Bennetts learn history of old home on Pillsbury Point

The Bennetts weren’t searching for an older home, but it’s what they found and what they now love.

Location is what initially led Michael and Margie to their lake home near Pillsbury Point in Arnolds Park.

The fact that it was an old lake cottage with guest quarters and a carriage house, originally built in 1920, simply added another layer to the interest and appeal.

“I think what we were attracted to was just that it was a cool looking old lake cottage and a really nice piece of property,” Michael said. “We’ve got 187 feet of lakeshore here and property back across the road. We didn’t necessarily set out to own an older home and we weren’t necessarily looking for a project, but it seemed like a great fit for us. We like this side of the lake and the proximity to the park.”

The Bennetts, who are from the Sioux City area originally, had previously owned a home in the Kelly’s Beach neighbor East Okoboji Lake before moving over to West Okoboji Lake to a place on Millers Bay.

Then in 2018 they made this most recent purchase, and are just the fourth owners of the property.

Despite not looking for a project, they got to work right away.

“As you might imagine, like a lot of old places it was pretty dark, with a lot of dark wood and so forth, so we basically had the interior of the house taken down to the studs,” Michael said. “We changed the floor plan a little but kept certain things.”

Perhaps the most striking portions kept mostly intact are the floor-to-ceiling bookcases on the main floor.

The shelves run almost two-third the length of the home facing the lake.

A sliding-glass door allows passage through one end and there were originally French doors in the middle portion that could be opened to allow a breeze all the way through the house back when there was no air conditioning.

“We took the big doors out and put in these glass panels to allow more light through the home and to be able to take in more of that can’t-miss view,” Margie said.

A pair of bookcases had to be relocated to accommodate the changes and now reside on the second floor of the home.

Overall there were 1,300 books, several of which hold inscriptions to the original owners, the Petersons from Rockford, IL, who would eventually pass the home on to their niece, Jennie Wall.

“I think most of these books go back to the late 1800s up to about 1950 at the newest except for a few things we’ve popped in there,” Michael said. “When we revamped the cottage we had to put them in climate control storage — 53 totes worth.”

More straightforward portions of the renovation also tackled the desire to bring more light into the home. Painting parts of the interior white instead of dark mahogany, replacing carpets with tiling,

whitewashing the brick around the living room fireplace.

“We didn’t change the footprint of the house, so it’s essentially the same structurally. We just really wanted to open it up to be lighter and brighter,” Michael said. “I think the remodel was successful too in that Margie and the decorator tried to keep things in that period so if you look around it strikes you as something that could have always been there, maybe just updated.”

New floor and wall coverings and updated light fixtures all include nods to the past through their style and application.

Continuing with the overall plan to lighten and brighten the interior, the kitchen saw a major change as a pair of pantries facing each other gave way for a more open floor plan.

“Of course the kitchen and the dining area are a lot more open than they were before,” Michael said.

To make that possible, a

chimney was removed, though no one would know unless they’d been inside the house beforehand. From the outside, it appears to still be there.

“In trying to keep it true you can see the chimney up there, that went all the down to the old coal burner in the basement, but we needed the space that it occupied to do that work in the kitchen, so we took the chimney out, but recreated it at the top so it still has the same look.”

All the way around the outside they kept things as close as possible to the original. Same gray color as the home has always been. Same smaller size windows. Swapping out red brick in the patio area for bigger pavers was the biggest change, but still a move that retains a look that could have easily been there since the beginning.

The second floor of the home was used as a kind of workspace at one point and now includes a pair of bedrooms, bathroom, guest laundry room and a large family room.

And for the youngest grandkids there is a fun and unique playroom under the eaves of the house that can be accessed through small door in the one of the bedrooms.

“I think the old ladies would work up here making tea towels and things,” Michael said. “We maybe changed the doorways a tiny bit, but for the most part the floor plan up here is the same and we have nice views of the lake even from upstairs.”

And even a few years after settling in to their new lake home, the Bennetts continue to learn fun, new and intriguing anecdotes every day.

After attending a Marilyn Maye concert this summer at the Pearson Lakes Art Center, Michael was reading about her career online when he found out that for 11 years she had performed at a restaurant called The Colony in New York.

It turns out that among the 1,300 books on those shelves was one about that same restaurant.

“It’s interesting that we learn a few new things about it all the time,” Michael said. “I just happened to pull that book one time. It’s an interesting book about the proprietor of the restaurant and all the characters and famous people that come through. I don’t know if she was mentioned in the book, but we’ll see, and maybe we can have her sign it or something. That was a unique and cool connection to the house.”

Add it to the list of things they love about their home.

“We love everything really. It’s pretty special. We walk almost everywhere and there are great sunsets,” Margie said. “And it’s a very well built home, so it’s very comfortable and wonderful for entertaining. I think the history of it makes it pretty fun to share with people.”

“It’s a great spot. We love the park and we love this part of Okoboji,” Michael added. “And we love the lake, of course, and have a great vantage point here.” 