The front-parlor and entry-hall illustrated in the renderings below–drawn by mural-artist Nadia Zychal–will be the first spaces seen by visitors as they enter an elegant Greek Revival mansion built in a New Jersey town in 1830. The mansion is scheduled to open later this year as a house-museum and a 21st-century re-imagining of a 19th-century “lyceum”—a public gathering place for individual and community learning and uplift with presentations, exhibitions, discussions, and performances. I wrote the following interpretive text in collaboration with Alison Rooney of Alison Rooney Communications (alisonrooney.com).
Interpreting the front-parlor of an 1830 Greek Revival mansion furnished in early-Victorian “American Empire” style
The Victorian parlor emerged around 1830—the year this mansion was built—as a public space in a private home. Located just inside the front-door, it was the place where a household put its very best forward to please the eyes and intrigue the minds of visitors. Along with fashionable furniture, the parlor presented art, decorative objects, and natural curiosities meant to spark conversation and inspiration while displaying the homeowners’ prosperity, education, and good taste.
Talk over tea, card games, musical performances, and organized discussions of contemporary and historical topics all took place in the parlor. Lively with uplifting activities shared with others, the parlor was a lyceum for the home.
The art, architecture, and philosophy of ancient, “classical” Greece and Rome presented guiding ideals for Europeans and Americans of European and other descent from the Renaissance (1300–1600 CE) through the early 1900s. In fact, the 19th-century idea of a lyceum came from Aristotle’s school in Athens.
After winning independence from England in the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the people of the new United States found inspiration and saw important precedent in the classical age. Ancient Greece represented democracy—government by the people for the people—and Rome developed the concept of republic, in which the people elect their leaders.
Reflecting this spirit, this mansion was built in the Greek Revival style, which dominated American architecture from 1820 to 1850 and used Greek temples as models for buildings of all kinds. The house’s perfect symmetry and balance are inspired by Greek temples, as are the house’s many columns—seen on the portico entrance, doorways, fireplaces, and more—the zigzagging “Greek Key” pattern, and decoration shaped like an acanthus leaf.
The front-parlor and entry-hall will be furnished and finished in a style referred to by people at various times as Neoclassical (“new classical”), Grecian, or—most often, and the term we’ll use here—American Empire.