parlor circa 1920s

Pre-Restoration View of Parlor

The current large project of the Preservation Department is the restoration of the Parlor, which will return the room to its appearance circa 1795 when Stratford was occupied by “Light Horse Harry” Lee. The Parlor is being restored to the Federal Period as part of a comprehensive Lee Interpretive Plan and, fortunately, a large number of architectural elements survive from this time period. Extensive architectural investigations have been carried out to determine what elements of the room need to be restored in order to properly return it to its 1795 form. The Preservation Department has been working 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 date to the mid-19th century and the window seat of the east window dates 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 indicates 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 points 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 is being 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 will be used in the formulation and production of hand-ground paint that will be used to replicate the 1795 painting of the room.