If you have a heart for historic homes that have been saved from the wrecking ball, The Lindens mansion will certainly charm you. It now sits on a large lot in the fashionable D.C. neighborhood of Kalorama but was originally built in Davers, Massachusetts in 1754. Read on to find out how this 263-year-old Georgian became D.C.’s oldest estate, painstakingly moved and restored by a couple dedicated to history and preservation.
Originally built as a summer home for successful merchant Robert “King” Hooper, the home boasted all the bells and whistles of an ornate Georgian. “The Lindens,” as it became known locally, was named for the Linden trees that lined its long drive. Over 200 years later, Mr. Hooper’s mark on the property can still be seen where a musket shot hole (meant for him!) remains emblazoned in the front door. He was a British sympathizer before and during the Revolutionary War and was lucky to make it out alive before the house was given up to creditors.
The Lindens mansion passed hands a few times and was even a boarding house at one point before being purchased in 1860 by Francis Peabody Jr. who added a kitchen wing, sun porch and the incredible French wallpaper you’ll read all about in just a bit. After the passing of Mr. and Mrs. Peabody Jr., the home was in a state of deterioration and in 1933 was snatched up by two notable antiques dealers for $10,000 with designs to sell it off room by room. In fact, they sold the downstairs paneled drawing room to the Kansas City Museum; you can see it on display at the renamed Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art today. As if summoned from the historic home heavens, Mrs. Miriam Morris heard of this incredible Georgian being torn apart in piecemeal fashion and saved it in 1934 with $12,500. She and her husband George had much different designs for this relic of early American architecture.
A Roving Restoration
Miriam, a fertilizer heiress, had a great passion for antiques and architecture, eventually becoming the only woman to serve on the State Department’s Fine Arts Committee. She and Mr. Morris had been on the hunt for a classic Colonial home to showcase their vast collection of early American furniture and treasures. That it was in another state was but a small inconvenience. They enlisted the help of Walter Mayo Macomber, resident architect of Mount Vernon and historic Williamsburg to oversee the tricky task of moving The Lindens. It was dismantled, each piece of lumber and glass numbered, packed in 5 boxcars and sent on its merry way to Washington. The rebuilding of The Lindens would take 30 months to complete.
The home was kept in 18th-century tradition by Mrs. Morris, electrified wax candles illuminated every room and stacks of faux book spines and antique boxes hid modern amenities such as phones and radios. Macomber persuaded the Morrises to have updated bathrooms added in closets once used to powder wigs. The third-floor bedroom suite has one panel of original plaster that was kept with a child’s handprint happily stamped on the wall. This is the floor where their young son lived and football playing was permitted!
Mr. and Mrs. Morris relished in entertaining at The Lindens with over 60,000 visitors enjoying an invitation during their ownership. Home tours that took one back 200 years with Colonial fare, tartan hoop skirts and a gaggle of Junior league ladies reciting the provenances of the Americana furniture were commonplace. Gatherings for private guests including diplomats, First Ladies and other Washington heavyweights have historians wishing that the walls could talk.
After Miriam’s passing, the home and all of its treasures were offered tout ensemble to the Smithsonian but without an endowment attached, it was turned down. The entire collection of Queen Anne and Chippendale style antiques from the Morris era was sold at auction through Christie’s and fetched $2.3 million in 1982.
The Decorated Georgian
Gibson Builders was retained by the new owners, the Bernsteins, in 1983 and asked to complete a new renovation on The Lindens in 90 days or less. The labor included hand scrapping and Tung oiling 10,000 square feet of original wide plank flooring. Central air conditioning and modern plumbing were added while the kitchen was rebuilt. Historic detail fencing was replicated in Azek and the home was painted with period-accurate colors inside and out. The Bernsteins would enjoy the home for 22 years before listing it. Enter the current residents who took one look at the 12-foot-wide Palladian center hallway, 12-foot ceilings and ornate fireplaces and knew they were home.
Wanting to keep the historical integrity of The Lindens while making it a livable space became their top priority. The edited elegance of interior designer Mariette Himes Gomez was called upon and she decked out The Lindens in high historic style. She took her cue from the vivid wallpaper and created a rich yet understated palette throughout. As to not detract from the exquisite architectural details, Mariette anchored spaces with period Georgian furnishings and kept traditional drapery in the living and dining rooms.
Hand-blocked Dufour et Leroy wallpaper featuring “Les Incas” and “Telemaque dans l’Ile de Calypso” on the walls of the two-story stair hall set the tone for the whole home’s design. The scenic panels were designed in Paris in the 1800s and were steamed off of the walls in Massachusetts and rehung seamlessly in their new D.C. digs.
She explains that the saturated historic hues painted on the walls of The Lindens were meant to be seen by glowing candlelight and can be garish by electric lamp. Gomez remedied this by subtly toning down the colors like the sublime light blue she chose for the dining room. And what a room to dine in!
Old houses with a story always captivate me; I hope you enjoyed taking a virtual tour of The Lindens as much as I did! If you’ve been one of the lucky 60,000 plus visitors to go inside this exquisite estate, please do share every last detail…
All images via the February 2014 issue of Architectural Digest.