On December 27, 2016, the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society began restoration of the Latimer House hallway as a result of a grant received from the Isabel James Lehto Foundation. Previously, the Latimer House hallway walls were covered with circa 1997 wallpaper applied by the production crew of Oprah Winfrey’s The Wedding, which used both the Latimer House and Poplar Grove Plantation as a set. This wallpaper was removed, the plaster repaired, and the walls were painted to the historically-accurate colors based on research completed by architectural historian Edward Turberg in 1981. “The documentation of historic paint colors is an important part of the interpretation of a historic structure as it leads to a better understanding of the period in which the building was conceived and constructed,” Turberg wrote in his research report.
Constructed in 1852, the Latimer House employs Italianate-Revival architecture, which was the predominant style in mid nineteenth-century America and was extremely popular with Wilmington’s antebellum merchant class. Merchants such as Zebulon Latimer chose Italianate Revival architecture for their homes because the style paid homage to the Italian and Tuscan villas from antiquity. These villas were of renewed interest for mid nineteenth-century Americans because of the increasingly-popular “Grand Tour,” an extended vacation taken by westerners to visit the great cultural and historical sites in Continental Europe such as Pompeii, which was rediscovered in the eighteenth century. Capitalizing on American’s fascination with villas, Andrew Jackson Downing published of The Architecture of Country Houses, Including Designs for Cottages, Farm Houses and Villas in 1850. Downing, the famous landscape architect who designed the National Mall, defined a villa as “the country house of a person of competence or wealth sufficient to build and maintain it some taste and elegance… requiring the care of at least three or more servants.” Continuing, Downing described villas as “the most refined home of America” and “the home of its most leisurely and educated class of citizens,” adding that “nature and art both lend it their happiest influence.”
Nature influenced the colors chosen for villa’s interior walls, with hallways being painted to mimic either “marble or pottery” rather than “bare white walls,” which Downing described as “in point of taste, a complete nullity, destructive of all tone, and hard and glaring in effect.” Paint samples taken by Turberg during the 1981 research indicated the base color for the Latimer House hallway was a clay, terr acotta color. Atop this base color was a hand-stenciled floral pattern, which continued the natural imagery of Italian villas and will be restored by local artist Mark Gansor in the coming weeks. “Stencil-painting was the first step towards a [simple] style of mural ornament,” wrote Charles L. Eastlake in his 1869 Hints on Household Taste. Mural ornamentation inside the newly-discovered villas of Pompeii fascinated mid nineteenth-century Americans, and was “still in vogue throughout Italy and other parts of the Continent,” wrote Eastlake. Tracings of the original Latimer House floral pattern were preserved by local historian Robert Warren and feature a repeated pattern of flowers surrounded by a leafy vine. Patron s of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society will be able to see artist Mark Gansor paint this pattern onto the hallway walls once the Latimer House reopens to the public next week.
The Lower Cape Fear Historical Society is very excited to share the hallway restoration with our members and the general public. Restoration of the hallway to its 1852 condition elevates our visitors’ experience while touring the Latimer House Museum by providing a historically-accurate visualization of nineteenth century Italianate Revival architecture. We would like to thank the Isabel James Lehto Foundation for their generosity, historians Edward Turberg and Robert Warren for sharing their expertise, and all Lower Cape Fear Historical Society members for their continued encouragement. Please visit the Latimer House soon so we may share our exciting progress.
Lower Cape Fear Historical Society
126 South Third Street
Wilmington, NC 28401