Thanksgiving week seems like the perfect time to talk about Colonial Style. It was after all, the style which was in vogue when our government was in it’s infancy.
Last week I shared a post on the Wreaths of Colonial Williamsburg and left you with this image of the Thomas Everard house in Colonial Williamsburg.
The house is a five bay, timber framed, story and a half home built of split weatherboard in 1718. (You may read about it’s detailed history HERE.) It is located right next to the Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg. They offer very limited private tours to view the interior of the house which contains many good 18th century antiques, a lovely staircase, original brick kitchen as well as fragments of old wallpaper and paint that have helped in its authentic restoration.
I had been unsuccessful in signing up for the tour online. Upon arriving at Williamsburg I inquired about the tour and was informed it was filled to capacity. I had come to far to just give up and walked to the house in the early morning with the hope that perhaps one person in the tiny privileged tour group would not show up or that they would take pity on me if I pleaded and begged.
I stood alone as the clock ticked ever closer and closer to the starting time. I sat on the white bench. I walked the gravel yard. I took photos and yet I remained alone. A woman peeked her head out and looked perplexed. She asked “Is anyone joining you?” I explained my plight in earnest. The door was shut. A few minutes later it was opened by John, a volunteer and tour leader.
He ushered me in. “It appears that you will be the only one on the tour ~ is that ok?”
WHAT!!!! Touring beautiful rooms filled with precious antiques alone~ loosen my stays and get me my smelling salts STAT!
As I came to I was led into the family dining area.
Just myself and the well educated John, alone for one full hour, in a house full of antique furniture ~ this is my idea of heaven, but I’m dorky like that.
I took copious notes and asked enthusiastic questions. John, an elderly gentleman, is retired and now crafts lovely authentic reproduction furniture for Williamsburg. He quickly caught my enthusiasm and began offering much more information about the home than what is normally offered on the tour.
“No one has cared this much in years! I am so happy that a young person is interested!” Look at this hand painted oilcloth floor covering! The middling sort tried to replicate the marble tiles they saw in the homes of the gentry!”
The middling class couldn’t afford art such as the gentry had so they generally hung engravings which were far less expensive.
“Marriage a la Mode” was one popular print.
John wanted to make sure I noticed the wallpaper, also known as painted paper. It was a well done reproduction. While the vast majority of colonists used a stencil and several colors of paint, only the well to do could afford wallpaper. A papered wall was a sign of wealth. (More history available HERE.) Today you can purchase well done hand blocked printed Artisan reproduction paper from sources such as Adelphi and Hamilton~Weston.
Please make note of the tilt top tea table. (Say that fast 4 times.) The tea table was also a sign of wealth and leisure.
Most of the furniture in this room was done in the Queen Anne style with cabriole (s shaped) legs and featured pad and slipper feet.
Here is a close up.
The wood of choice was walnut and mahogany. Early chair styles featured plain backs which were “Crooked” or S-curved and conformed to the sitters spine. Mid style chairs featured the vase shaped splat.
Chairs made in the later “Chippendale” style (a blend of Gothic, Asian, and French Rococo designs) were more rectilinear, had square seat frames and straight stiles.
The most notable feature is the outward-flaring “ears” at the top corners of the chair, as seen here.
Moving into the living area you can also see that the middling class had more leisure time. As such furniture makers began creating tea and card tables as well as musical instruments. Botanical prints were also a popular choice.
The later Chippendale style also featured ball and claw with sharply articulated talons on the feet as opposed to the smooth contours of pad and slipper foot shown earlier.
I loved the shade of green in this room. Popular color choice were indigo blue, barn red and yellow ochre. Pratt and Lambert offers the Williamsburg palette made up of 184 colors, while Finnaren & Haley has the Authentic Colors of Historic Philadelphia and Sherwin Williams also offers historical shades.
Any idea why such a high gloss finish was used?
Given that there was no electricity, the glossy finish aided in the disbursement of candle and fire light. Well placed mirrors also reflected light throughout the room.
Also downstairs was the gentleman’s office. Thomas Everard truly had a rags to riches story.
