Design and Decor - Details

"Creative Genius"

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a frequent visitor to the mountaintop during his presidency, noted that "Monticello appeals to me as an expression of the personality of its builder. . . . In the very furnishings which Jefferson devised on his own drawing board. . . there speaks ready capacity for detail, and above all, creative genius."

Jefferson's Bedroom contains many examples of his creative genius and obsession with the details of Monticello. The obelisk clock at the foot of his bed, for instance, was made according to Jefferson's design, as were the curtains at his windows, and the counterpane on his bed.

Alcove Beds

Jefferson saw alcove beds during his years in France, and admired the space-saving qualities of these beds built into walls. Upon his return from Europe, Jefferson redesigned Monticello, adding at least one alcove (and sometimes two) in every bedroom. A continual innovator, he varied the design for his own bed, leaving both sides open to loosely connect his bedroom with his study. He also saved space by placing closets in the walls over his and other beds. His closet -- which has openings for air and light -- was accessible via a small ladder kept at the head of the bed.

Maximum Lighting

Jefferson maximized natural lighting throughout the house. His private rooms, like the others on the first floor, feature large triple-sash windows (window.qt, 400K). The bottom two portions may be raised to form a doorway, or the bottom sash can be raised, the top lowered, to encourage cross-ventilation. Sky-lights flood Jefferson's Bedroom and the Dining Room with light, and third-floor bedrooms at Monticello are lit exclusively with sky-lights. In many rooms, such as Jefferson's Bedroom and the Parlor, strategically placed mirrors maximize light from both windows and candles.

Mechanical Inventions

Perhaps Monticello is best known, however, for the way in which Jefferson designed his house "with a greater eye to convenience." Just as Jefferson's closet once featured an innovative "turning machine" which held his clothes, other rooms in the house contain similar devices. The Dining Room, located directly over the wine cellar, contains two dumbwaiters which carry wine up from the basement. The Parlor has a set of "magic" doors, so that as one door opens or closes, the other follows automatically. And the Cabinet, in which Jefferson wrote letters, performed scientific experiments, and designed buildings, was filled with state-of-the-art devices, including a copying machine, to help him in his work. Other sections in this "Day in the Life" narrative focus on the Dining Room, Parlor, and Cabinet.

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Image Credits

  • Jefferson's Bedroom. Photographed by Robert C. Lautman.
  • Video footage of triple-sash window from Monticello, Home of Thomas Jefferson.

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