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Looking for a Project

February 18, 2005

(written March 6)


Dear Families and Friends,


Remember the apartment in Kiev? That was a wonderful experience in creative design and, in the end, a charming home. Ever since then, we've been on the lookout for a repeat performance. Of course, our itinerant life makes this all the more difficult, but we keep looking.

For example, on my last trip back to the company headquarters in Lynchburg Virginia, I took a quick afternoon stroll to look at downtown buildings and then, on the way back to the airport, I stopped by someone else's remodel project to get some ideas. Here's what I saw.

Lynchburg Virginia is, by American standards, an old town. Unfortunately, the old downtown has an abandoned feel. The train station is a bar and a fruit seller's warehouse. This would be too big a project! On Main Street, above the CVS Pharmacy, is the faded face of an old matron. There's something here, but buried too deep.

Just up the road however, is a real remodel project - James and Dolley Madison's house. Originally built by President Madison's father in the mid-1700s, Montpelier is now being restored to it's early 18th Century appearance, just as Dolley would have left it.

The duPont family had purchased it, sometime in the 19th Century, and expanded it over the years. Now it is being reduced to a third it's duPont size, to a modest 7,000 square feet (700 square meters).

This project is ambitious, costing tens of millions of dollars. Tours are offered and, since such a professional project could certainly teach and inspire, I joined a small group on this cold February day. It seems that most of the house is surrounded by plastic and scaffolding. As is true for any old house, foundations held surprises - and costs.
Inside, there are significant efforts going on to discover just what the building looked like in Madison's day. Crumbling plaster has been carefully removed, to reveal authentic colors and building techniques. "Modern" features, such as this wonderful staircase, are being torn out. What price authenticity.
In a building away from the main house, the conservators have set up a couple of rooms as they might have appeared in Madison's time. James and Dolley were famous for their hospitality and would set a fine dinner whenever friends arrived. Arrival was generally unannounced in the pre-telephone, pre-email 1800s, but that was no matter, everyone was welcomed. Kinda like us?
Dolley's preferred room was the bedroom and her preferred color was red. Coulda' guessed. But you have to credit the Madison family with inspiration for color, hospitality, and imagination when remodeling an old "farm house."


In the end, I had ideas but where could we find such an old house?

That's the NEXT story.


Keep dreaming.


John and Marianne

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