During the past year, Mount Vernon’s Historic Preservation and Collections staff have followed in Washington’s footsteps, researching, restoring, and refurbishing his “New Room” to its moment of glory during the fleeting, three-year period after his presidency. Drawing upon both documentary and physical evidence, the project brings together the expertise of architectural historians, restoration artisans, conservators, archivists, curators, and an array of consultants and technical specialists.
New paint analysis techniques revealed that the original room's color scheme was more complex and sophisticated than previously thought, informed by fashionable English interiors designed by Robert Adam. Microscopic examination of paint samples by conservator and paint analyst Dr. Susan Buck identified two distinct copper-based pigments: a fine-textured, sea-green verditer on the broad expanses of wallpaper, and a gritty, glossy deep green verdigris, used on the friezes above the doors, the Palladian window panels, and around the top of the wallpaper. Analysis also revealed that the paint Washington specified as “buff inclining to white” for the wainscot woodwork contained the pigment yellow ochre, resulting in a richer and darker hue than previously shown.
In addition to the change in interpretation, visitors to the re-opened space will notice differences in its appearance, including a new wallpaper border. A pattern book from the French wallpaper manufacturer, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, preserved in the collections of Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, revealed a historic pattern that matches two surviving fragments found during earlier restorations of Mount Vernon’s New Room. This archival pattern enabled Adelphi Paper Hangings to create a more accurate reproduction, with a band of delicate white stripes resembling a comb adding subtle depth and definition to the design. In addition to the border, new verditer green wallpaper was hung in rolls of tipped sheets, a more historically accurate technique.
The new window treatments follow a description included in Martha Washington’s will. Curtains for the smaller east and west windows are constructed of white-on-white reproduction dimity, with a custom green-gold trim to suggest the appearance of green festoons mentioned in a visitor’s account. These curtains hang from white and gilt cornice boards, replicated from examples that were conveyed to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1860 with a history of being original to the Mansion. The great Palladian window will remain bare to better showcase its impressive architectural details. Notably, close examination of its woodwork conducted by Dr. Susan Buck and historic textiles consultant Natalie Larson found no physical evidence of 18th-century holes for attaching curtain hardware.