Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum and Renaissance Gardens | Midwest Living

Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum and Renaissance Gardens

2220 N. Terrace Ave.
Milwaukee  Wisconsin  53202
United States
(414) 271-3656
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Midwest Living Review

Manya Kaczkowski
You'll be transported to Italy in the Renaissance Garden behind Villa Terrace, a Lombardy-inspired home and decorative arts museum on Lake Michigan.

You get your first wow! moment at Villa Terrace the moment you step through the main entrance into the flower-filled Mercury Courtyard, watched over by a marble version of the fleet-footed messenger himself. Events are sometimes held here, including Breakfast on the Balcony on Sundays, complete with live music, or you can just relax here before or after exploring the home and gardens. This is the former home of the Lloyd R. Smith family. Inspired by Villa Cicogna in Lombardy, Italy, they hired architect David Adler to design it in 1924, calling their new home Sopra Mare (Above the Sea). Lloyd was the son of Arthur O. Smith, who started mass-production of car frames in Milwaukee at his company, A. O. Smith, in 1906. For more on the family, check out the home movies, dating from 1927-37, in the Smith Gallery. Much of the home remains as it was when the family left, although there are occasional outside art installations. On permanent display in the home is a collection of ironworks by Cyril Colnik, frequently called "the Tiffany of wrought-iron masters;" other artifacts include blue and white English porcelain donated by Mary Uihlein Cunningham, Fortuny curtains and the Decor Chinois panorama, which took 50 men to complete. The most magnificent feature, though, is best seen from the Terrace d'Luna, at the rear of the home. From here, you can admire Villa Terrace's legendary Renaissance Garden, stretching out from the house toward Lake Michigan. It's a spectacular view, a carpet of green followed by an expanse of blue, even if you decide not to venture down the steep wood steps to set foot in it yourself. But DO venture down -- you won't regret it. This verdant blast from the past was the project of landscape designer Rose Standish Nichols and features a Scaletta d'Aqua (water stairway), a crabapple orchard, a secret garden guarded by the goddess Diana, and an imposing Neptune Gate, forged by metalsmith Dan Nauman. Plantings include flowers, shrubs and a wide variety of culinary herbs. Sculptures are found throughout: Putti (babies), Hercules and more. Step inside the double row of Ragnaia (thicket), and you'll feel very, very close to Italy. Admission is $5, adults; $3, seniors, military and students. Children 12 and under get in free. Those visiting both Villa Terrace and the Charles Allis museum receive a small discount.

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