By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One of the most incredible things about opening a book is how easily it unlocks the doors to some of Minneapolis’ most beautiful homes. Karen Melvin, an architecture photographer, and Bette Hammel, an architectural journalist knew that simple fact when they decided to write “Legendary Homes of the Minneapolis Lakes.”

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“I was just like everybody else, walking and biking and driving by and we just get to know these houses. A lot of the houses we chose are the iconic houses,” said Melvin. “I definitely feel that so many of these houses are works of art for their era and for today’s time as well.”

One of their featured homes is the Rand-McGlynn Phelps home on the east side of Lake Harriet. Inside is what’s considered one of the most stunning dining rooms in the book with its rich blue jewel tones on the walls and chair. There’s a skylight above the second floor and an etched glass railing with art recreated from famous Minneapolis sculptor Paul Manship.

“It was essential to honor the original architecture. There are lots of ways to add skylights that could have ruined the house,” said owner Nancy McGlynn Phelps. “We hope whatever we did to the house would add to its beauty and consistency so that it would remain architecturally significant.”

After a four renovation, interior designer Sandra Mangel worked with the Phelps on creating a feeling for each room.

“As we move through the seasons, we have rooms that are more favorite when the gardens are blooming,” said McGlynn Phelps. “In the winter, we love these warmer darker spaces that are more for big bubbly meals with family and friends.”

The house was originally owned by the Rands, who had a big stake in the early Minneapolis gas company. Like many of the homes in the book, it was built in the first part of the 1900s, but has been adapted to fit contemporary life, including a new kitchen. It was later sold as a duplex, then as a house for General Mills business students. At one point, it housed dozens of people in a religious community before being carefully restored by Elizabeth Hyatt in the 1980s.

“Those homeowners that we interview by doing their interior remodeling are maintain these houses for future generation because these houses were built to last a long time,” said Hammel.

This is Melvin and Hammel’s second book after their 2009 “Legendary Homes of Lake Minnetonka.” The second project started two and a half years ago with a simple drive around the Chain of Lakes. They say Larry Millett’s “AIA Guide to the Minneapolis Lakes” was helpful when researching the details on architectural styles. Hammel also used information from the Hennepin History Museum and the downtown Minneapolis Library to find information about the original architects and owners. The talked with realtors about the best interiors in the homes.

“We simply would find out the homeowner’s name and phone number and call them up and ask if they would be interested in participating in our book,” said Melvin.

In the end, only two homeowners turned them down.

“Most were quite open and very gracious about meeting us,” said Hammel.

Melvin and Hammel have plenty of favorites, but both list the 1997 Kenneth and Judy Dayton home as a contender for their top spot. They say it has the best view of Lake of the Isles they’ve seen.

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“It doesn’t really look like the Lake of the Isles,” said Melvin. “It’s a view that no one else gets to see.”

Just down the way, in both the book and the Lake, is the Barber’s Mediterranean-style house. It’s one of the few homes in the book with children. The Barbers are only the fifth owners of this house in its 100 years and have stayed true to its original details.

“The craftsmanship, the things that are in this house,” said owner Tim Barber. “They probably can’t be duplicated other than by artists.”

Barber inherited the house from its previous owner, Dr. V. Thomas Fallon, in 2010. Fallon has kept many of the antiques from the owners before him.

“I worked in this house since I was 19 years old,” said Barber. “He knew how much I would appreciate this house.”

What was once the music room where the Hawke family hosted stars from the Minneapolis Orchestra is now a family room. One of the biggest challenges for the Barber’s: maintain the formality and history of a home that once housed an ambassador, while living there with four children.

“We really wanted to create spaces that were cozy that you could sit down and live in,” said owner Kristel Barber.

The basement has a medieval feel with stained glass windows and dark wood furniture. But even Tim Barber will tell you it’s the outside of this house that truly makes it special.

“The rest of the world fades away,” said Barber. “You no longer realize you’re in Minneapolis. You could be anywhere.”

There are stone walls, Italian tile, an ornate pool house and beautiful pool. In the summertime, it’s hidden by landscaping and trees, but looks like it could come out of Italy or Morocco.

There are so many details to uncover inside the 26 Lake of the Isles, Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun and Cedar Lake homes inside Melvin and Hammel’s book.

“I hope they appreciate the history and the great architectural spirit we have in our city,” said Melvin.

For more information of Karen Melvin’s photography, you can head to her website.

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Legendary Homes of the Minneapolis Lakes is now currently on sale.

Heather Brown