In thinking of spring, I always think of going to Virginia-the prettiest place in the world when it is spring.This article caught my eye!
Jefferson’s historic house gets a bold coat of paint
BY MITCHELL OWEN
Hip and modern aren’t words necessarily associated with historic sites, let alone Monticello. The country house of Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president and likely its most intelligent—as John F. Kennedy once told a group of dignitaries visiting the White House, theirs was the greatest gathering of minds since Jefferson dined alone—has long been an icon in the national imagination. Its gently swelling dome and its columned portico even appear on the U.S. nickel. But this summer, visitors arriving at the mountaintop house Jefferson designed for himself in 1769 near Charlottesville, Virginia, are in for a shock: The beloved Wedgwood-blue dining room has been painted a rich, raucous shade known as chrome-yellow. The past is now so bright you gotta wear shades.
“The blue dated from 1936,” says Susan R. Stein, Monticello’s energetic curator and overseer of the thought-provoking reinterpretation. “So we began to do paint studies and concluded this chrome-yellow shade was applied to the dining room around 1815, only six years after it was invented in France.” Like anything on the cutting edge of fashion, it was expensive. Back then, chrome-yellow, which Stein eloquently describes as “the color of an egg yolk from a chicken that dined on marigold petals,” cost $5 per pound to produce versus 15 cents per pound for basic white. Better yet, the color was a new product that would have appealed greatly to Jefferson, then in his early 70s but still impassioned about scientific advancements, even if his housekeeping left something to be desired. (A visitor complained that the seats in the dining room around the time it was painted yellow were “completely worn through and the hair [stuffing] sticking out in all directions.”)
Today that space, just off the main hall—restored and repainted thanks to a generous donation from Polo Ralph Lauren—is an invigorating tour de force, awash with sunlight streaming beneath the crisp pediments of its triple-hung windows. The mahogany shield-back side chairs Jefferson probably bought in New York City are thrown into high relief, looking rather like cut-paper silhouettes. His paintings and prints, which once blended modestly into the dull-blue walls, now pop into view, their black frames crisp against the bold yellow. The whole room seems buoyant, the yellow reflected in the gilded mirror and suffusing the Palladian-flavored white moldings with a golden glow day and night.
“It takes some getting used to, but Jefferson was an experimenter, a forward thinker,” observes interior designer Charlotte Moss, a native Virginian who is still rubbing her eyes in disbelief after a preview a few months ago. “The yellow is more representative of who he really was, an educated man of the world, than that pale blue.” Moss was invited to create an array of table settings for the dining room, and the results prove how truly modern and appealing the room remains.
A fresh coat of paint isn’t the only change at Monticello. A mahogany sideboard has been added to the dining room, in emulation of one Jefferson owned. The South Pavilion, a two-room brick garden house where the newlywed Jeffersons first lived, has been furnished to reflect those early days, with a mahogany canopy bed curtained in flowery chintz. A wine cellar dumbwaiter has been rendered operable for the first time in decades, the kitchen now features an eight-burner stove that was the latest word in culinary chic in Jefferson’s day, and a new permanent exhibition is devoted to the slaves, servants, and other individuals who kept Monticello humming. Jefferson’s bedroom is in Stein’s scholarly sights too, as well as a blue room that may originally have been painted black. History, a dead thing? Think again.