I’ve started a love affair: with a house. While I’ve resided in Washington now for almost 17 years I had formed never visited the Octagon House despite always hearing about it from friends. Oh I’ll visit someday was my thought. Well one rainy Saturday this past fall I stopped at and dropped in love.
Not only is the home open free of charge to the general public, you typically have it to yourself to explore at your own pace (which I love). I promptly setup a later tour for our Mid-Atlantic branch of the ICAA by making use of a friend. While the sharp details are certainly elegant, the real beauty is based on the plan (as always, click the image to see in more detail).
While the site was rural AND waterfront when the home was built-in 1799, early in Washington’s history, the home is exceedingly metropolitan. The architect, William Thornton, will need to have foreseen the city that could grow surrounding the house predicated on L’Enfant’s plan. Colonel John Tayloe III experienced the home built on the advice of his friend George Washington as his winter in-town residence and it remained as his households primary home until 1855 at the loss of life of his wife. A nearby was no more fashionable and his children rented the house away; first as a girl’s school, then to the Federal government as Naval offices, until it finally was a tenement.
In 1898 the AIA stepped in (American Institute of Architects) to rent the house as their headquarters and in 1902 purchased the house. It is possessed and lovingly looked after by the AIA still. Let’s step in to the foyer shall we? All of the color colors were matched to their 1810 appearance with help from Benjamin Moore and these colors are available for purchase. The most stunning feature of the circular entry are a set of English stoves flanking entrance into the stairhall which feature neoclassic urns. Notice how even the doorways match the curve of the walls -a lovely detail.
While we so often think of checkerboard floor tiles needing to exactly match, the variation in the darker squares, made up of different marbles, is gentle and lovely really. The living room features the initial Coade and moldings stone fireplace however the chandelier schedules to the 1930s. The mantel was painted because when it arrived on site because the top shelf was missing.
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It was replaced in wood to complement the rock mantel below. The wall colors in this room aren’t accurate as originally the room held wallpaper, although nobody knows what it appeared as if! The mirrors flanking the fireplace were original to the family and are original to the home.
All of the other furniture throughout the house are period but not original to the Tayloe family. The central stairhall stands between your living and eating rooms (see plans above) but more with this later. On the contrary part of the stairhall is the dining room. The lovely thing about the orientation of the home is that rooms are bathed in natural light each day. The dining room also features a genuine Coade stone mantel.
The brass hearth fenders are kept beautifully polished. All of the brasses would have been regularly polished to reveal the candlelight. Stepping back to the stairhall notice the ivory “mortgage button” in the elegant newel. Obviously the myth of this ornamental feature is more interesting than reality. There is no home loan with this homely house when it was built! Heading up to the family quarters on the next floor notice the curved walls continue. This elegant jib door leads to one of many closets rather. This closet probably held the beds of the slaves who slept beyond your doorways of the master suite.
The round room on top of the admittance is the primary family seated room known as the Treaty Room. After the war of 1812 when the White House was burned by the British (in 1814), the Octagon House briefly offered as the president’s residence for President Madison and his wife Dolly.
It is at this room that the president ratified the Treaty of Ghent which finished the war. The initial table sits in the entry foyer of the home while this exact replica lets you take a closer look. I really like the easy solid wood mantels here on the 2nd floor. However the best benefit of the homely houses in my opinion will be the behind the scenes spaces. Adjacent to the elegant main stair is a rather clever triangular staircase which allows for more discreet access throughout the house and entry into the basement servants quarters. The cellar is actually quite shiny with tall ceilings and large windows thanks to the service moat encircling the home.