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What's in the Room?

A combination of original, period, and reproduction furnishings represent the room’s appearance in 1799.

Furnishing the Room

This first-floor room served as a music room and intimate parlor for the Washington family.

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The Mansion

With its east-facing prospect of the Potomac River, the Little Parlor offered a view of the sunrise and enjoyed bright natural light in the morning.

The Little Parlor was a space for informal socializing. The watercolors and needlework in the room attested to family members’ talents, education, and culture.

The eye-catching prints depicting naval battles, whale fisheries, and shipwrecks naturally drew visitors' attention to the views of the busy river below, and to topics of travel, commerce, and valor at sea.

The Little Parlor facing the Central Passage, 2023.

What's in a Name?

The Little Parlor

The room was identified as the “Little Parlor” on the probate inventory taken after George Washington’s death.

The English term “Parlour” is derived from the French word “parler,” meaning “to speak,” and describes first and foremost a room dedicated to polite conversation. The use of “Little” alluded to its lesser status in the social hierarchy of rooms and relative informality, as opposed to the formal, ceremonial nature of the Front Parlor.

The Little Parlor facing the New Room, 2023.

“...pretty Miss Custis sang and played on the harpsichord...”

Polish visitor Julian Niemcewicz, visitor in June 1798

Informal and Family Entertaining

Morning Retreat

A few visitor accounts suggest that the Washingtons privileged the room as a sitting room early in the day. It was used occasionally to serve light refreshments, punch, or even breakfast when new guests arrived after the regular 7 a.m. meal. German merchant and natural scientist Friedrich Wilhelm Hoenighaus arrived at Mount Vernon on March 18, 1798, and recorded enjoying a late breakfast in the “room toward the Potomac decorated with sea battles."

Display of Culture and Commerce

Prints of shipwrecks, dramatic naval battles, and whale fisheries drew visitors' attention to the vessels navigating the Potomac River, visible from the Little Parlor's windows.

The watercolors and needlework that adorned the walls attested to family members’ talents, education, and culture.

See the Art in the Little Parlor


Art, Music, and Literature

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, the Little Parlor offered a space for informal socializing and such pursuits as reading (aloud to company or quietly to one’s self), viewing books of prints, drawing, painting, needlework, and music. Granddaughter Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis and invited guests practiced on the harpsichord. The furnishings encouraged and complemented these activities.

Learn more about the furnishings


Evening Recitals

The room could transition to a more formal performance space in the evening. Polish visitor Julian Niemcewicz recalled how “pretty Miss Custis sang and played on the harpsichord” on the last night of his visit to Mount Vernon in June 1798.

Learn more about reproducing the harpsichord


Occasional Guest Room

On occasion, the room also served as a bedchamber.

To create a sleeping space when other rooms were filled, enslaved women assigned to domestic duties in the mansion, like Caroline Branham and Molly, moved the chairs and tables out of the way, opened and made the settee bedstead with bedding and fresh linens, and provided a chamber pot. 

The Little Parlor arranged for water coloring, 2023.

Granddaughter Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis, as captured by 1796 visitor James Sharples.

The settee bedstead open and set up as a bed, complete with Saxon green moreen curtains around the head.

Facilitating the Washingtons' Hospitality

Of all of the public rooms in the Mansion, the Little Parlor may have seen the most frequent furniture movement, as tables and chairs were moved in and out to accommodate different activities throughout the day to transition from breakfast room to sitting room to performance space to bed chamber, and then back again.


Evolution of the Little Parlor

1750s-1797 Bedchamber

The Little Parlor first took shape as a parlor in 1797. Prior to that, from the late 1750s until early 1797, this space served primarily as a bedchamber. George Washington directed alterations to the architectural elements in conjunction with changes throughout the house c. 1784-1787, including the closure of a door to the Front Parlor, the opening of a door to the New Room, and the addition of decorative plaster ceiling ornament.

The transformation to a parlor likely began in the spring of 1797, when Washington’s letters and accounts reference extensive renovations throughout the house, and may have carried on for some months before it was completely installed.

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Architectural Details

The origins of the Little Parlor date to the initial 1730s construction period of the house, with significant changes made at the beginning and end of George Washington’s residence.

The current footprint of the room took shape with Washington’s first major building campaign, which began in 1758 and likely continued into the 1760s.

The individual architectural elements, however, tell the story of a later period. In conjunction with the construction and outfitting of the New Room, including the addition of doors to allow communication between the New Room and the two adjacent parlors, the woodwork was updated in the late-1770s or early-1780s and the decorative plaster ornament on the ceiling was added in the mid-1780s.

The updated woodwork shares similarities with that in the Front Parlor and the Study. The mopboards (baseboards), chair rail, cornice, window surrounds, window sashes, doors, door surrounds, and mantel date to the 18th century. The floors were replaced in the early 20th century.

View of the fireplace and mantel in the Little Parlor.

View of the wallpaper and border alongside the cream-colored paint on the mantel and door architrave.

Furnishing the Little Parlor

A combination of original, period, and reproduction furnishings represent the room’s appearance in 1799.

Furnishing the Little Parlor

Wallpaper and Paint

The Washingtons’ orders and correspondence indicate that from the late 1750s onward, they intended the plastered rooms to be finished with wallpaper, following the practice in elite homes at the time.

The specific paper used in the Little Parlor from 1797-1799 has not been identified; the wallpaper pattern installed here is reproduced from a surviving set of wallpapers documented as having been sold by William Poyntell, one of the Philadelphia suppliers whom the Washingtons patronized. These papers were originally purchased by merchant John Imlay in 1794 for his Allentown, New Jersey home.

Paint analysis of the woodwork identified several layers of paint from the 1758-1797 period. The evidence suggests that in 1797, when updates were being made throughout the Mansion and the room was transformed into the Little Parlor, the principal woodwork (cornice, chair rail, architraves, mantel) was painted a light cream color and the mopboard was painted a dark gray.

View of the wallpaper and border alongside the cream-colored paint on the mantel.

“...yet another parlor decorated with beautiful engravings representing storms and seascapes.”

Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, 1797 visitor to Mount Vernon.

Art in the Little Parlor