Links to the Fairfax Family

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

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

"Deception" Settee Bedstead

A settee bedstead, represented by a period piece, is an example of metamorphic or deception furniture. It offered additional seating and could be opened to serve as a bed when visitors could not be accommodated elsewhere.

George Washington purchased the unusual form in August 1774 from the auction of furnishings from Belvoir, the Fairfax family home. Based on the original description of the Fairfax settee, it is upholstered in Saxon green moreen (a worsted wool fabric with a wavy finish) and protected by a green linen check cover.

Window Curtains

Drapery-style window curtains represent a set of Saxon green moreen curtains that Washington also purchased from the Fairfax sale in 1774. The Washingtons had the curtains redyed and refreshed by a Philadelphia upholsterer in 1786 and then used them in the New Room. The curtains were likely moved into the Little Parlor in 1797, when the New Room was refurnished.

Saxon Green

18th-century dyers made Saxon green by overdyeing Saxon blue cloth with the yellow dye known as fustic. Saxon blue, which was also known as chemic blue, was made with indigo and sulphuric acid.

See the original settee in the collection

 

Martha Washington's Shell Cushions

View of the Windsor chair with shell cushion before the harpsichord.

View of the Windsor chair with shell cushion before the harpsichord.

12 hand-made reproduction cushions with rococo scallop shell patterns represent the originals made by Martha Washington.

12 hand-made reproduction cushions with rococo scallop shell patterns represent the originals made by Martha Washington.

Chair cushions, stitched with rococo scallop shell patterns, are reproductions of the original set of 12 made by Martha Washington. They testified to the maker's creativity, skill, industry, and virtue while providing added comfort for guests.

Mrs. Washington worked the originals in cross-stitch, with wool yarn and silk highlights on a linen or hemp canvas ground, in what may have been a pattern of her own design. By one estimate, the full set of a dozen cushions required 1,083,456 stitches.

The ambitious project took her more than 35 years. Though the materials arrived from London in 1766, she completed the cushions in the “70th year of her age,” according to her granddaughter, Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis Lewis.

See An Original Cushion in the Collection

 

Learn more about the cushions

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

Polish visitor Julian Niemcewicz, visitor in June 1798

Nelly's Harpsichord

George Washington purchased the Longman & Broderip 2-Manual harpsichord for his adopted daughter, Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis Lewis in 1793, and she first used it in the executive residence in Philadelphia. The instrument was shipped to Mount Vernon when the family returned in 1797.

The original is now on display in the Museum, and a fully functioning replica is exhibited in the Little Parlor.

Learn more about Recreating the Harpsichord

 

Listen to the Harpsichord

Finishing the Room

Sack-back Windsor armchairs and china table in the Little Parlor.

Sack-back Windsor armchairs and china table in the Little Parlor.

The Little Parlor arranged for water coloring on a larger Pembroke table, 2023.

The Little Parlor arranged for water coloring on a larger Pembroke table, 2023.

Windsor Armchairs

Sack-back Windsor armchairs offered comfortable and versatile seating in the Little Parlor. Their sturdy but lightweight construction meant they could easily be shifted from room to room, from outdoors to indoors, or vice versa to make up larger or smaller groupings as needed.

Scotch Carpet

Covering the floor is a reproduction Scotch carpet. This woven double-ply wool carpeting was fashionable but less expensive than pile carpeting (such as the Wilton carpeting chosen for the formal Front Parlor). The Washingtons purchased much of it as part of the 1797 renovations to Mount Vernon. Its name alluded to its origin in major manufacturing centers in Scotland and northern England.

Looking Glass

The original carved gilt rococo looking-glass brings reflected light and sparkle to the room and would have been particularly stunning during evening entertainments.

China Table

A carved mahogany china table is a reproduction of the original Washington-owned table now in the collection of Tudor Place, the home of Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter.

China tables, with their pierced galleries around the perimeter and delicate carving, were a specialized form of tea table designed to showcase the fine china and silver wares placed upon them. Typical of the period, it has casters or wheels, allowing it to be moved easily around the room or to another space as needed. The china table would have been used in this space to serve tea.

Pembroke table

For other activities, like painting, sewing, or serving breakfast, a larger, multi-function Pembroke table (which had drop leaves) would have been moved into the room.

Facilitating the Washington's 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.

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