Rolling out the
red Brussels carpet
The first of several carpet installations at Montpelier was laid on Friday, October 28. The Dining Room floorboards are once more covered with the installation of a Brussels weave carpet. In the nineteenth century, elegant carpets conveyed status, provided warmth during cool weather, protected floorboards, and enhanced the overall appearance of a room by thematically linking furnishings. In keeping with period practice, typical carpet patterns complemented, but did not match wall coverings.
The carpeting, which features a bold, interlocking geometric pattern, was woven on nineteenth century looms in Kidderminster, England and sewn together prior to installation. Chosen for its strong documentation, early nineteenth century block-patterning, and English style, the carpet complements the swag feature of the Virchaux “Drapery” wallpaper installed in the room last summer.
While the research team relies heavily on documentary evidence and visitor accounts, the architectural clue informed our subsequent carpet choice. Compelling physical evidence in the Dining Room indicates the Madisons always intended the space to have a room-sized covering. Furthermore, the tacking evidence on the floorboards suggests carpet was stretched and tacked tightly. This method prevented bunching, and allowed for easier movement of furniture across the flooring. Confirming this evidence, George Shattuck Jr., visitor to Montpelier in 1835, wrote in his journal that there was “rather an old carpet on the floor not extending quite to the wall.”1
The carpeting has been centered and fitted around the hearth according to Thomas Sheraton’s period instructions: “In laying down a carpet, they generally begin with the fire-place first, and having tacked and secured this, they strain here and there, so as to bring it gradually too, till they get the whole strained close round the room.”2 The Madisons, like their peers, relied on crumb cloths to protect the carpet from spills. Let’s hope our facsimile diners are tidy in the meantime.
1. Note that Shattuck’s description of the carpet as “old” is probably fairly accurate. By the time Shattuck visited Montpelier in 1835, the Madisons had been entertaining guests for decades and the carpet in the space no doubt aged accordingly. George C. Shattuck, Diary, 1834-1842, George Cheyne Shattuck Diary, MS N-910, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
2. Thomas Sheraton, The Cabinet Dictionary: Volume 1 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), pp. 132-33.