Chapter Four: A Chapter on the Nineteeth Century Dining Room; Gender, Refinement and Grandeur

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Fri, 03/24/2006 - 20:41.

 The Nineteenth Century Dining Room: Gender, Refinement, and Grandeur


This chapter will focus on how the dining room evolved in American architecture and culture after the first quarter of the 19th-century, through the careful study of the dining rooms of six homes; Knoll/Lyndhurst, Chateau Sur Mer, The Mark Twain House, The Glessner House, The Breakers and Biltmore. The owners of these homes were cultured and wealthy Americans. Though all were nearly unrestricted financially in the way that they designed and decorated their homes, the extent of their fortunes did vary. The owners of these homes were highly literate people, conscious of trends in America and abroad, and they were often world travelers who had experienced the architectural monuments of Europe. The homes that I have chosen remain close to their original state and are maintained by historic preservation societies such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In order to develop new multidisciplinary critical assessments of the architecture and the decorative arts of these homes I intend to limit my use of the numerous titles applied to decades of the 19th-century such as The Victorian Period, The Gilded Age, The Brown Decades, The Mauve Decades. I feel that these terms are more useful in studies that take a strict chronological viewpoint. 

The homes that I have chosen as models were extraordinary in their own time and they probably seem even more extraordinary now. Despite the excellent state of preservation of the homes themelves, they have lost some of their original context, through the demolition of surrounding architecture and even through the inevitable changes in American culture.  These homes do not represent the lifestyle of the majority of 19th-century Americans, but most importantly they do represent the ideals that many Americans aspired to. The homes I have chosen were described and illustrated in contemporary books and magazines because their architecture, decor, and even their residents reflected popular culture of the time. Their owners took great pride in them and the public was very curious about their interior and exterior appearance and the inner workings of the household.

Grandeur and refinement were the desired qualities of the 19th-century dining room, but  many issues arise in the discussion of the dining room in this period. During the 19th-century the ideal dining room became a room with a very specific function, separate from other rooms of the home. The ideal house of this period had many separate rooms with specific functions; a house might have a parlor, library, hall, sitting room, morning room, drawing room, living room, music room, picture gallery and ballroom. These spaces were distinctly defined in the plan of the home (separated by walls and doors) but they were often also distinguished by their decor. In the first quarter of the 19th-century the Gothic Revival style emerged - an ornate, romantic contrast to the classicism of the Greek Revival style popular during the Federal Period. The American quest for grandeur in the dining room is reflected in a new term: "state dining room," a vast space found in the homes of the wealthiest Americans.  The another new phenomenon the American country estate emerges around this time. The architect became a respected professional during the 19th-century and, increasingly, distinctions were made between architecture and interior decorating. During the 19th-century the American dining room became increasingly more masculine in its decor. While male or female associations had long been made about the public rooms of the home, masculinity was often expressed quite overtly in the decorative elements of the dining room. There were significant changes in cuisine and dining rituals; the result of industrialization and marketing, which created new products and consumers. The 19th-century was the century of international expositions and these expositions, beginning with the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, introduced people to new products and ideas. The American dining room was designed for a life style that relied upon the labor of domestic servants. Even as technology reduced the need for  servants many households maintained a staff for the prestige it provided. Literature, and to a lesser extent film will play an important role in this chapter. Edith Wharton, Henry James, Mark Twain and William Dean Howells all represent dining rooms and dining rituals in their novels.

The Gothic Revival Dining Room at Lyndhurst: Intimate  Feasts Overlooking a Picturesque Landscape

In the early decades of the 19th-century, a new style, an alternative to Greek Revival , emerged. (I will probably add an example of a Greek Revival style house, perhaps Long Branch Estate, by Benjamin Henry Latrobe in Virginia Hunt County or Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, TN, The Greek Revival style was popular from approximately 1825-1860. Typical characteristics and stylistic elements of the Greek Revival style of architecture are a pedimented front-gabled design, entry porch with columns, decorative pilasters, a wide, plain frieze, a heavy cornice, narrow windows around the front door, and a white painted exterior.) The  Gothic Revival began approximately 100 years earlier in England with Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill. The writings of Sir Walter Scott were influential to Americans and, like Walpole, he built a grand Gothic Revival style residence, Abbottsford. The ornate, dark, heavy quality of much of the Gothic Revival style architecture and decor in America was a dramatic contrast to the lightness, attenuation and symmetry of the GreeK Revival style and Adamesque Federal Neoclassicism. In addition, the Gothic Revival style had Christian associations while neoclassicism alluded to the origins of democracy in ancient Greece.

