlowskis inherited after Isi died.

After Peter’s father retired, he took on the role of contractor for hire and fulfilled Isi’s most over-the-top request. “He had found 250-year-old paneling from a French countryside chapel,” said Peter. “He asked us to build a room for it.”

Peter and Patti call this elegant sitting area off the master bedroom “The French Room.” It’s a sight to behold, with a cathedral ceiling painted with a trompe l’oeil or “trick-the-eye” design, by Isi and decorative painter Karl-Heinz Meschbach, that won an award in 1992. “It looks like the ceiling of a European chapel,” said Peter.

The Murlowskis are happily settled into their unique abode.

“After two years, we still call it ‘Isi’s house,’ ” said Patti. “But now it’s starting to feel like our home.”

Scripps Howard News Service

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