Historic house modernized, enlarged

While students elsewhere may have a vague idea of their college president living in a large house somewhere near campus, at Cornell, the Garner President’s House is designed, and newly renovated, as a place for community gathering. The house was named for the legacy of President Emeritus Les Garner and First Lady Katrina Garner, who hosted 1,000 alumni, faculty, staff, students, donors, community members, and guests each year during their 15 years on campus. Settled on the Hilltop among residence halls and academic buildings, the Garner President’s House is integrated into the Cornell College campus.

The Garner President's House, which re-opened this fall after renovations.
The Garner President’s House, which re-opened this fall after renovations.

The Cornell College Board of Trustees strongly supported the recent renovations to the house, emphasizing the importance of its history and space for community gathering in the 163-year old home. Architect Stephen Muse, with review by the Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Commission, crafted the re-design. The new layout required demolishing 2,389 square-feet of the 4,384-square-foot home, including two bedrooms and a bathroom from the third floor.

These bedrooms were added back to the house on the second floor, where the original guest room and master suite remain intact. The house’s distinctive tower room, one of the highest points on campus, also remains intact.

Muse’s plan added 4,853 square-feet of space, for a total area of 6,848 square feet. The main addition is the garden room and terrace, and the music room was also updated with a new chandelier, replacing the floor lamps that previously lit the room. The renovations also enlarged the kitchen to include a catering area to prepare food for large groups and expanded the entrance for greater ease in greeting guests.

President Jonathan Brand and his wife, Rachelle LaBarge, are using the new space to host the Cornell community, including a brunch they hosted for the Class of ’63 50-year reunion.

“Having the home of the President of the college on campus helps reaffirm the sense of community that is at the heart of Cornell and that forms an essential part of the residential liberal arts college experience,” John McGrane ’73, president of the Board of Trustees, said. “We are pleased that the project is now finished, that President Brand and his wife Rachelle LaBarge are in residence, and that the Garner President’s House will be a valuable asset to the college for many years to come.”

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