Lyndhurst, or Knoll as it was first called, located in Tarrytown, New York, is the finest example of Gothic Revival style residential architecture in the United States ( The architect, Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-92), the most influential figure in the Gothic Revival in America, designed Knoll in 1838. Davis's architecture was influenced by English theories of the picturesque, which in architecture mean irregularity use of natural materials, roughness and medieval style decoration. Davis believed that the Gothic style was more appropriate than the classical style for a country house and he promoted his theories in his influential book, Rural Residences (New York, 1837). Many American Gothic Revival style homes were built of wood, but Lyndhurst is made of stone. Lyndhurst is the grandest house Alexander Jackson Davis ever designed. It began as a Gothic style villa along the Hudson River designed for General William Paulding in 1838. Davis enlarged the house for its second owner George Merritt, a prosperous New York merchant. As part of the expansion he added a large dining room and a square tower that became the focal point of the asymmetrical facade. Merritt also made ambitious changes to the grounds, adding a huge glass house. Lyndhurst was purchased by the railroad magnate and financier Jay Gould (1836-1892) in 1880. Gould found Lyndhurst to be a perfect escape from the modern business world of New York City. As the third owner, Gould and his heirs made no significant changes to the house before they donated it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Of Lyndhurst's three owners, Gould is the most famous today. In his biography of Gould, Dark Genius of Wall Street (2005), Edward J. Renehan Jr. devotes significant attention to Jay Gould and his family's life at Lyndhurst. Family was important to Gould and his wife. Though he was often so exhausted from business that he barely spoke a word during dinner, each night they were at Lyndhurst the Gould family enjoyed a formal meal in the dining room. Fresh flowers from the glass house decorated the table and they often dined on delicacies grown on the property. Gould was kind and generous to his extended family: brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, and they were often invited to spend time at Lyndhurst. Gould's business dealings earned him pariah status among New York Society, so the Goulds rarely socialized with those outside of their extended family. Nature was also important to Gould. The picturesque views surrounding Lyndhurst were part of what drew him to the estate. 


Many of the rooms at Lyndhurst, including the dining room, are reminiscent of medieval halls. Decorative, non-structural exposed wood ribs and marble columns create bays similar to those found in a Gothic cathedral. A bay window at one end of the room is constructed of six stained glass lancet windows. In the corners of the room, Gothic niches contain cabinets with marble sculptures on top. Gothic elements enhance the fireplace. The mirror above the fireplace is framed by two marble columns and a pointed arch. Davis designed much of the Gothic revival furniture for Lyndhurst; however, his designs are his own free interpretations of Gothic models. The furniture he designed is 19h-century in its proportion and craftsmanship, nothing comparable can be found among 12th and 13th century European furniture. Views of the landscape, designed by Andrew Jackson Downing were an important part of dining at Lyndhurst. The landscape at Lyndhurst is ideal according to theories of the picturesque; however, George Merritt tames some of the wilder aspects of the landscape. 

The Mark Twain House Dining Room: The Aesthetic Movement, Whimsy and Riverboats   

2.) The architecture of the home changed significantly from the 17th and 18th-century. The dining room became a room quite separate from the kitchen and other rooms of the home. Doors or draperies often physically separated it from adjacent rooms. It became a place for entertaining and display and sometimes a place for family nurturing and comfort. The home itself was usually made up of many smaller separate rooms that might include a parlor, library, music room, ballroom, sitting room, living room and smoking room, each serving its own purpose and often not readily adaptable for other purposes. 

The Mark Twain house and its dining room reflects a personal style rather than a historical revival style ( The atmosphere is more lighthearted and fun than most examples of 19th-century American homes. The dining room suggests a room to enjoy rather than impress. The flamboyant exterior of the Mark Twain House with its vermillion and black bands of brick seemed odd to some of Samuel Clemens's neighbor's but also must have seemed quite appropriate for its larger than life owner. Its other eccentric details, the low slung veranda and turret make the house resemble a riverboat from one of Twain's novels. The Samuel  Clemens family was deeply attached to the home they built as this quote  suggests "to us our house ... had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction." The Clemens family ate almost all their meals in the dining room; from quiet family dinners to formal parties.

Mark Twain and his wife Livy moved to Hartford, Connecticut in 1871 to be near his publisher. In 1873 he hired the architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to design a mansion for his family. Potter's work was influenced by the English architect William Butterfield and the house references chalet designs from the Alsatian region of France. A financial crisis forced the Clemen's family to leave their home and move to Europe in 1891. Though they still owned the house, it remained unoccupied for many years. After the sudden death of the Clemen's daughter Susie, the house held too many painful memories for the family to return.


