Tag Archives: history

National and Family Treasures

3 Sep

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with American History, even as a child. My ideal vacation was a trip to Gettysburg instead of a theme park, even at the age of 9.

I also grew up with a family who loved to thrift and go “antiquing.” I still love seeing my Uncle’s antique war memorabilia collection or the vintage goodies my sister finds at her job at an antique store.

Family heirlooms are definitely the most special antiques of all. Not only do they combine years of history and age with sentimental family memories, sometimes, every once in a while, they can also be incredible historical artifacts.

My husband Joseph is basically a descendant of early American “royalty.” He is a descendant of some very notable names that made history throughout the Colonial and Civil War eras. Since he is also an incredibly talented furniture maker, it was only fitting that he got to take on a very special task over Labor Day weekend.

One of Joseph’s famous ancestors is a Founding Father, Thomas Nelson Jr. He was one of the first Governors of Virginia, as well as a member of the House of Burgesses, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Being from Yorktown, VA, his estate was taken over by Cornwallis to be his headquarters during the infamous Battle of Yorktown. Being an ardent patriot, supposedly Nelson offered money to Continental soldiers to destroy his home during the battle.

So why the history lesson? And where do family heirlooms fit into this? Well, Thomas Nelson Jr.’s incredible four-poster mahogany bed has survived and stayed in Joseph’s family for generations.

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Made using traditional woodworking methods that Joseph and I still use in all of our designs today, the bed is a magnificent piece of craftsmanship that has been loved and cared for over the ages by the family. At the request of the family member who now cares for it, Joseph had the honor to take the bed apart and examine it while renovations were being made to the room it is now kept in.

The rails are connected using double mortise and tenon joints.

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Double Tenons on the ends of the rails.

Double Mortise on the posts.

Double Mortise on the posts.

The original maker's mark of "4" to identify matching posts and rails to help in putting the bed back together when taken apart.

The original maker’s mark of “4” to identify matching posts and rails to help in putting the bed back together when taken apart.

The bolts that are used to hold the rails to the posts are original, save for the head of one that was welded onto the original after it was broken. The iron mattress hangers and fasteners are all original. The visible part of the bed has been refinished, the back of the headboard is black with age and expired varnish.

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The carving on the bed’s posts and headboard are absolutely magnificent. The wood is undoubtedly virgin growth mahogany which is pretty much obsolete these days.

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The bed is now used as a four-poster style bed, however it is originally a teester-style bed, the brass adornments are kept in storage however the original fabric is long gone, lost to the ages.

Another notable characteristic about the bed is it’s size. Although it is a queen sized bed, it is much smaller than today’s queen beds, as people were much smaller in stature 250 years ago. Another testament to traditional woodworking techniques is that despite it’s age and several moves across the country to different family members over the years, it is in excellent condition with no structural damage. Beds made even 50 years ago with modern joinery and fasteners may fall apart before this bed will. It is also unknown whether or not this bed was brought over from England or made in the states.

Perhaps my favorite part of the bed, and a testament to the original maker’s eye for detail are these wonderful carved rosettes that cover the bolts on the posts.

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While I was sad to not have been there personally for the deconstruction, I hope to be there when Joseph returns to put it the bed back together. I know it was a very special moment for him to examine such an important piece of American history, his family’s history, and also an incredible source of inspiration for our own furniture work today.

All photos provided by Joseph Thompson.

Side note: I posted a photo of the bed over the weekend to my Instagram page, and low and behold one of my followers and Charleston neighbors is also a descendant of Nelson. It’s a small world after all, folks!

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Springtime wanders into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

30 Apr

I recently had the pleasure of staying a weekend in Chapel Hill, NC. Expecting to be completely run over by students all day, it was a nice, quiet paced weekend to roam about the historic University of North Carolina campus.

Our friends in the area raved about the beauty of ┬áthe UNC campus and could not wait to give us the grand tour. ┬áNeedless to say we were not disappointed. Being the oldest public university in the United States the UNC at Chapel Hill campus boasts examples of numerous iconic architectural styles. Walking through campus is like a tour through the ages as a wide variety of species of trees all over campus drape your path. There are also fantastic little architectural gems hidden along the way – an unexpected tunnel, a gargoyle curiously perched along the side of a building it was not originally built into…..the sights on campus can even get downright weird sometimes. What’s even more spectacular is that there are stories – fact or fiction – for nearly every building, plant, or unique quirk on campus.

We started off by visiting the legendary Moorehead-Patterson bell tower surrounded by lush, green gardens. What really caught my eye as we got closer was the stunning blue tile that lined the Gothic cathedral ceilings of the breezeways.

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An obligatory long hallway shot:

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What is especially brilliant about this location of campus is that right behind this very traditional red-bricked structure is a fabulous science building with a strong industrial-brutal style. The building is also connected to several others built at different times.

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And then not far up the road – almost within shouting distance – is this brand new, gorgeous modern glass building.

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We then strolled further it across campus, taking note of the magnificent Greek Revival-style Louis Round Wilson library and it’s surrounding buildings – a few were built as early as 1793, others at the beginning of the 1900’s or later.

We eventually made our way to the Coker Aboretum, which is filled with plants and trees form all over the world. This entrance to the arboretum is so fantastic you almost feel as though you are entering another world.

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Other highlights of the arboretum included an impressive collection of Japanese Maple trees, and also this guy:

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These beauties made a little “ring” when you shook them.

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I could go on forever (and post about that many pictures, too) about how truly fantastic the arboretum was. As we finished up the path the light was getting lower we decided to make moves towards Franklin St. We of course stopped and saw the iconic Old Well which doubles as the symbol for the university. I was also particularly taken with the fantastic harvest crown on the top of the columns in front of the Playmaker’s Theatre.

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We eventually made our way to the Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery for some local brews. I recommend their award winning Ram’s Head IPA or their Blueridge Blueberry Wheat for something refreshing and unexpected.

If you follow me on social media, you’ll have noticed in the past weeks I have shared my fascination of this campus several times over, however this post merely scratches the surface of an impressive array of the buildings, character, and the award winning design of the UNC campus. If you are ever passing through I highly recommend a long walk and a quiet moment to enjoy a wonderful display of history and architecture.