Architectural Restoration

Restoration Blog

Apr 17, 2023

Jefferson Improves on Palladio

After decades of studying Thomas Jefferson’s architecture, both at Poplar Forest and in general, I conclude that he had only one architectural invention: the “terras roof” feature. This was a design he used tenaciously for more than twenty years in several places, always tweaking it for greater performance. It provided a useable “flat” roof above an attached […]

Jan 31, 2023

A Very Private Space

One of the fundamental aspects of Poplar Forest was privacy. The plan and use of the house indicated its private nature.  Jefferson struggled with the design regarding where the staircase should go in this two-story house. In order to not interfere with its geometric design, Jefferson stuck two stair pavilions on each side of the […]

Jan 7, 2023

Final Ornamental Elements Installed

The final ornamental part of Jefferson’s villa retreat was installed in November 2022. The parlor’s Ionic Order entablature received its frieze ornaments. Like those of the dining room’s Doric Order entablature, these had been ordered from English Sculptor William Coffee who at the time was working in New York City. These had not been installed […]

Jan 6, 2023

Historic Paints Bring the House to Life

In October 2022, we accomplished an important and exciting restoration task. Chris Mills and team members Brad Steward and Jenna Stillwell spent four weeks on site making traditional paint finishes for the interior woodwork and plaster walls. Few people have seen traditional hand-ground paint finishes like the distemper and pigmented lime washes for the plaster […]

Jan 6, 2023

Experiencing Old Places

by Travis McDonald, Director of Architectural Restoration Recently it was my pleasure to give Thompson Mayes a tour of Poplar Forest. Mayes is a vice president and senior counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was in Lynchburg to deliver a public lecture at Randolph College. Mayes was particularly interested in the restoration […]

Jan 6, 2023

Chimney Screen Restored

It is to our great fortune that Thomas Jefferson was a meticulous note taker. Museums such as Colonial Williamsburg credit the reconstruction of the Governor’s Palace to drawings he sketched, and the furniture it contained is known by inventories he wrote. In the case of Poplar Forest, it is the correspondence between craftsmen and Jefferson […]

Jan 6, 2023

The History and Restoration of Entablature Ornaments

On March 16, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Monticello to his overseer at Poplar Forest to say that William Coffee would be dropping by to see the house. “He is a very eminent artist in statuary and painting and a very estimable man, and will call at P.F. to see the house and if he […]

Jan 6, 2023

The Beauty and Resilience of Old-Growth Wood

As our restoration craftsmen created and installed the entablatures, we were reminded of the specie and quality of using salvaged old-growth poplar, the same material Jefferson used. The heartwood of old-growth poplar was just as prized for exterior elements as was old-growth pine. Jefferson specified that heart poplar should be used for the balusters in […]

Jan 6, 2023

Reconstructing the Entablatures

Between late 2018 and mid-2020 one of the biggest pieces of the restoration took shape. Pieces of the old-growth heart poplar lumber that had been hand-molded into individual parts by the restoration craftsmen were put together to form a Tuscan order entablature. The Tuscan order, the lowest of the classical Roman orders of architecture, now […]

Jan 6, 2023

Annual Refinishing of the Floors

The beginning of a new year can mean only one thing at Poplar Forest.  It’s time for the restoration staff to refinish the floors in the house. Typical of Jefferson, the original floors were not a common floor for Virginia, or even America. In a letter to carpenter John Perry in March 1808 Jefferson writes: […]

Jan 6, 2023

Restoring the Beauty of the Past

In September 2018 another piece of the architectural ensemble appeared in the house. White marble hearthstones replaced the temporary brick hearths that had also temporarily stood in for Jefferson for ten years. In 1819 stonemason John Gorman spent three weeks cutting, polishing and laying the local marble that was being quarried close to Lynchburg. Gorman later […]