Living Museums of Design – America’s Historic Homes

A view of the mansion at the Hillwood Museum and Gardens from the French Parterre.

There is something awe-inspiring about visiting an old home – especially of a historic figure (whether a statesmen, writer, actor or artist).  I recently enjoyed a trip to Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Connecticut.  Twain felt, as I do, that our homes are more than just a place to eat and sleep.  He said: ‘To us, our house was not unsentinent matter – it had a heart and a soul…” It was such a pleasure to see his study where he penned The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

The reason visiting a historic home is so enjoyable for me is twofold.  I love learning the history of a place and diving into a different era, but I also see how a home can be almost autobiographical – so personal and particular to the personality who loved it, lived in it, and perhaps even created it.  Being in Mark Twain’s study, I could feel his presence in the room. It was unmistakably his room.

Another home that I was excited to visit was Thomas Jefferson’s in Virginia.  SO many of us in the design world are familiar with the architecture and style of Monticello, but seeing it in person was a different experience.  Of course, I was most interested to see his, what one guest on our tour called, ‘sanctum santorum’.  His room of his own.  Although it was more than just a room – Jefferson’s personal space consisted of a suite with a bedroom, study, green house and library – quite an enviable personal space! To be in such an historic place was wonderful and to see the design sensibilities up close and personal was such a treat.

In Washington DC, the former estate of Post Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post is absolutely worth a visit.  She imagined her Hillwood estate (now Hillwood Museum & Gardens) as a museum while she was still alive, and had it established as one in her will for after her death. One of the museums most beautiful exhibitions is Merriweather Post’s collection of Imperial Russian items – paintings, porcelain, Faberge eggs, books and garments.  History comes alive in every room of the house, and in the 25 cres of gardens.

The next time you’re travelling, whether on vacation with your family, or even on business, try and make it a point to visit a historic home in the area.  Educational, fun and beautiful, you may even find a fresh design idea for your own home on your travels!

To Learn more about the places I talked about in this blog, please visit their websites listed here and visit as soon as you can!

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