President’s Jefferson and Madison

Q: I was observing a house remodeling project.  It’s a major overhaul of an older home, and it seems they’re recreating it or creating a new house from it.  My friend said that this was a new American trend, unlike simple additions of the past.  Is that accurate?

A:  On a trip to Charlottesville Virginia, years ago, while following our Seminoles, we discovered your answer.   We had the opportunity to tour both Montpelier, the home of 4th President James Madison and Monticello, the home of 3rd President Thomas Jefferson.  Montpelier and Monticello are the names of these homesteads in Virginia.

During Mr. Madison’s second term of office he undertook to greatly expand the simple two story box he inherited from his family.  Building two wings on either side and moving the entrance to the new center, his remodeled home pleased him with its size, interior appointments and utility of use, but he found its appearance distressing.  In one of the many communications he had with his close friend Mr. Jefferson, he confided that although the home was solid, the inability to match the bricks of a different era left a most unappealing, mismatched exterior.  This may have been during one of the many trips he and his wife Dolley took to visit at the Jefferson’s home.  They visited so often, in fact, that one of the rooms at Monticello is known as the “Madison” bedroom.

Former President Jefferson had the answer, because it wasn’t only art, artifacts and furniture that Mr. Jefferson had returned with from Europe, he also had the formula for ice cream (thank you Mr. Jefferson) and stucco.  The mixing of chalky limestone material along with the Davidson red clay of the Piedmont area, resulted in a peachy pink stucco that covered all the mismatched brick of the exterior.  Apparently, before the stucco was hard, they took a joining tool, used to scrap the mortar joints between bricks, and drew lines in the drying material.  These lines form rectangles, 3-4 ft. wide and about a foot tall.  So from the exterior, it would appear that Montpelier was built of large slabs of stone, when in fact it’s stucco over brick to turn the mismatched brick into a beautifully remodeled exterior.  We call this, turning lemons into lemonade today.

Mr. Jefferson had started his home, prior to his five year tour of duty in France, as trade commissioner.  Upon his return, Mr. Jefferson undertook as you put it, to recreate a home from the original.  The new home, was massively larger, architecturally distant and totally different from the humble beginnings of years earlier.

Today, as we look at a photograph of “Monticello” and view the interior beset with chair rail, crown moldings, interior port hole windows, pocket doors, triple hung windows, dumb waiters, a cupola, labyrinths of passages under and through the main house, we must concede, as Remodelers, we aren’t blazing any new trails today.

However, it does confirm that those of us committed to Professional Remodeling are following in the footsteps of, and in the finest traditions of, our forefathers.

Just one man’s opinion.



Kip Carpenter, Leon’s 1st Certified-Aging-in-Place-Specialist
Carpenters Construction Co., Inc., 27th Year
Aurora Award Winner 2013 and
2 Remodeler Showcase Awards 2013 & 2014