Design and Decor - Convenience

"A Greater Eye To Convenience "

Wine dumbwaiter in side of Dining Room hearthJefferson filled Monticello with gadgets designed with "a greater eye to convenience," and the dining room contains many examples.

A Device to Fetch Wine

Built into each side of the fireplace is a wine dumbwaiter, consisting of a box into which a slave in the wine cellar -- located directly below the Dining Room -- could place a bottle. At the appropriate time, a family member or Burwell Colbert, the slave butler, pulled the box up to the Dining Room and removed the bottle. When not in use, the dumbwaiters could be concealed by shutting their doors.
Freestanding Dumbwaiter

Self-Service Meals

Other types of dumbwaiters were used throughout dinner to allow guests to serve themselves in the "French style." Food was prepared in the kitchen, located under the south terrace and connected to the house by the all-weather passageway. The meal was then carried up a narrow and steep staircase, and stacked on rounded shelves attached to one side of the Dining Room door (dumbwaiter.qt, 991K). The door rotates from the center instead of hinging on one edge. Once the shelves were loaded, slaves would turn the door so that the food would be inside the Dining Room.

From there, dishes would be placed on small tables with shelves called dumbwaiters. The dumbwaiters -- some of which were built at Monticello -- were on casters, so that they could be wheeled to the table. A guest who dined at the President's House during Jefferson's tenure recalled: "by each individual was placed a dumbwaiter, containing everything necessary for the progress of dinner from beginning to end."

Function Comes First

Other elements of the room reflect Jefferson's interest in design and function. For instance, instead of having one grand dining room table, Monticello had several smaller tables which could be placed together to accommodate as many guests as necessary. Or if fewer people were expected, some of the tables could be folded and set against a wall to conserve space.

Finally, the dining and tea rooms are located on the north side of the house, the coldest rooms in the winter. To conserve heat, the windows in those rooms have a double thickness of glass, an insulating technique often used by modern builders. In addition, a double set of sliding French doors (Dining Room doors.mov) could be closed to separate the slightly warmer dining room from the northern-most tea room.

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Image Credits

  • Dining Room dumbwaiter. Photograph by Robert C. Lautman.
  • Video footage of revolving serving door from Monticello, Home of Thomas Jefferson, produced for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation by Finley-Holiday Films. The video is available from the Monticello Museum Shops at (434) 984-9840.
  • Dumbwaiter. Made from walnut at the Monticello joinery. Photograph by Edward Owen.

 

 

Discussion

says

One of my favorite parodies of Jefferson was on the television show "30 Rock" a couple of years ago. Tracy Morgan is pitching a movie about Jefferson in which he plays all the characters. In this particular clip, Jefferson is defined as an inventor. 30 Rock writers understand how modern audiences think of Jefferson today. In fact, most visitors to Monticello want to know about Jefferson's inventions. It's a surprise to many people to learn that historians argue that Jefferson actually only invented one item - a type of moldboard for a plow. Nevertheless, you can see his creativity throughout Monticello in how he used gadgets to make daily living as convenient as possible. The dining room in particular houses several types of dumb (or silent) waiters and a revolving service door. So while he did not invent the lazy susan as the "30 Rock" clip shows, he was always thinking about how to use technology to improve living.

says

Jefferson enjoyed gadgets and incorporated many into his design at Monticello. The dining room is a wonderful place to talk about gadgets and Jefferson's use of innovation for convenience and comfort. The wine cellar and wine dumbwaiter have recently been restored. And in the Crossroads exhibit in the cellar, people can try out a re-creation of the wine dumbwaiter.

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