As printing was done all by hand, most books were very rare and expensive. Bookcases were lined generally with green linen to preserve the books from sunlight.
The masters bedroom was also downstairs.
The scrolled top of the four poster bed was covered in fabric.
John wanted to make sure you saw the hand blocked wall covering. (Wink!)
If I could have somehow carried this small desk out on my back without being noticed I would have. To my eyes the wood graining, brass escutcheons and hand pulls made this piece my favorite in the house. Pictures do NOT do it justice.
I wanted to sit in this slipcovered wing backed chair to see if it was as comfy as it looked. John wouldn’t let me. But I did ask. 🙂
We then climbed the staircase which is notable for its richly ornamented carving on the stair brackets.
The children’s room ~ I loved the blue on the window trim and tiny “Alice in Wonderland” door which led to attic storage.
The older daughter’s bedroom featured a lovely four poster feather bed.
Finishing with the servants quarters I questioned the presence of the desk and John said my inclination was right. Such a desk and chair would not have been in a servants room. Servant quarters generally featured the simpler styles of trestle tables, stools and benches that were also found in the homes of the lower classes. Rope beds, like the one shown here, featured mattresses filled with rags, corn husks or whatever was handy. Ouch.
Sadly, it was soon time to bid John adieu. His next tour would soon start and I was meeting Mr. Décor and Sweet Boy to tour the Governor’s Palace next door.
The Govenors Palace was completed in 1722. It was a two-story brick house that measured inside 54 feet long and 48 feet wide, had sash windows, a cellar, one vault, a kitchen, and a stable. A fire destroyed the building in 1781. Reconstruction began in 1934.
The entrance hall is decorated in a manner to show the power of England. The display of bayonet-tipped muskets and numerable swords did invoke fear in me but mainly this was due to the lad who asked if he could take a knife of the wall. Mom said “No.”
The Royal Coat of Arms of Great Britian (Hanoverian period) shows up several times throughout the house and garden. Its motto: Diev Et Mon Droit.
This brass and glass candle sconce was stunning.
We were led into a beautiful blue ballroom. (You can read about the extensive restoration process which includes paint colors and techniques HERE.)
Impressive paintings of King George and Queen Charlotte hung across from one another.
The ballroom stove, which runs on coal, is quite large and detailed.
The moldings were some of the most elaborate I have seen outside of France.
I wish the sparkle of the crystal chandeliers was conveyed in this image.
You can somewhat see the sparkle from the chandelier in the Supper Room.
Do you know how badly I wanted to stand on a ladder and expect the molding at length?
The gilt gadroon borders were modeled after Charleston’s Miles Brewton House and the New Hampshire Wentworth House.
The gold leaf borders total 466 linear feet and can be safely removed without damage to paint, wallpaper or plaster.
The hand carved woodwork surrounding the windows was equally stunning.
This is a good time to discuss that during the Colonial period window coverings were primarily either shutters or a simple linen shade.
In rare homes of truly great wealth silk draperies might be hung.
Upstairs was Lady Dunmore’s bedchamber. Fabric used during the time was most often linen. Cotton was as expensive as silk due to the fact that the cotton gin had not been invented. Imported fabrics such as cotton calicoes and hand blocked prints from India and brocades and toiles from France were quite popular for the Gentry. Silk damask and wool velvet was enjoyed by both the Gentry and Middling class. Lower classes had to make due with homespun fabric which was known as cheney, harateen, moreen, camlet and linsey-woolsey.
Needle working was also immensely popular as it showed off a ladies fine skills. Samplers were popular for young girls while more experienced ladies would create fancy woven coverlets, quilts, lovely cross stitch, crewel and tapestries.
In Lady Dunsmore’s chamber we also see an example of a chinoiserie chair. The styles of the Far East captured the design hearts of both England and the colonists. Another popular trend based on this style was Japanning ~ a technique developed in the West to imitate Asian lacquer work.
While this was a fairly extensive post, there is still so much more to Colonial Style. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum is a great source of information. An good overall reference site can be found HERE.
For additional study here are a few books:
Tomorrow ~ Colonial Fashions,