It was the “Mad Men” era, and visionary advertising executive Ray Mithun, co-founder of Campbell-Mithun, was living with his wife, Doris, in a two-story English Tudor on Lake Minnetonka in Deephaven. But he had his eye on something next door — a piece of property that jutted out into the lake.
The Mithuns walked that lot, charting the sunrises and sunsets, with an eye to building a house that was perfectly sited to make the most of its sweeping and unobstructed views.
Ray, who helped create the iconic Hamm’s Beer campaign featuring an animated bear and the drum-driven jingle “From the land of sky blue waters,” loved golf and winter getaways to California. He dreamed of building a modern-style house, inspired by architecture he’d admired in Palm Springs, a mecca for midcentury modern design.
Finally, in 1961, after working with California architect Nute Griffith on the design, the Mithuns built their dream home. It had dramatic vaulted ceilings, deep eaves and walls of glass, offering views of the lower lake from just about every room, even the master bath.
The Mithuns lived in their California-style lake home for 30 years, entertaining their family and friends, and enjoying their vistas of sunsets, sailboats and wildlife from the adjoining woods.
“Ray Mithun worshiped this piece of property,” said Vicki Wyard, who, with her husband, Gary, bought the Mithuns’ house in 1991. The Wyards met the adman when they first toured his house.
“Usually the owner is not there, but Ray was,” she recalled. “He told us the story of how he and Doris planned the house. He loved it so. After I heard it, I felt the same kind of magic.”
Vicki has her own deep ties to Lake Minnetonka. Her great-grandfather first bought property in Linwood, a small community on the lake. By the time Vicki was born, her grandfather owned a number of summer cottages, including a small one on a cove with a sandy beach. “I spent every summer of my life on a west-facing piece of lakeshore on the lower lake,” she said.
She brought Gary, “a city kid,” out to the lake the first summer they were married, while he was still in medical school, and he was hooked. He agreed to stay in Minnesota, provided they could figure out a way to live on Lake Minnetonka.
The Wyards eventually bought a house two doors down from her parents.
“I was never going to leave,” Vicki said.
But by 1991, her husband, by then an orthopedic surgeon with a busy practice in Waconia, wanted a lake home with less beach maintenance. So she agreed to take a look at the Mithuns’ place, which she had watched being built when she was a teenager boating on the lake.
The home’s interiors hadn’t been touched since it was built, Vicki said. But “the bones” of the house — with its clean lines, open floor plan and generous-sized rooms offering 270-degree views of the lake — were still enticing. And the site was irresistible. “It’s like being up in northern Minnesota,” she said.
The Wyards spent two years renovating the house. They redid bathrooms and the kitchen, converted the screen porch into a year-round sunroom, and finished the lower level, adding a bedroom, a theater room and an exercise room, increasing the finished square footage to just over 7,000 square feet, which includes four bedrooms and six bathrooms.
“We’ve updated and refreshed everything but didn’t change the design of the house,” she said. “We kept its integrity.”
And they kept some of its unique original features. “The Mithuns traveled to China, and there’s a Chinese screen behind the bar,” Vicki said. “He [Ray] said, ‘Don’t destroy that screen. It’s very valuable.’ ”
The Wyards have enjoyed living in the house for more than 25 years.
With all the glass, “it’s like living outside,” Vicki said. “We have surfaces for art. But our art is the changing art we look at outside every day.”
They can see sailboats, eagles watching for fish, and, on July 4th, five different fireworks displays around the lake. “Sunsets are spectacular,” she said.
The home’s design, with its deep eaves, makes it comfortable and energy-efficient. “We have air conditioning, but we rarely turn it on. We just open the windows for a little breeze.”
They also enjoy total privacy on 3½ acres with more than 200 feet of lakeshore, yet are just 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis.
“We were going to live here forever,” said Vicki.
But life changes, and the Wyards have decided to return to the Linwood area, to a property that has been in her family for generations. Her parents recently died, and she assured them that the property would stay in the family. And the Wyards’ daughter, husband and two young granddaughters live across the street.
“My husband is over the moon,” said Vicki. “He wants to go to the sandy beach with them, teach them water skiing and swim all day.”
Ellen DeHaven of Coldwell Banker Burnet has the listing, 952-476-3646, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784