The doors to the worlds of architecture, interior design and landscape design as I understand them were opened to me as a child by the genius of Thomas Jefferson. He was not only a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but also America’s architect president and founder of the University of Virginia. His home, Monticello, at the top of a small mountain near Charlottesville, was my first encounter with a great and historic house.
My childhood recollections of Jefferson’s Monticello are many. It was quite a bit nicer than my family home. I can also remember marveling over the many clever structural ideas, including the wine trolley, and the bed which straddled two rooms with a closet above. The typical out-buildings were ingeniously concealed within the retaining walls. As for the furnishings, Jefferson’s taste was eclectic, some from France mixed in with American. And there were skylights, and lovely colors. I used to dream of riding to Monticello on a horse, a perfect world unto itself.
I am certain that my childhood gift of proximity to Jefferson’s architecture, and his sense of style have deeply influenced my aesthetic. They have taught me the importance and possibility of ‘home’. Even at a distance of more than 200 years, Jefferson’s vision of home, and of his University, is as crisp and convincingly relevant today as it was then.
Jefferson was a man who knew all the rules of architecture, but consistently managed to create anew from his understanding of tradition. He was a rare talent. He had a love of all things visual, and continued to explore any undertaking until satisfied with the results – even if that meant revisiting his conclusions numerous times. I believe he recognized that what he created was of importance – not because he was a founding father – but because he was an architect. Most importantly, Jefferson was a classicist imbued with an ardent sense of adventure… the viewpoint I endeavor to bring to my work each day as a designer.
The foyer of a home I recently designed
I personally love the order and balance inherent in most classical styles, and find myself encouraged in my creativity by Jefferson, who once painted the floor of his entry foyer green, to establish a better relationship with the landscape. I prefer to design the architectural details of interiors, and can often be found with my nose in a historic book to be sure my choices are appropriate. I’ve not yet painted a foyer floor green, but I do always search for a fresher, interesting idea that will enliven the aesthetic conversation.
Jefferson’s mind sought to build and expand on the treaties of classical design – wishing to be modern and bold in his architectural ideas. For me, he is one of America’s great architects and designers.
My connection with Jefferson goes beyond my Virgina heritage. Much like him, I managed my own aesthetic pilgrimage to Paris, where I lived and studied for 3 years. I had a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe (which went on longer than my father might have wished). As I walked the Champs Elysee, or the Bois de Bologne, I took in what Jefferson must have seen. I can see the influence of France in his work. The City of Lights has left a joyously indelible mark on my own vision of design. Jefferson knew as I know now, that design in not simply object based, but rather a reflection of a complete aesthetic life, concerned with all the creative fields which touch our everyday lives.
And last but not least, Thomas Jefferson and I share a love of Chrome Yellow!
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