The dining room of the Mark Twain House is a formal and elegant room in the northeast corner of the house. It is connected to the living room and library by wide pocket doors. A smaller door in the northeast corner of the room connects the dining room to the pantry, kitchen and servant's quarters. Another small door in the southwest corner of the room connects the dining  room with the hall. The first floor of the Mark Twain house  (after the remodeling), consists of ten rooms; hall, drawing room, library, guest room (with attached dressing room and bath), kitchen, pantry, servants hall and servants entry. Each room is connected to the adjacent rooms with doors that can be closed and locked. Most of the doors are small and do not allow for much of a view from one room to the next even when the doors are open. This plan creates a sense of privacy within  the house; spaces are physically well defined -- and confined -- by walls and doors.  The rooms are decorated to suit their function.
The focal point of the dining room is the fireplace at the north wall with blue and yellow tiles and stained-glass window above. Louis C. Tiffany & Associated Artists redecorated the first floor of the Mark Twain House in 1881. They were the most important American decorating firm to offer an alternative to the revival styles and dark, masculine manner in which many 1860s homes were decorated. Candace Wheeler collaborated with Tiffany on the Mark Twain House, designing many of the textiles used in the dining room and other first floor rooms. Tiffany and Wheeler employed some typical aesthetic movement motifs in their designs for the Mark Twain House. Exotic brass lamps and a brass clock are on the mantel. The ceiling is painted Venetian red and stenciled with a complex geometric pattern. The floor is parquet. The walls are covered with a chestnut and tan floral wallpaper. Paintings are hung on the walls including above the sideboard and above doors. Silver hollowware of various shapes and sizes are displayed on a burled walnut sideboard. A large majolica plant stand is located next to the sideboard. The oval dining table in the center of the room is covered with a white fringed table cloth. A silver epergne which was displayed on the Clemens's wedding table is filled with fruit. The table is set with fine painted porcelain, crystal stemware and silver flatware. A brass lamp with frosted globes is located over the table. The eclectic decor of the Mark Twain House dining room is much more intimate and light hearted than the dining rooms at The Breakers and Biltmore. While it is an impressive room, there are no overt symbolic historical references.

The State Dining Rooms at Breakers and Biltmore: Fetes for the 4000

 During the decades following the Civil War, Americans entered a period of unprecedented wealth and optimism that became known as The Gilded Age. This period is sometimes referred to as the American Renaissance because of the high level of culture and prosperity, but also because many wealthy Americans saw parallels to their wealth, power and patronage in Renaissance figures such as the Medicis. During the Gilded Age large homes were built in major cities and in the country on a scale unprecedented in America, but similar to the castles and palaces found in Europe. The public rooms in Gilded Age mansions were all very large. The dining room was usually one of the largest and sometimes it was referred to as the "state dining room." The phrase "state dining room" made clear the aspirations of the home-owner. Gilded Age dining rooms were often decorated in impersonal, specific historical styles such as Louis XVI or Francis I. Antique furniture and architectural elements were imported from Europe by the architect or decorator or reproductions were made by modern craftsmen. Though it is important to note that wealthy Americans were more interested in the symbolism of historical styles rather than collecting European antique.



The Breakers and Biltmore represent the peak of late 19th-century grandeur and extravagance. Both were designed by Richard Morris Hunt for male members of the Vanderbilt family and completed in 1895. Due to changes in the American economy , personal wealth increased exponentially for a small number of Americans such as the Vanderbilts. The Breakers, the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II is located in Newport, Rhode Island( . Biltmore, the country estate of George Washington  Vanderbilt is located in Asheville, North Carolina ( During the 1880s and 90s the Vanderbilt family kept Hunt busy designing their city and country homes. The Breakers and Biltmore are the best surviving examples of his work for the Vanderbilt family because they represent the peak of high style in 19th-century America and a type of architecture and decorating that will never be repeated.



The dining rooms of The  Breakers and Biltmore were elaborate, theatrical rooms that were the perfect settings for banquets and costume balls. By hosting lavish parties with elaborate social rituals, the Vanderbilts and others like them defined America's elite society. Without aristocratic traditions and titles, the Vanderbilts used architecture and decor to create their own identity with obvious allusions to Renaissance Europe.

