Saturday, September 1, 2012

Merchant House

No. I did not see any ghosts at the Merchant House when I was there with a friend last weekend, but I was left with the distinct whiff of melancholy in the bedroom you see below. Then again, this may have been the austerity of the horse-haired chaise at the foot of the bed talking. Elegant to be sure, it was there when the house's last occupant died in bed at the age of ninety-three in 1936.  

Owned by a single family from the 1830's onward, Merchant House still retains its luxurious appointments, from cut glass knobs to the damask bed hangings. 

Curiously, the walls - except for the servant quarters which are painted a pale blue- were never painted anything but off-white. Was this to bring more light into a house that only has windows front and back? Perhaps so. That said, the house's carpets are quite colorful. They are being reproduced for the main rooms- or so I was told by the affable and informative guide on-site. 

It may be hard to see from my photographs, but the bed, while grand, is not very long. My six foot frame wouldn't do very well, I'm afraid. We forget that people were shorter in the 19th century, don't we? It's only when you see an interior such as this up close that your realize that the tall ceilings would have seemed even that much taller to its inhabitants.   

The red, green and gold shimmers when standing in the room. And the gilded finials? I wanted to take them home. 

I have an Empire dresser in my own bedroom, and the armoire above makes me appreciate it all the more. This one is really beautiful. I only wish I could have jumped the rope and viewed it up close.

You get a better idea of the interior of the bed in this picture. The frame is identical to one in an adjacent room, though that one has no gilded ornamentation. 

Downstairs, in the formal dining room, there is a breakfront that is also Empire in style. One can imagine the room filled with candle and gas light, the jewels of the ladies softly sparkling. 

This classical mirror is across from the breakfront, and towards the left of a large black marble mantel that mirrors the one in the front room. It matches another mirror and console on the other side, creating wonderful symmetry. 

The front parlor retains its original Gasolier, which matches the one in the dining room. They have been reconfigured to more better approximate their original appearance in terms of wattage, which isn't very  great, of course. Interestingly, candles during this period often had shields since it was believed that an unshielded one put strain on the eye. 

The later addition of a Rococo settee and chairs in the front room misses the mark for me, the fabric color an odd choice. But I also wondered if the fabric had faded over the years- a matter which I did not think to ask about while there. The original red damask sofa used in the room was taken to the breakfast room next to the kitchen on the lower floor, which you can see below. A very simple room, it was probably also the warmest in the winter, being next to the kitchen. 

From the kitchen itself, the servants would have heard the call bell located on the second floor. There are many more in the kitchen. 

Servants were responsible for tending the oil lamps (one of the most important jobs) as well as replenishing the coal fires twice a day. Imagine carrying 20 pounds of coal to every room twice a day. It was a workout for a girl from Ireland, which is where the servants hailed from. Four lived on the top floor, the only part of the house painted a a color, in this case the aforementioned blue. 

Original gas fittings on the second floor that have been rewired.

The banister on the parlor floor which faces the front door which is about twenty feet away, making for a long hall. 

Turning around from the banister and taking a step back, one enters the dining room from a back door  and sees an Empire sofa in its original horsehair covering. The curtains in this room, like that of the front parlor, are red damask. The carpet is exuberant in coloring which makes up for the lack of pattern on the walls. 

The front door vestibule, which is marbleized a warm ocher. All in all, Merchant House is a fascinating place, a step back in time, one which I'd like to take again, perhaps in the evening in October when candlelight tours are offered.  


  1. Thanks for this lovely picture tour. If I knew about Merchant House, it had slipped my mind. Now I want to go, too.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Cynthia! It really is a fascinating place. For great theatre, I would go in October for a candlelight tour. And you never know what you may see.


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