Montpelier makeover: James Madison was a wallpaper man
In May, Monticello unveiled a dining room redo in eye-popping chrome yellow. This week, another presidential house, Montpelier, announces that the dining room of the Father of the Constitution will be transformed from "drab to fab" with period wallpaper–- and says the makeover has nothing to do with keeping up with the Jeffersons.
"We all admire Monticello," says Montpelier VP Lynne Hastings. "We've been working the past year and a half to restore this wallpaper. It's much more of a detective story."
On Constitution Day two years ago, Montpelier unveiled a $24-million architectural restoration that stripped away the pink stucco exterior added by a 20th-century owner and returned the house's look to what James and Dolley Madison knew.
"Now we're in the refurnishing stage," says Hastings.
Historians don't know exactly what pattern the Madisons might have chosen, but they do know the couple were "very enamored of the French taste," says Hastings. That led the restoration team to Henri Virchaux, a Philadelphia designer popular among the swell set in 1815, the year the Madisons bought wallpaper for Montpelier.
Another ah-ha moment that swung the swatch choice toward this particular pattern of floral swags across a green background: an 1836 list of the dining room furnishings of Montpelier revealing–- ta-da–- green chairs.
The reproduction wallpaper, dubbed Virchaux Drapery, has been made by historic design specialists Adelphi Paper Hangings, which will use the method Virchaux used, called blocking.
And after the paper goes up, some furnishings will be added to the formerly bare room. "We're borrowing a wonderful table from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation similar to one James and Dolley bought in 1804 when he was secretary of state," says Hastings.
Visitors can watch the new wallpaper hanging August 16 - 27. And a new tour beginning September 1 will allow visitors to take it all in.
But wait, there's more. In October, the drawing room gets redone, and the choice Montpelier staff feels most in accord with the Francophile couple's taste: red-flocked wallpaper.
"Visitors said it was more a museum of the arts than a drawing room," says Hastings. "Their furnishings reflect a lot of sophistication and awareness of the culture and tastes of the time."
All these wallpaper plans for Montpelier stand in contrast with the painted walls of Monticello. Is this an indicator that Thomas Jefferson wasn't a wallpaper man?
While Monticello did not immediately return a phone call from the Hook, Hastings points out a tidbit about Mr. Jefferson's house. "There was wallpaper in the bedroom used by Dolley and James Madison when they visited," she says. "It was called the Madison Chamber."
Next question in the clash of the presidential homes: Can Montpelier get Michelle Obama to visit? The First Lady made her second trip to Monticello on August 12, but we haven't seen a First Lady at Montpelier since July 1998, when Hillary Clinton kicked off the restoration with a rousing speech.