This past weekend, while traipsing through a few of the 200 magical vineyards that Virginia has to offer, my boyfriend, his sister and brother-in-law, and I all decided to stop by good ol’ Monticello and pay homage to Thomas Jefferson’s crazy, elaborate mansion. If you’ve never been to Monticello before, and are also considering stopping by James Madison’s Montpelier first, definitely do Montpelier FIRST, because it’s a good warm up. If you went to Monticello first, then Montpelier would be kind of a letdown. And then the thing that you’d reminisce over the most was seeing an old guy’s car with no e-brake slowly rolling/crashing into another car in the parking lot.
But Monticello – woooeee is it a lot of fun! So I’m not an expert of historical sites, but one of the best things about Monticello is that it’s determinedly unique and quirky. With other homes, it was obvious the owners just wanted to show off and pump a lot of money into the tapestries or the staircase. But Jefferson’s singular purpose was to have everything look cool from the outside, and screw everyone who had to inhabit the weirdness of the resulting interior. Gotta love a man with purpose!
One of the ways he managed this was by having giant windows on the first floor, smaller windows on the second floor (that were at floor level to the rooms), and nothing but skylights on the third level. That way everything looked like one big room from the outside. Then he capped this all off with a dome surrounded by windows, which were kind of (but not quite) symmetrical.
Design philosophy like this suits my personality just fine and I’ll tell you why. Sometimes things just don’t seem to line up properly the way you imagined, no matter how much thought and planning you put into it. So what are you going to do, scrap the whole project? Heavens no! You’re going to make slight adjustments to windows, so some of them are still symmetrical but some graciously incorporate the use of a mirror so you won’t have to view the awkward roof right outside (which would have totally destroyed the illusion of seamlessness).
And who cares if you’re going to have random, creepy rooms created as a result that people don’t really have a use for?
One of my favorite inventions/designs that Jefferson envisioned was a giant clock inside his front entryway, complete with weights and big markings for the days of the week going down one side of the wall. The only problem was, he mismeasured and Saturday didn’t fit in the room. Did he change his design or scrap the idea? Eff no. He simply drilled a hole in the floor so that Saturday could hang out below and still be included with the rest of the gang. Again – that’s problem solving I can get down with. He also had no use for stairs and even though OTHER people in the house might need them, he strived to make them as narrow, steep, and inconvenient as possible to get to. Further proof that he had no problem ignoring the upper levels of his house.
So I definitely recommend visiting Monticello and taking in all the design wonders inside and outside the house that Jefferson envisioned.
Even though, really, there’s no contest for winner of his best invention ever. And that is The Wine Elevator, hidden in his living room fireplace. Aww yeah.