The Central Parlor
The Central Parlor was a significant room in Adelicia Acklen’s home, a room designed and appointed simply for entertaining. It was a statement of Adelicia’s standing in the community, her taste, and her love of family. To recreate the space, staff at Belmont Mansion began with a historic photograph made in 1890 shortly after she sold the house. An amazing stroke of luck. This photograph provided evidence that guided decisions for many elements in the room and when it didn’t, we relied upon historical research.
The Decorative Ceiling
An optical illusion was required for the ceiling. Trump l’oeil, meaning optical illusion, is the painting style found on Adelicia’s Central Parlor ceiling. Phil Carroll, a local artist from Flying Colors replicated this atmospheric ceiling utilizing design details from Adelicia’s garden and the Grand Salon. The effect is as though visitors were sitting in an open courtyard, a Roman palazzo.
The Restored Central Parlor, today
The Central Parlor, c. 1890
The Woodwork and Wallpaper
To restore the woodwork Ron Ames reproduced the faux rosewood graining on the baseboards for the room. Wallpaper was trickier, only a single square inch of the original wallpaper survived. Not enough to determine a pattern. So we looked to a home just 26 miles from the Acklen’s Louisiana residence that had an 1850s French wallpaper still on the walls. Since Adelicia would have known the home, the room and favored imported decoration, we reproduced the paper for the Central Parlor.
The Window Treatment
Victorians had elaborate multi-layered window treatments that began with a gilded cornice in the “best rooms.” Due to a cornice overhanging a door adjacent to the window this was not possible. Again, research was needed and prevailed. An 1864 French publication revealed a solution and Belmont Mansion Association member Harriette McHenry stepped forward to design it. The result is stunning.
This same source showed a very distinctive design for the lace sheers, or glass curtains as they were known in the 19th century. In another amazing stroke of luck we learned of Christine and Trent Buhr. This couple in Chattanooga not only have the ability to sew but the design skills to interpret the engraving, the knowledge as to where to find the materials needed and a nineteenth century corning machine for making lace curtains. Tremendous.
Grosvenor Wilton Company Ltd. of Kidderminster, England is the oldest carpet maker in England with a wealth of historic patterns and one of the few businesses still producing Brussels carpet in a style Adelicia preferred for her parlor. A solution was found. After manufacturing, the carpet made its way to Cincinnati, Ohio, where it was in the capable hands of Gfroerer Company, a five generation family business, for final preparation and installation.
Fortunately, the original mirror had remained in the room as had the original Cornelius and Company gas chandelier. Eight of the twelve pieces of the Acklen’s best parlor suit made by John Henry Belter of New York had returned to the mansion and are now in the two parlors. Gloria Graves, a generous Belmont supporter, provided the additional needed furniture. A suit made by Belter’s number one competitor Alexander Roux, also of New York.
A May 18, 1881, article in the Louisville Courier Journal listed three paintings and one statue in the room. The statue of Sans Souci by C. B. Ives returned to Belmont years ago, but the paintings had to be replaced. A copy of a painting of the Franklin children and a copy of The Napoleon Fisherman Family by Riedel were hung. A floor to ceiling Acklen family portrait by Robert Gschwndt of New Orleans had been accidentally lost years ago. Since the survived it was decided fit it with a gauze fabric and rehang the frame in its original location to represent the family portrait.
We have worked three long years to complete the Central Parlor's restoration and we thank everyone who played a role in bringing this project to completion. The collective work of many skilled artisans made the execution of our many plans possible. In particular we are grateful to everyone who supported the project financially. Without your interest, we would still be viewing 1950s flocked wallpaper, a beige ceiling minus the restored atmospheric mural, and a 1930s narrow plank oak floor.
Be sure to visit soon. The transformation is miraculous. We think Adelicia’s Central Parlor is one of the most engaging authentic historic interiors in Nashville.
The Central Parlor, c. 1950