Monticello to Launch a Design Do-Over

Top-floor dome room to open to the public

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    Here's one home redesign that can't be resolved with a hasty trip to IKEA.

    Monticello will soon debut several new features of Thomas Jefferson's famed estate, including increased access to several spaces, and a color do-over for historical accuracy.

    The dome room on the top floor of the house, accessible only by climbing steep, narrow stairs and painted a brilliant yellow with circular windows surrounding its walls, will be open as a part of the new Behind the Scenes tour, which will be offered twice daily from June 11 to Sept. 6.

    "This is obviously something people have really wanted to see for a long time," said Susan R. Stein, a Monticello curator.

    The room, which has never been a part of daytime guided tours, is one of four new rooms on the tour. These spaces are being revealed roughly a year after Monticello's 42,000-square-foot, $43-million high-tech visitors center opened to the public.

    Rooms on the second floor will also be on display on the Behind the Scenes tour, so visitors will be able to catch glimpses of Monticello's more hidden aspects of family life, slaves' routines and how historic preservationists go about their work.

    "It's been a great pent-up demand of visitors saying, when can we go upstairs?" said David Ronka, Monticello's manager of special programs.

    Also on June 11, Monticello will be opening an exhibit called Crossroads, complete with life-sized figures of prominent residents and interactive components. Located in the house's central cellar space, it will focus on the work and the people required to sustain Jefferson's household.

    "It's about the intersection of the people who carried out the work of the house," Stein said. "It's going to be like you're meeting people for the first time. We're bringing new people to the foreground here."

    Those individuals include Jefferson's daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph; Harriet Hemings, a slave girl who learned needlework and other skills from female relatives, and Burwell Colbert, an enslaved butler.

    The exhibit is a result of decades of research. Several areas have also recently been restored, including the kitchen, wine cellar and Jefferson's dining room, now repainted chrome yellow, the original color.

    From 1936 until recently, the dining room's walls were blue, said curator Elizabeth Chew. Only after a new microscopic technology became available did the foundation realize the error.

    "This has really taught us that we need to go back and do it everywhere," Chew said.


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