Parlor Restoration

parlor circa 1920s

Pre-Restoration View of Parlor

One nearly completed large project of the Preservation Department was the restoration of the Parlor, which returned the room to its appearance circa 1795 when Stratford was occupied by “Light Horse Harry” Lee. The Parlor was restored to the Federal Period as part of a comprehensive Lee Interpretive Plan and, fortunately, a large number of architectural elements survived from this time period. Extensive architectural investigations were carried out to determine what elements of the room needed to be restored in order to properly return it to its 1795 form. The Preservation Department worked with architectural historians and architects from Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker, Architects, to carry out these architectural investigations.

The first elements investigated in the Parlor were the window seats. The investigation revealed that the window seats of the north windows dated to the mid-19th century and the window seat of the east window dated to the Fiske Kimball restoration in the 1930s. It was determined that all the window embrasures [the splayed opening from the wall toward the inner face of a window, often treated with paneling], after remodeling by “Light Horse Harry” circa 1795, had extended to the floor. In subsequent years the extended window embrasures had been filled with window seats and treated with wood paneling to match the existing 1795 wainscoting of the Parlor. This treatment closely resembles the existing Federal Period paneled treatments in the window embrasures of the Chamber. It was discovered that, when the window seats were installed in the mid 19th century, the 1795 paneling below each window was cut in half, leaving the lower portion in place to support the window seat. This was a very useful discovery in the fact that these paneling fragments provided dimensions and molding profiles that could be used to restore the original design. Therefore, the architectural investigation determined how to properly restore the windows to their 1795 Federal Period form.

Window seat detail

Evidence of Former Window Treatment

The next element investigated was the cornice. The physical evidence indicated that a plaster cornice was added to the Parlor during “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s 1795 remodeling. Plaster from this 1795 remodeling remains intact on the north and south walls of the Parlor. This intact plaster provided the physical evidence needed for restoring the dimensions of the cornice. All the physical evidence pointed to a plaster cornice that was run in place and then had bench cast elements applied. The exact design of the 1795 cornice, probably removed sometime in the 19th century, is not known. However, a design was developed based on period publications, existing cornices at Stratford Hall, and other cornices found in Virginian homes of the same period.

As part of the investigation, extensive paint analysis was conducted using cross-section paint microscopy. This analysis was a useful tool in all aspects of the architectural investigation. One of the major outcomes of this analysis is that we now know the 1795 paint scheme of the Parlor. This information was used in the formulation and production of hand-ground verdigris paint to replicate the 1795 painting of the room.

Parlor 003After the architectural modifications to the parlor were completed, Curator Gretchen Goodell Pendleton created a furnishing plan for the parlor, which is currently still being implemented.  Some furnishings that will soon be added to the room include a colorful wall-to-wall carpet with pattern and colors to complement the walls and upholstery (to be custom woven in England this summer) and a large portrait of William Pitt–a reproduction of the original Peale painting that hung at Stratford from around 1794 to the 1820s and now hangs in the Westmoreland County Museum in Montross, Virginia.