Wendy Cooper, Winterthur Museum
The moment America and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris in September 1783, Americans began traveling abroad, touring important houses, dining with the elite and viewing great gardens and landscapes. They applied the newest architectural, landscape and agricultural ideas to their own properties.
They renovated older city houses, adding elliptical rooms projecting into gardens. New country houses, some with multiple oval saloons, heralded a fresh perspective, leading to a more leisurely and elegant lifestyle inside. This new architecture also invited guests outside to the gardens that featured new imported botanical specimens as well as ranges of hot houses and greenhouses. Often these elegant saloons opened onto a raised veranda under a colonnaded portico, and sometimes the garden was even brought inside with various odoriferous potted plants. Light and portable painted furniture frequently graced these rooms, including sets of card tables and pier tables for entertainments and various provisions for jollyment.
Along with this new style of living and entertaining came an intense interest in agriculture and animal husbandry among these wealthy families. The term “gentleman farmer” takes on new meaning as one explores what they were growing, the quantities of vegetables and fruit trees they planted, and the edibles with which they experimented.