A Peek into Drayton Hall's Rooms
Step Inside an American Masterpiece
Great HallThe great hall served as a primary entertaining and welcoming space. The room is decorated in the Doric order: the pilasters are fluted and have plain capitals; there is a projecting cornice; and the frieze is decorated with massive egg-and-dart moldings, triglyphs, and metopes which are thought to be daisies and dogwood blossoms, variations of the lotus and thistle motif found in Palladio's designs and throughout antiquity. The fireplace mantle and overmantle were drawn almost directly from Plate 64 in The Designs of Inigo Jones, an influential book by the English architect William Kent. Designed by Kent himself for Robert Walpole's country house, Houghton Hall, the Drayton Hall overmantle is a less ornate replica of the marble original, executed in tulip poplar (also known as yellow poplar), even though the fox-head cartouche might easily be mistaken for a boar or another animal.
The symmetry of the great hall is disturbed on the fireplace wall by the inclusion of an additional wall panel to the left of the fireplace. Evidence in the basement suggests that at some time during the construction of the house, someone decided to make the great hall slightly larger, shifting the wall opposite the portico door back, and, hence, requiring the addition of a wall panel.
The plaster ceiling in the great hall is actually the third ceiling in that space. The first ceiling, undoubtedly an ornate and grand carved plaster ceiling, was replaced around 1800, probably because of structural problems caused by the replacement of the river-side wall. The decoration of the second ceiling was Federal in feel: a delicate arrangement of urns, garlands, and swags, as shown in the sketch by Lewis Reeves Gibbes. It, too, fell victim to structural problems and was replaced sometime around 1850 with the current ceiling, which is an antebellum cast plaster design of stars, leaves, and branches around a massive medallion.
Withdrawing RoomThe mid-19th-century cast plaster ceiling in the great hall contrasts sharply with the original c. 1742 ceiling in the withdrawing room, an ornately decorated public space into which John Drayton's guests would have withdrawn for conversation, games, and other social interaction. This ceiling is the only complete example of the hand-molded and hand-carved plaster ceilings that surely must have been found in all of Drayton Hall's public spaces. The border design resembles 17th-century crewelwork, with meandering vines extending from handled urns at each corner. Drawn plaster moldings frame the border and the center medallion features ears of corn as the main decorative element. This hand-formed plaster ceiling is a rare 18th-century example and is one of only a handful that has survived in America.
The withdrawing room is decorated in the Ionic order. Following the hierarchy of Greek orders — Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian — the use of the Ionic order indicates the room was a more important space than the adjoining great hall with its Doric embellishments. The fluted pilasters adorned with Ionic capitals reminiscent of rams' horns and the highly decorated, intricately carved cornice further indicate the social significance of the room.
On one interior wall, it appears that a door opening has been filled in with brick, but this is actually a glimpse of the structural masonry wall that lies behind many bald cypress panels throughout the house. A sham door — likely lost during the Civil War — once covered the opening, completing the symmetry of the room. At the fireplace, it is obvious that the mantlepiece is missing, revealing evidence of past changes to the room. Charles Drayton had replaced the original Georgian mantlepiece in 1802 with a more modern, Federal mantlepiece, which vandals removed in the early 1970s.
Telltale paint, exposed by the absence of a mantlepiece, is evidence of the original paint scheme of the entire house: a tan color — known in the 18th century as "stone" — on all the walls, doors, and trim, with a glossy, almost black, bronze color on the baseboards. Although the two strips of tan-colored paint under the overmantle have been visible since the National Trust purchased the property in 1974, it was not until the 2001 Preserving a National Treasure project that paint conservators were able to determine that all of Drayton Hall's interior walls were originally painted this color.
Stair HallThe stair hall is a monumental space designed to impress. This two-story space with 27-foot ceilings was at once a stairway and an entry, where guests were greeted and where John Drayton's wealth and taste were immediately apparent. Beautifully crafted mahogany wainscot, balusters, handrails, and brackets featuring lotus and squash blossoms, were originally stained a bright red-orange vermilion and varnished to a glossy finish. Today, only vestiges of the original vermilion stain and a fragment of the original hand-formed plaster ceiling remain, but the grandeur of the space is unmistakable.
Upper Great HallWith ceilings two feet higher than those on the first floor and with decoration of the Corinthian order, evidenced by pilasters topped with the acanthus leaves, the upper great hall was the most important of Drayton Hall's public spaces and the location of parties, dances, and musical entertainments. The original plaster ceilings in this room and in the other rooms on the second floor are gone, victims of water damage from a leaking roof. The Drayton family replaced their damaged ceilings with inexpensive beaded board in the last quarter of the 19th century.
A late 19th-century painting depicts the Drayton family coat of arms and includes the family motto, "HAC ITER AD ASTRA," which translates to, "This, the way to the stars."
The floor plan of the second floor repeats that of the floor below — a small chamber and a large chamber, connected by a small passage, flanking a large hall on two sides.
Large BedchamberThis bedchamber, directly above the large yellow room, reveals evidence of Drayton Hall's only surviving floor plan change — partitions installed in the first quarter of the 19th-century that created two small rooms, perhaps dressing rooms, which were a new architectural feature of the era. In the 20th century, when Charlotta Drayton spent weeks at a time at Drayton Hall — with no indoor plumbing or built-in electricity — she used one of these smaller rooms as her bedchamber.
Raised English BasementThe raised basement, a common feature in many of Palladio's designs, was a working space, with storage spaces designed to suit specialized needs. One room, with a brick floor laid in a herringbone pattern and a heavy, lockable door, may have been used to store wine, spices, and other valuable commodities. Another room, originally paved with brick but now with a dirt floor, may have been used to store root vegetables and other things that required cool storage. Additional rooms were likely used for a plantation office, supplementary storage, and other work spaces for enslaved people. A large fireplace in the main basement room heated the space, and kept food warm before serving; it is likely that the fireplace was used for cooking before the kitchen flanker was completed and at other times throughout the year.
Although the original use of the northeast basement chamber is not clearly known, it is known today as "Miss Charlotta's kitchen." Throughout much of the 20th century, Charlotta Drayton used this space as her kitchen while she stayed at Drayton Hall. Her only modern additions to this space were a wood-burning stove and an icebox that was later replaced by a refrigerator, powered through an extension cord plugged in at the Victorian caretakerís cottage; the cottage now serves as the Museum Shop.