The furniture and art objects that decorated the dining room were acquired in Europe by Hunt for the Vanderbilts. The state dining room at The  Breakers is the grandest room of the house. It is forty-two by fifty-eight and two stories tall. Its decor, which includes twelve columns of red alabaster and a ceiling painting titled Aurora at Dawn, was created for Hunt by a Paris designer. State dining rooms were not uncommon in Gilded Age mansions. The term reveals the owners aspirations to hold, unofficially, political power and socialize with royalty. Many of America's wealthiest families succeeded in marrying off their daughters to European aristocrats. The banquet hall at Biltmore was also designed to be the most impressive room of the house. The medieval style room is forty-two by seventy-two with a ribbed, vaulted seventy-five foot ceiling. Sixteenth century Flemish tapestries hang on the lower walls. An organ gallery with a carved balustrade is located above. The sculptor Karl Bitter carved the panels of the balustrade and the frieze above the massive triple fireplace, the focal point of one wall. Both houses have smaller, more intimate dining rooms that were used by the family for everyday meals, though both large and small dining rooms at such houses were considered excessive and heavy-handed in style to many critics.

The concept of the American country estate emerged during the Gilded Age. Like their European predecessors, American country estates were houses for rural leisure-time pursuits such as riding, hunting, fishing and admiring carefully cultivated landscapes created by landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmstead, Calvert Vaux and Warren Manning. Many American country estates also were model farms that raised prize livestock and cultivated experimental crops. The Biltmore, in Ashville, North Carolina is the most lavish example of an American country estate. Frank Lloyd Wright further developed the concept of the American country estate in the 20th-century through Taliesin, his estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The desire to experience a rural lifestyle influenced the design of the dining room. Windows that framed views of the landscape and porches that allowed strolling and sitting in the open air after dinner were more important in the country estate. Most country estates were used for only a few weeks out of the year.

Architects and Interior Decorators in the Dining Room 

 The architect came to be regarded as a respected professional, even a sort of celebrity due to the efforts of Richard Morris Hunt, the first American architect to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. This is an important difference from the anonymous builders of the 17th and 18th-century. Unfortunately, because there is little information available about earlier buildings they are most often studied in terms of their architecture, despite the fact that the people who built them relying on craft traditions imported from their native countries  did not regard themselves as architects.The role of the interior decorator became more important during the last half of the 19th-century.


The century was rich with guides on interior decorating and the writings of Charles Eastlake, Clarence Cook, Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr. were very influential. The Decoration of Houses, co-authored by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, asserts that there is a right way and a wrong way to decorate a house; that a correctly decorated house is comfortable, and pleasing in many ways, yet successful decorating does not need to be expensive.

The Dining Room at the Mount: Edith Wharton's Retreat and Laboratory



Wharton and Codman worked together on a number of projects for clients, and in 1902 Wharton designed and decorated her own country home, The Mount in Lennox, Massachusetts ( (Codman had very little involvement in the project and there was some tension in their friendship and working relationship at this point; the cause may have been directly related to this project or something prior). Though The Mount  is technically a 20th-century house, it is important to study in the context of the 19th-century because its represents the late 19th-century ideals  Wharton set forth in her writing. Scott Marshall and John G. Waite, the authors of The Mount, Home of Edith Wharton describe the house as a lab for her ideas. In creating The Mount, Wharton was inspired by Belton House, a 17th-century English country house in the Palladian Manner and by neo-classical Italian and French models. Born to a wealthy old New York family in 1862, Wharton was well traveled. She visited France, Germany, Italy and Spain for the first time as a young child and was knowledgeable of all the canonical works of art and architecture in Europe. The Mount is also interesting to study because Edith Wharton was a remarkable woman for her time. Few women at this time had such autonomy in designing and building their own home. Though she was merely self-trained, Wharton had the talent and skill to design a house, vast gardens and an interior. (She did consult with a professional architect on some structural matters.) She was highly unusual for her time in that she was a prolific and successful writer able to support herself financially. She was the first woman to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921. Wharton, formerly Edith Newbold Jones, had married Edward "Teddy" R. Wharton in 1885, but the marriage was unhappy and ended in divorce in 1913. Teddy seems to have had little input or control over the plans for The Mount. Edith and Teddy lived at The Mount for a portion of each year for the 10 years they owned The Mount. They sold the house shortly after their divorce.

(I will not be able to discuss the furnishing of the dining room of The Mount in depth until I make a research visit to the house and archives) The dining room at The Mount would have been used primarily for entertaining guests. The Mount was not a family home, Edith and Teddy Wharton had no children, though Edith often made loving references to her small dogs that were like children to her. They had free reign of the house, with comfortable  beds in the library and other rooms. It seems likely that they would have joined their mistress in the dining room. Wharton clearly did have fond memories of family in mind when she was designing the house; she named it after her great grandfather's home. She had several close friends, including the author Henry James. The dining room would have more often been used for intimate dinners with other intellectuals rather than large parties. Views of the gardens would have been prominent in the dining room. Wharton loved gardens and was an excellent garden designer; she designed acres of elaborate plantings at the same time she designed and built The Mount. As she created The Mount she would have been imagining what plants and trees would be in bloom in each month that she occupied the house and what the view would look like from the dining room. She would certainly have considered how the colors in the garden would compliment the colors in the dining room. The Mount was a country retreat and a sanctuary for Edith. She called it her "first real home." The Mount is currently open to the public and undergoing  careful restoration to return it to a state closest to Wharton's original intentions. Current photographs available through The Mount do not provide adequate information about the decor and furnishings, infact, according to the photographs, the house seems to have been furnished with inappropriate contemporary pieces. According to an unpublished talk presented at the anual Salve Regina Decorative Arts Symposium in Newport Rhode Island in 2005, there is evidence at The Mount that Wharton sometimes deviated from her own decorating advice.

