In a quiet corner of Minnesota lies an extraordinarily well preserved piece of French history: a remarkable, entirely intact Parisian interior, dating from the 18th-century. How did it get there? Taylor Hall O'Brien investigates.



Intact 18th-century Parisian interior in Minnesota @ Taylor Hall O'Brien


Nestled among vast oak trees atop a hill in Saint Paul, Minnesota sits the Burbank Livingston-Griggs mansion, the second oldest mansion along the historic Summit Avenue overlooking the Mississippi River. Its Italianate revival facade is comprised of massive slabs of locally quarried grey limestone and contrasted by arched windows, a bracketed cornice, and a cupola topped with a finial.

At the back of the home, a small stone gate opens to a lush courtyard and sprawling veranda high atop a bluff, keeping a watchful eye over the city below. Inside, a narrow staircase leads to a second floor landing. It was here in 2020 that a florist, Kelly Dorow, opened the door to the apartment and, upon first gaze, immediately said, “I’ll take it!”

“I wasn’t entirely sure what I had walked into, but the apartment was unlike anything I had seen locally and I knew I had to live here,” says Kelly. Inside, floor-to-ceiling wood and mirrored panels, curved doorways, intricate inlaid floors, hidden doors, carved mouldings, and original fixtures filled the space. The interior was undoubtedly European, but when and how did it end up in Minnesota? Kelly began the exciting process of discovering the mansion’s history, and storied it was.

Originally designed in 1862 by Chicago architect Otis L. Wheelock for a wealthy transportation entrepreneur, James Crawford Burbank, the mansion was home to several prominent families, including Crawford Livingston and Theodore Wright Griggs, who between them worked with four local architects to make their mark.

It wasn’t until 1925, however, when Mary Livingston Griggs inherited the property from her parents, that it began its transformation into the architectural unicorn it is today. A lover of travel, antiques and history, Mary journeyed throughout Europe, collecting objects that caught her eye. She soon began purchasing entire rooms from late 18th-century French and Italian residences, which she then had disassembled, shipped by boat to Minnesota and reassembled in the mansion.


 Kelly Dorow's Parisian apartment in Minnesota © Taylor Hall O'Brien 


Architects Allen H. Stem and Magnus Jemne worked alongside Mary Livingston Griggs on a variety of projects including a two-story limestone addition and living room remodel in the style of a 17th-century English Renaissance Chamber, but the majority of the painstakingly intricate task of reassembling and retrofitting these historic interiors piece-by-piece was the handiwork of prominent Minnesotan architect, Edwin Hugh Lundie. Under Lundie’s guidance, craftsman meticulously matched the hardwood floors, fireplace mantels, fixtures, and mirrored walls.

In 1968, the mansion was donated by Mary Livingston Grigg’s daughter, Mary Griggs Burke, to the Minnesota Historical Society and in 1970 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1996, the mansion was sold again and this time, converted into three separate apartments that are still available to rent on the rare occasion someone decides to move out; this was exactly what happened in 2020, allowing Kelly Dorow to move into the apartment in August that year.


Kelly Dorow's Parisian apartment in Minnesota © Taylor Hall O'Brien 

When she moved in, Kelly had an assortment of furniture in varying styles. Her close friend, interior designer Jacqueline Fortier, accompanied her on her first visit and insisted on paying homage to the interior by decorating it for Kelly. A collector herself, Fortier immediately explored her archive, retrieving all the pieces she had fastidiously collected over the years, in the hope of one day finding the perfect space.

Among them, a gilded wood and marble table, a European pine table and armchairs, a delicate French bistro set, and a variety of textiles, tapestries and vessels from her travels throughout Europe. Her selfless efforts were both to help her best friend and honour the extraordinary space, both deservedly so.


Kelly Dorow's Parisian apartment in Minnesota © Taylor Hall O'Brien 

Such is the property's unique, almost other-worldly appeal, Kelly has, to the benefit of many, positioned her apartment as a gathering place, and source of inspiration for a variety of creative pursuits. Chef friends host intimate dinners, photographer friends use the space as a backdrop to transport their subjects to a bygone era or faraway land, and Kelly herself preps floral arrangements in the sunny dining room before heading out to pop-up floral sales throughout the city.

Most importantly, this one-of-a-kind apartment nestled in the upper level of a historic Saint Paul mansion is a fresh start, symbol of hope, and safe haven for Kelly, her daughter, hound dog and cat. I can’t help but think that Mary Livingston-Griggs would smile knowing that her design decisions are still inspiring us nearly 100 years later.


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Taylor Hall O'Brien is a Minnesota-based photographer and writer | Follow Taylor on Instagram: @taylorhallobrien

Creative direction and styling by Liz Gardner | Florals by Kelly Dorrow

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