The Front Parlor was the formal entertaining space for the Washingtons, and this year marked the completion of its restoration and re-opening of the room to the public. It had been more than thirty years since the room underwent significant conservation and restoration. This room is a defining example of Mount Vernon's interdisciplinary approach to historical restoration.
Work began on the project at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, where a ledger kept by the Fairfax family, of Belvoir plantation, provided documentary evidence of the original furniture in the room in 1799. This furniture was purchased in London in 1763 and later given by George William Fairfax to his close friend George Washington. The newly acquired ledger provided the curatorial team with detailed descriptions of furniture listed in the inventory taken upon Washington's death. As none of the original furniture survives, Mount Vernon turned to upholstery conservator Leroy Graves of Williamsburg to recreate the room’s suite of backstools (upholstered chairs) using period techniques. The original upholstery fabric—a highlight of the room—is documented as being silk and worsted wool damask dyed "Saxon blue," a vibrant color that curators worked with textile specialists to replicate.
To complement curatorial efforts, the preservation team also undertook in-depth documentary research and physical investigation of the space. When the carpenters carefully removed several molded wood panels for conservation, they discovered evidence of earlier architectural features predating the current paneling (installed between 1757 and the early 1760s). The team also revisited and updated paint analysis, working with conservator Dr. Susan Buck of Williamsburg. With advancements in technology, the team was able to identify a total of fifteen paint layers, eight more than in the prior examination in 1980, and this analysis identified the 1799 paint color as a light stone or cream color, a highly fashionable treatment at the time of the new republic, not only in America but in England as well.
The conservation and restoration have resulted in a space that shows off its lively architectural details, particularly the bold wood-carved ornament surrounding the fireplace mantel and the doors and the delicate neoclassical plasterwork on the ceiling. The extensively researched and painstakingly created replica chairs, sofa, looking glass, gilded sconces and mirrors, return the Washingtons’ front parlor to its 18th-century splendor. The restoration recasts the space as Martha Washington’s parlor, where she presided over the tea table and showed off her family through the many family portraits that she largely commissioned. This room, where George and Martha Washington received their guests, now represents their vision more fully than at any time since 1799.
The restoration of the Front Parlor was supported by The Founders, Washington Committee for Historic Mount Vernon; the Dr. Scholl Foundation; Dr. and Mrs. James S. Reibel; the Nancy Peery Marriott Foundation; The Brown Foundation, Inc.; Mr. Paul Neely; Mr. Harold B. Smith; and hundreds of donors from across the country.
Learn more about this project, including a blog and a timeline of the room's changes.LEARN MORE