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Carter Averbeck has done his fair share of reviving old homes.

But nothing prepared the historical restoration and interior design expert for his latest challenge: bringing St. Cloud's historic Foley Mansion back to life after a fire destroyed it. The 1889 mansion literally needed to rise from the ashes.

"The fire took out almost 70 to 80 percent of the house," Averbeck said.

Restoring the mansion proved to be a daunting task. Following the 2002 fire, new owners came and went. While some updates were made over the years, the mansion — listed on the National Register of Historic Places and subject to preservation guidelines — sat largely untouched.

Then came Allen and Carmen Arvig, owners of a telecommunications company in the west central Minnesota city of Perham, who were determined to restore the mansion down to the most authentic details.

"Allen and I both have done an extensive amount of traveling around the world and we enjoy old architecture," Carmen said, adding that Allen grew up just outside of St. Cloud. "We both have an appreciation for the historical value of things and it was important to preserve the history."

The Arvigs knew Averbeck was the one for the job as soon as they invited him to walk through the home. They were impressed by his knowledge of the architectural style and the era in which the house was built. They also liked Averbeck's sustainable design approach. As the owner of Omforme Design in Minneapolis, he restyles secondhand furniture to create design-savvy pieces.

"I'm not going to cut down a tree to make new furniture. We've got plenty," Averbeck said of his philosophy.

Five years after the Arvigs' purchase, the home referred to largely as the Foley Mansion (Foley-Brower-Bohmer House on the National Register) is ready for its close-up.

With the project, which according to Carmen totaled $7 million, now complete, the Arvigs have reopened the residence as a private event space. Carmen imagines everything from intimate dinners for 12 around the dining room table to fundraisers and weddings for groups of 50 to 100.

"We're just starting to gain momentum," Carmen said. "I just feel that a property like this should be shared with the community."

Steeped in history

Before work began, Averbeck researched the house's history. It was built by architect A.E. Hussey in a Richardsonian Romanesque style for lumber baron/railroad magnate Timothy Foley and featured many Gilded Age design elements.

According to the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota,the mansion was unique in many ways.

"In addition to the corner turret and the artful use of stone and brick, the most important architectural features of the house were its 70 windows, many of which incorporated stained or curved glass," according to an Alliance description of the home.

The foyer, parlor/living room, library and dining room took the brunt of the fire, which was caused by an electrical malfunction. Averbeck pored through more than 150 historical archive photos to bring rooms back to their original state.

"Some were these little tiny photographs that we had to magnify 20 to 30 times the size to see the details of what something looked like," he said. "There are many custom features and, in order to be historically accurate, we had to figure that out."

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Painstaking re-creations

The fire destroyed rare, custom pieces, including decorative woodwork and stained glass. As a result, re-creating pieces became an essential part of the project.

Averbeck called upon experts he worked with in the past, including local artisans. "We're fortunate to have all of these world-renowned, highly skilled craftspeople here in Minnesota," he said.

Re-creating the grand staircase with detailed, ornate woodwork was one of the biggest undertakings.

Averbeck called on Glacial Wood Products of Brooten, Minn., to re-create original drop spindles. Each of the 100 spindles had to be hand-carved. Then, Minneapolis-based woodworker Erik Wyckoff hand-carved the wood balusters, etching in gargoyle faces that mimicked the originals.

"They're meant to help ward off evil," Averbeck said.

The loss of a stained-glass piece in the stairwell by famed artist John La Farge (a mentor to Louis Tiffany) was another major blow. To get the color palette just right, "I had to figure out the color scheme based on windows that John La Farge liked to use," Averbeck said. Minneapolis' Gaytee-Palmer Stained Glass took on remaking the window.

The Gilded Age

Averbeck said prominent families back then liked to showcase different kinds of wood. And the Foley Mansion — with white oak in the living room, red oak in the dining room and cherry in the library — was no exception.

Averbeck made sure to use shellac and limewash, rather than today's more commonly used polyurethane stains and latex paints, when restoring woodwork and repainting walls.

"We used what was used 120 years ago to create authenticity," he said.

The house likely had vibrantly painted rooms, too.

"Victorian homes were built for color and the original house would have had a lot of it," Averbeck said. "It was a status symbol — the more color, the higher your social status because you could afford it."

To make the interiors as authentic as possible, he chose dark blue hues for the living room and library and Georgian gold for the foyer.

"The whole color palette we used for the house is based on the color palette of the 1880s era," he said.

Creative liberties

Averbeck said that while old houses should honor their history, they also can usher in a more modern era.

While the exterior and the main-floor gathering spaces were subject to strict preservation guidelines, Averbeck was able to take creative liberties in other areas.

In the dining room, designer wallpaper from the William Morris vintage-inspired collection offers a fresh take on the Victorian era. In the living room, a 1920s art deco rug and 1950s wheat sheaf coffee table commingle with a royal blue 1990s sofa.

"You'll see that throughout the house the furniture styles are mixed. It was fun to mix and match to make it look like things were acquired over time," Averbeck said. "You don't want to design a place to look like a museum and have all Victorian furniture — it's just not relatable."

Carmen said the project, which took three years to complete, was worth it — even if it came with a hefty price tag because of the customization the project required as well as supply chain issues during the pandemic.

"There are not a lot of people who know how to do what needed to be done, so it took a while to find the right people," she said. "And they certainly did a great job."

Ushering in the new

In addition to the mansion's restoration, the Arvigs took on significant updates and upgrades.

Averbeck discovered during his research that the mansion originally housed a grand front entrance that was torn down in the 1930s or '40s and replaced with concrete steps. "It was pretty extravagant with curves and roundels and spandrels," he said.

The Arvigs felt it was important to build a new porch that replicated the original.

The previously unfinished basement now houses a wine cellar and tasting room with curated furnishings, including a 19th-century buffet that Averbeck scored at an antique shop in Stillwater. Rooms upstairs were also given upgrades. A fire-damaged bedroom was transformed into a spalike bathroom suite with a modern pillbox-shaped tub, a 1950s dining buffet recast as a sink with marble countertop and a 19th-century Venetian glass chandelier that evokes a Regency-style glam.

Outside, they converted a dilapidated two-car garage into a pub-style cabana bar with an adjoining catering kitchen. Next up: landscaping and building a modern orangery/greenhouse.

"These things will extend the use of the property," Averbeck said. "It's 2024, we have to make it so that people want to be here as opposed to just walking through and saying, 'Oh, that was a nice place to see.' We want them to come in and enjoy themselves — and relate to it."