Monday, June 15, 2009

Poplar Forest

This past weekend I went with my friend Janet (of JCB fame) and some friends to Poplar Forest, the country retreat of Thomas Jefferson.
Everyone is familiar with Monticello, in Charlottesville, VA. but not everyone knows his country home & plantation some 90 miles away. The house was built after Monticello, beginning in 1806, as a way to escape the crowds which gathered to hear him speak. Many of his architectural ideals were able to crystalize and work themselves out here and he fondly called it his most valuable posesssion.front porch detail
The house is in the form of an octagon, a shape Jefferson was obsessed with. On a practical level, it was a way to have the most surface area and windows for ventilation.
The building is a simple country house, meant as a private retreat, based on Palladian ideals. The center of the octagon shape is a dining room, a 20 foot cube which is lit by a large skylight. A double bed chamber for Jefferson (with the bed built into a nook between them, similar to Monticello and a favorite detail of mine) and 2 bedrooms for grandchildren flank the dining room, as does the salon and the small entry hall. These are the main areas of the house.
The grounds have been sold off over the years, but the views from the house make it appear as if the original 4,800 acres are still intact. As the long journey took 3 days, Jefferson would retire here for long weeks at a time - his favorite activity was to study and read.Even the 2 outhouses, which symmetrically flank the main house, are octagons. This one below has some servants quarters which were built in the late 19th century which I believe are going to be removed.
The house is a fascinating place, not just for the history,but for what is being undertaken at the moment. Subsequent owners and fires have modified the house to the point where it was barely recognizable to its original form. The organization managing the property has gutted it down to its structural brick which make up the exterior and even interior walls. It is being rebuilt using the same tools and techniques available to Jefferson at the time.
A large portion of the tour is showing the layers of construction and what goes into the process. I would highly recomend this to any architecture student (or architect) as a really fascinating look into how building technology has changed. They really are doing an excellent job of portraying the construction: Trust me, it's not boring! I can't wait to go back in a few years and see the progress! These scuppers (or roof drains) got water off the service wing roof (known as the office) which housed the kitchens and allowed the surface to be a deck for Jefferson and his grandchildren to use as a promenade. An example of how it was constructed lays in the wing below.
Visit the main website to plan your visit HERE
I had to include this photo of the charming Janet photographing the lichen on the garden wall for her collection!

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

COOOOOOOL!!!! Lucky guy, what a treat.

Things That Inspire said...

This looks very interesting, and I have never been there or heard of it. I am in the DC area next week, but I don't think I can make it this trip. Luckily, I am in DC several times a year so I will make an effort to check it out!

Terry said...

Thanks so much. It's so elegant and dignified that it looks big, until you see the people on the porch. And a serpentine brick wall, always a favorite of mine.

little augury said...

Darn it! I am only about an hour+ away. It is a wonderful place and I plan to get back this fall. I would love to have met you there. boohoo. la

Homer's Odd Isn't He. said...

A truly wonderful post. I never knew the house existed and thank you for revealing this. Cheers, Homer

Blue said...

Peace, quiet and something to learn. What could be better?

Janet said...

Such a great post ~ you even fit in those scuppers! I didn't notice you taking that photo of me, serpentine walls and all.

pve design said...

Oh how wonderful- so glad you got to go.

Style Redux 2 said...

Stefan-Great post-who else could fit scuppers and lichens into a post?

Paris Atelier said...

Oh my goodness! I've never heard of it but I can't wait to see visit. It looks beautiful and teh grounds look so perfect! You always find the best places to go. I love how you look at the details and find the beauty in things. Beautiful!
xoxo
Judith~

Purple Flowers said...

Thanks for sharing. Although I have visited Monticello, I did not know about Poplar Forest.

Pigtown-Design said...

I heard you all had a great time! It was just a little too far for a one day up and back excursion...

home before dark said...

What a treat. Loved the serpentine brick wall, of course. Trust Jefferson to know that this design is not only the most beautiful but the strongest. I'm really lichen this wall!

Scott Fazzini said...

Man, when Thommy likes something he sticks with it! A charming house that I'd love to visit! Thanks for sharing!

An Aesthete's Lament said...

The office wing and promenade are fascinating!

Southern Aspirations said...

Squeal! I must go. Thanks for sharing. I was on PVE's blog, saw the sneak peak and thought- that has to be Jefferson (it reminded me of UVA). And indeed, it was/is. Thank you again- look forward to checking out your blog further.

LondonGirl said...

I wonder if he was inspired by, or interested in, Jeremy Betham? He was quite interested in octagons, as I recall, although his more famous design was the panopticon.