Restoration of Leith Hall
We have enjoyed recreating the 1880s, not only through the furniture, but also through our choice of pictures and objects, and wallpaper. In every room, we’ve taken different themes that reflect the interests of late Victorians so the rooms are more personal and actually reveal more about the people of the time.
Frequently Asked Questions from our Guests:
The Iris Room
Why are there dragonflies and cobwebs in the ceiling paper in the Iris Room?
Victorians were very proud of the scientific advances in their time and wanted to participate in the new world of scientific knowledge. They often did this by having collections of seashells, insects, or plants – and organizing and labeling these collections. The ceiling in the Iris Room features an 1880s paper that has cobwebs, moths, and dragonflies in the design.
In fact, the Iris Room wallpaper all relates to one theme. The lower part of the wall – called the dado – is a design of stylized fiddleheads (from fiddlehead ferns) that grow in damp and boggy ground. The middle of the wall is rag-rolled to resemble water. And the top of the wall (the frieze) has irises and cattails which also grow near the water.
The ceiling includes whirlpools at the corners, lightning bolts, as well as dragonflies, moths and cobwebs. All of these motifs are part of the swamp theme of the room and is why the wallpaper pattern is called Fenway (fens are swamps in England). The wallpaper is by a company called Bradbury and Bradbury located in Benicia, California. We don’t call it the Swamp Room, however, as no one would rent it! The “Iris Room” sounds so much better.
The Turkish Suite
Why is the Turkish Suite Victorian?
During the late nineteenth century, there was a fashion for all things Middle Eastern. “Tasteful” people in England and America felt that Western taste had been corrupted by the mass-production and machines of the industrial revolution. They believed that only where people were still “primitive” and things were still made by hand would you find good taste. So, the Middle East and Japan became sources for good design.
Another factor in the “Exotic Revival” was the advances in communication in the late nineteenth century. The telegraph brought news about foreign countries immediately to England and America. Cheap printing and paper allowed lots of newspapers and magazines to spring up, and steam-engines even allowed rich people to visit exotic places without too much danger and inconvenience.
Victorians thought of the entire Middle East as Turkish. The Ottoman Empire still existed and very little distinction was made between Persian, Arab, and Turkish culture. Americans were not interested in an authentic re-creation of Turkish design, they just wanted to make a “cozy corner” that felt exotic. We have re-created a Victorian Turkish interior by using 1880s reproduction wallpapers with middle eastern designs, Turkish carpets and lots and lots of tassels. The half-canopy over the bed is festooned with tassels and flanked by two Persian peacock feather fans. The accessories in the suite include two Victorian statues – one of a Saracen and one of an Egyptian woman leaning against a tomb.
The Angel bedroom in the Audubon Suite
Why are there pictures of angels and cupids in this room?
The Victorian Era was sappy. Victorians loved sentimental pictures of angels and babies and puppy dogs and happy endings. The best possible picture would be a baby being saved by a trusty dog or a baby in danger being watched over by a guardian angel. We thought it would be fun to concentrate this kind of Victorian taste in one room – The Angel Bedroom.
One of the pictures, “Guardian Angel”, is of a child walking across a ravine on a log being watched over by a hovering angel. “Saved” is a picture of an unconscious child being rescued from the snow by a St. Bernard. Another shows a crowd of rosy-cheeked child-angels crowded around a cradle to look at a newborn baby. Another craze during the early 20th century was for photographs of a particular child dressed up as Cupid. With wings and a bow and arrow, this child’s photo was in thousands, if not millions, of households. We have five of these Edwardian Cupid pictures in the Angel Bedroom.
The walls of the Angel Bedroom are striped as though you are sleeping in a big tent on a tropical beach. Two flaps of the tent are pulled aside to reveal a sandy beach with palm trees and a flamingo.
Where else in Cape May can we find authentic Victorian interiors?
The most complete Victorian interior in Cape May is the Emlen Physick Estate. Dr. Physick was the richest guy in town in the late nineteenth century and he hired a great Philadelphia
architect to design his house – Frank Furness. The second floor of the Physick Estate shows the Aesthetic Movement taste of the architect and still has some of the original architect-designed furniture. Mrs. Ralston (Dr. Phsick’s mother) redecorated the right side of the ground floor (the “family” side) in the 1880’s and made it the more “normal”, less high-style taste of the time. In 1900, she redecorated the left side (the “company” side) of the ground floor with the help of a Philadelphia decorating firm.
If you visit the Physick Estate, the Billiard Room will remind you of the Turkish Suite at Leith Hall. Dr. Physick’s bedroom displays the same wallpaper as the library at Leith Hall, and the hallways at the Physick Estate has Anglo-Japanese wallpaper like the parlor at Leith Hall.