Did you notice I appear to be on a house kick recently? It might be explained by the fact that my husband and I are in the process of downsizing and moving across the state to be near family. Or it may just be that houses of historical value fascinate me. When they are arranged as they were in their prime, they offer a window into the past.
I had the pleasure of touring Carlyle House in Alexandria, Virginia, recently. Carlyle House was the dream of English merchant John Carlyle, who wanted a home in colonial Virginia that would proclaim his status. Completed in 1753, it is the only stone house dating from that time period in Alexandria and looks very much like you might imagine a wealthy Englishman to build.
Having studied the English Regency for so long, I found the American version of the same time period interesting. Here’s some of the things I noted.
A number of the design elements were similar, from the Greek key pattern on the woodwork to the internal shutters rather than draperies on the windows. Mr. Carlyle apparently wrote at times to his family in England and asked what was fashionable there. Note, however, that while the chair may look like an original Chippendale, it was made in Boston.
Dresses also mimicked their English counterparts, whether the wide skirts of George Washington’s day or the Empire waists of the Regency. This display showed how the fabric of one era could be recycled by the next generation.
There is nothing, however, like American ingenuity. See the frame above the bed’s hangings in the picture below? I studied it for the longest time, trying to determine how they would have fit the fabric so precisely to the curve of the wood. The answer? It’s not fabric. The wood has been hand-painted in a perfect match. This may have been done in England, but I haven’t encountered it yet.
The museum did a good job of showing how Mr. Carlyle started out as a member of the British Empire and ended an American patriot. I must admit, as much as I love the Regency period, seeing this house and Dumbarton House in Georgetown made me long to write an American Revolutionary War story.
So, I’m adding it to the long list of books I hope to write someday. Until then, like John Carlyle, I can dream.
*Top picture by Ser Amantio di Nicolao