The People's House
A restoration of the governor’s mansion shows off a successful marriage of history, elegance and comfort, as well as First Lady Carla Markell’s emphasis on volunteerism.
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Visitors first enter The Great Hall, a 609-square-foot room that the Markells use as an entrance, but no longer a sitting area. When the governor invites legislators for lunch, the hall becomes a dining room; the formal dining room can seat only 12 guests.
Mid-19th century crystal and silver sconces, as well as a chandelier by Baccarat of France, were fully restored and electrified. The chandelier in The Great Hall was moved toward the center of the room to better balance the space between the 44-by-94-inch windows.
An English Queen Anne high chest of drawers in burled walnut with herringbone inlay is finished with incised cartouche brass handles. A tall case Chippendale clock by Thomas Crow of Wilmington ticks while portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Kensey Johns, painted by John Wollaston in the 1700s, guard the room. There are no drapes, so the windows were tinted with a UV film to cut down on damaging rays and protect upholstery, art and woodwork.
The Great Hall’s natural showpiece at center is the floral work of Diane Crom, the state’s horticultural superintendent. Her design mode, known as mille de fleurs (a thousand flowers), is a traditional style of the 1800s appropriate for Woodburn’s period. Volunteers from the local Potpourri Garden Club often help, as does co-worker Christine King, who, like Crom, holds a certificate of merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. “Most of the flowers are grown on site and sometimes cut from other historical sites,” says Crom, “or in the case of the hydrangeas, from my yard.”
Portraits of first ladies hang in The Great Hall. Repositioned salon-style, they feature women such as Jessica Irby Terry, Marim Comegys, Abigail Woodnutt Miller, Ann Valiant Carvel and several others. Tracing the proper and austere image of Sarah Fisher Rodney (1814) to the approachable and casual stance of Jane DiSabatino Castle (1985), the attitudes and styles of the women tell a rather liberating story.
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