One of the challenges for homes along Summit Avenue is the lack of light. The Solarium brings in most of the natural light on the main floor and also creates a direct visual connection to the beautifully landscaped gardens. The Solarium was a favorite room of the Irvines. In fact, the only significant structural change made to the home was this room. It was doubled in size in 1922 at a cost of $7,000. The fireplace and the five french doors with fanlight arches were added at that time. It was in the Solarium that Olivia Dodge met with Eleanor Roosevelt. Olivia was an avid collector of Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorabilia as a child. When Mrs. Roosevelt was visiting St. Paul, she was told of Olivia’s collection and asked to see it. They had tea here and discussed Olivia’s hobby for hours.
The Solarium was also used by the Irvines for over-flow seating for sit-down meals. At Christmastime, the adults were usually seated in the dining room, and the children sat in the Solarium. Granddaughter Patty Fobes Scott recalled her humiliation when she was 19 the first year she was married. Her husband, who was four years older, was seated in the Dining Room, while she was seated in the Solarium. Grandmother Clotilde was very stubborn, and her seating arrangement was not to be budged.
Granddaughter Patty Fobes Scott also recalled the favored status of Clotilde’s poodle, which had a favorite spot in a chair in this room. When Patty came to visit, no one dared move the dog, so people sat three across on the couch.
This space also seems to get the most use for public gatherings. The furniture is removed and large round tables are used to entertain up to 40 guests for a luncheon or dinner party. During summer events, the french doors are opened to give guests access to the Terrace and gardens.
The walls are made of white ashlar stone (ashlar means the masons cut the stones to this precise rectangular shape and smooth finish). The walls were steam cleaned in 2006, restoring them to their original color. The ceiling is paneled and beamed. The light fixtures are original to the addition in 1922. The wrought iron work in the wall openings were added in the 1980s and echo the original wrought iron that was there.