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Martha Washington’s Garret Bedchamber has undergone a complete transformation. An impetus for the new interpretation was the recent surfacing of a valentine made of yellow damask in a private New Jersey collection. A note with the valentine indicated that it was made from the “old gold tapestry” that hung “in Martha Washington’s bedroom.” This fabric would have been a piece of the room’s bed or window hangings. Research then tied this fabric to a particular bed on loan to Mount Vernon from the Smithsonian Institution. Purchased by George Washington in 1757, this bedstead has “Mahogony Carvd & fluted pillars for feet Posts” and was decorated with “yellow Silk & Worsted Damask.” Further connecting this bed to the garret room is the fact that the posts were dramatically shortened at some point, probably to accommodate the low ceilings of the mansion’s third floor. Taking into account these discoveries, the new interpretation closely reflects the 1802 inventory taken at the time of Martha Washington’s death and includes the Smithsonian bedstead, bed and window hangings of yellow silk and worsted damask hand made by Natalie Larson of Colonial Williamsburg, a ca. 1750 side chair supposedly owned by George Washington and attributed to the shop of Robert Walker, a George III gilt-wood oval mirror, and numerous other objects. A generous gift from Paul and Melinda Sullivan made this installation a reality.
To prepare the room for its new furnishings, the Restoration Team restored the finishes of the bedchamber, along with those of the garret stairwell and passage. Blue and brown paint made from hand-ground pigments, linseed oil, and chalk was used to paint the woodwork, windows, and doors. The walls were painted with a simulated latex whitewash, which is used throughout the mansion to reduce maintenance. Areas of cracking and deflection in the bedchamber’s plaster ceiling were stabilized with plaster washers. A small area of deflected plaster on the inclined ceiling was too deteriorated to secure with plaster washers, so epoxy was injected to reattach the plaster to the lath.