Politics weren’t the only thing changing around the time of American Independence: architecture trends were shifting as well. There was a move among craftsmen towards a simpler, more refined look, especially in furniture. George and Martha Washington’s famous Mount Vernon home fully embraced that movement. From the time that George began building the present house in 1758, he chose elegant functionality as his theme of choice. This is evident in everything from Mount Vernon’s breezy piazza, to its long-burning argand lamps, to its assortment of Windsor chairs.
If you’ve been struck with inspiration after visiting Mount Vernon—or even going through its virtual tour—know this: it’s entirely possible to design your home as a homage to Mount Vernon. You just have to know what design pieces capture the look and feel of the home while still being functional in modern times, and where to find these pieces.
The most obtainable item—and the most important, in my opinion—is the Windsor chair.
A Brief Explanation of Windsor Chairs
American Windsor chairs were based on an English model and became popular in the 18th century.
Their distinguishing features were the legs, which were set at an angle instead of being directly vertical. The backs came in a variety of shapes: fan-shaped, comb-shaped, and looped. They could be made into rocking chairs or traditional planted chairs.
The Washingtons owned dozens of Windsor chairs; they kept 30 out on the piazza, several in the mansion’s Little Parlor, and even a high chair version for their young granddaughter, Nelly.
You can buy hand-made revival versions of the chair today on our Dixie & Grace shop: Windsor Chairs. Their creations have all the elegance of the originals, but they are made with grooves that make the seats more comfortable for modern guests.
11 More Ideas
In addition to the Windsor chairs, consider these 11 design ideas as an introduction to designing a “modern Mount Vernon.”
1) Painted white raised panel wainscoting [image courtesy of Charles Fradin]
2) Documentary Mount Vernon wallcovering [detail in red and full pattern in blue below]
Brunschwig & Fils have reproduced thousands of historical fabrics.
3) Duncan Phyfe or Sheraton style chairs for a formal dining or living area [You can find an entire set of mass produced reproductions from the early 1900's for less than $200.00]OR you may shop authenticated antiques: A Pair of Classical Carved Mahogany Klismos Side Chairs, attributed to Duncan Phyfe circa 1815 sold at Sotheby's for over $11,000.00 in 2009. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.To be more authentic, remove the lampshades and use candles from electric-candle.com for the Georgian Chandelier.The Geller Chair by Charles Fradin.The Belgravia Chair by Charles Fradin.
Just as an artist is inspired by another, home design is mostly homage. If you want your home to look like Revolutionary America but refreshed, you’re in luck.
Too often, when someone imitates an american early home, the look is stagnant. Luckily, people like Charles Fradin have designed furniture pieces that incorporate the historical designs and elements of the originals, but are comfortable and strong enough to last hundreds of years.
Choosing the right furniture creates a foundation on which you can design a classic home with historical elements that is functional and appealing to our modern sensibilities.
As you now know, the perfect start to a Mount Vernon homage is the Windsor chair. You can find elegant, hand-made Windsor chairs here.