House Transition

As early as 1790, Thomas Jefferson began planning revisions for his Albemarle County home, based in part on what he had observed in France. In 1796, walls of the original home were knocked down to make room for an expansion that would essentially double the floorplan of the house. The new plan called for a hallway connecting the older rooms to a new set of rooms on the east. The second Monticello was largely completed in 1809, the year Jefferson retired from the Presidency.

Among the many French elements that Jefferson incorporated into the second Monticello, the most dramatic was the dome placed over the already-existing Parlor, making it the first American home with such a feature. He crafted the building to give the appearance - as he had seen at the Hôtel de Salm - that the three-story building was only one story tall.[1] To achieve this effect, windows in the second-story bedrooms are on the floor level, so that from the outside, they appear to be an extension of the first-floor windows. On the third floor, light is provided by skylights invisible from the ground. Alcove beds and indoor privies are two more French features incorporated into Monticello. Although he was referring to food, one can understand why Patrick Henry claimed that Jefferson's time abroad had "Frenchified" him.

Jefferson's revisions for the home called for even smaller stairways than he had used in the original design. Two steep and narrow stairways, measuring only twenty-four inches wide, provided access to the upper bedrooms. These stairways widen to thirty inches as they descend to the basement level, thus affording more space for tasks such as bringing food from the Kitchen to the Dining Room. Jefferson believed that small stairways saved both money and "space that would make a good room in every story."

Footnotes

1. The Hôtel de Salm, destroyed by fire in 1871 and rebuilt, is now known as the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur.

Further Sources

Tag this

None
Login or register to tag items

Add comment

Login or register to post comments