The Irvine’s actively participated in St. Paul social life, and hosted many dinner parties at their home. Olivia Irvine Dodge said that her “father [Horace] was a staunch Republican and her mother [Clotilde] was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat… no matter which party happens to occupy their former home, one of them at least will be content.” Daughter-in-law Sally Irvine recalled that the political arguments were “extremely violent and neither would give an inch.”
Though Olivia Irvine Dodge described a secret panel in the dining room, the original architectural plans do not show one. The only significant alteration of the dining room is the shift from glazed doors to paneled, accordion doors between the dining room and hall. The room walls were also lightened and darkened at the same time as the front hall.
The ceiling is slightly rounded. The walls and folding doors are paneled in Circassian walnut (an English Walnut used in veneers or paneling because of its rich swirls and curves). The white stone fireplace with carved shields has a Tudor arch opening framed by a carved wooden mantle and supported by decorative matching columns. The brass fireplace andirons with lion heads display the craftsmanship of the period. The wall sconces are original to the home while the chandelier is of the period but not original to the Residence.
Hosting dinner and impressing visitors is a central part of this ceremonial home. Mary Anderson described how she and her husband, Governor Wendell Anderson were asked to pose with their turkey for a Thanksgiving story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. She didn’t want to cook her turkey a day early, so the photo shoot went ahead, anyway. The picture taken that day shows a smiling Governor pretending to carve a raw turkey.
One of the challenges of the home is the relatively small dining space. The table can accommodate just 16 to 18 guests. As Wendell Anderson’s wife Mary said, “If you’ve got a governor with just 16 friends, he isn’t going to be re-elected.” In order to accommodate larger parties, tables are typically set up in the sunroom and front hallway.
The current dining room table can seat 16 people for a formal dinner. The china most often used is the “State Seal” pattern by Pickard, which incorporates the official Minnesota state seal. The Residence has four different sets of china, purchased with the help of the 1006 Summit Avenue Society. The silverware used is Tiffany’s English King Pattern and the crystal is the Lenox Citation Gold pattern.
The Residence is capable of hosting events for up to 150 people on the lawn and terrace or 75 people within the Residence.
The Irvine’s hired a live-in staff of seven to maintain the home and cater to their needs. The staff included a cook, butler, waitress, upstairs maid, laundress, nursemaid, gardener and chauffeur. The chauffeur and his wife lived in the apartment over the carriage house while some of the other servants lived on the third floor.
Today, the Governor’s Residence has a team of five professionals who pour their time and energy into every aspect of maintaining this beautiful home. The staff includes a Residence Manager, a Residence Assistant, a chef, a housekeeper and a groundskeeper. In 2011, the Residence hosted over 175 events.