Shortly before the outbreak of the American Revolution, he planned two wings. The first was that at the south end with library on the ground floor and master bedroom for Colonel and Mrs. Washington on the second. As the revolt against the British crown progressed, the construction of the north wing lagged somewhat but was worked on intermittently. This, the banquet hall, when finished became one of the noblest private residence rooms in America.
Washington, however, did not leave these steps in the enlargement and renovation of his erstwhile hunting lodge entirely to professionals. Whether away fighting in the French and Indian Wars or directing the course of action of the Continental Army, he never forgot what was happening at his country seat. His correspondence is full of minute directions regarding the finishing of certain rooms or of such injunctions as, “I beg of you to hasten Lamphire about the addition to the north end of the house; otherwise you will have it open, I fear, in the cold and wet weather.” When the Revolution was fought and won, the Washingtons returned, not to a Mount Vernon that was a stranger to them, but to the country home they had so carefully planned. This specific planning by the owner, now as then, has definite bearing on whether the house will be yours or just a beautiful structure, perfect in all its appointments but totally lacking the impress of the owner or his family.
Several years ago, a man and his wife acquired one of the early Dutch farmhouses of the New Jersey back country. They had long wanted just such a place and having taken possession, they summoned an architect, an interior decorator, and a landscape architect. A few days were spent with them inspecting house and grounds. Then the new owners left on a winter cruise around the world. Their final injunctions were to the effect that next May they would return and would expect everything done. They did and everything was complete. The old house was perfect. Its furnishings were all genuine antiques of the period. The grounds had been graded, trimmed, and polished. Gardens, shrubbery, and hedges were just right, but the final effect was as impersonal as a demonstration model.
In a year or two, this property was sold to a golf club and its former owner bought another place and moved right in. Nearly two years were spent consulting and working with an architect and workmen, supervising a garden or two, and in buying antiques, a piece at a time. His second attempt at country living was not as sophisticated nor did it approach the museum standards of the former; but, when completed, it had that prime essential of any home, it reflected the character and personality of its owners.
LOOKING AN OLD HOUSE IN THE MOUTH