"The Servant Problem" and Solutions in the Dining Room

Even rather modest 19th-century dining rooms were designed for a lifestyle that required servants. A wealthy household might have over 30 servants if they entertained often. Like the many rooms of the home -- each with their distinct purpose -- utensil similarly multiplied until there were a great number of specialty pieces for eating specific foods such as berries, asparagus, seafood, asparagus and tomatoes. The increased number of pieces of silver flatware at the dinner table  required many hours of polishing and additional time for inventorying, and packing for shipping to and from the city residence to the country

International Expositions: Bringing the Worlds Fair Home to the Dining Room

Americans became fascinated by world's fairs with the very first world's fair, the Crystal Palace held in London in 1851. A group of New Yorkers who had seen it organized a corporation to hold the next worlds fair in New York in 1853. New York built its own crystal palace and proudly showcased the high level of culture and technology America had developed in less than a century. The advent of international expositions and worlds fairs had a powerful influence upon Americans. International expositions primary role was to entertain visitors. Collectively experiencing that which was new and exciting in the world had great appeal. International expositions always had a commercial agenda too. International expositions show cased advances in technology and these advances in technology changed the structure, lighting, and the decoration of the American dining room. Innovative marketing techniques made it possible for the growing middle class to become more active consumers of style and culture. Silver flatware and hollowware -- traditional accessories in upper class dining rooms since the Colonial period were particularly affected by changes in production, marketing and consumption during the 19th-century. Charles Venable discusses this phenomenon in his catalogue Silver in America (1995).

The Centennial  exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia marked the first appearance of "Turkish Carpets" (meaning rugs made in Asia) that covered only a portion of the floor, leaving a wide strip of polished wood visible around the edges. This look started a fashion for replacing softwood floors with hardwood. Those who wished to economize used hardwood only around the edge of the floor. Until this change in fashion in the 1880s, even the floors of the wealthy were made of wide, softwood boards completely covered with carpet.

Chateau-sur-Mer: Master of the Hunt

The dining room at Chateau-sur-Mer in Newport, Rhode Island is an example of a high Victorian Dining Room. The room is very masculine in character; dark ornately carved woods and a hunting theme dominate the decoration. Chateau-sur-Mer was built by Seth Bradford, a Rhode Island contractor, for William Shepherd Whetmore in 1852. Built of Fall River Granite, the original house was Italianate in style. At the time it was built, Chateau-sur-Mer was unusual because most of the summer cottages were wood. Chateau-sur-Mer, from its earliest days represents the peak of High Victorian entertaining. Some of the lavish parties that William Whetmore hosted at Chateau-sur-Mer are well recorded. In 1857 he hosted a fetem champetre with over 3,000 guests in honor of his friend George Peabody of London. The guests dined and danced in a series of tents on the lawn, placed among the estates exotic trees and plants Whetmore imported and cultivated. The New York Times documented the event and gave detailed attention to the dinner, the creation of George Downing, a famed African American chef who worked in Newport. The menu included game birds: woodcocks, plovers, and snipes; seafood: fried and pickled oysters, lobster and crab; various pates, and galantines of turkey, ham, and tongue; and for dessert: ice creams, meringues, puddings, confections molded in the shape of George Washington and Lafayette, and dark Hamburg grapes from the Whetmore grapery.

Richard Morris Hunt was chosen for a major remodeling campaign after William Whetmore died and the house passed to his only son George Peabody Whetmore. This was Hunt's first commission for a stone house. The first phase of remodeling included a high-ceilinged dining room in the northeast wing. The carved paneling for the dining room was created in Florence by Luigi Frullini. The sculptural walnut overmantel depicts Bacchus reveling with putti. On each side of the overmantel carved sirens sit poised to pour libations from the tall, ornate urns they each hold with one clawed hand. Ceramic tiles on the mantel depict two figures in Renaissance costume on horseback hunting deer in a landscape. Another figure on foot urges on a pack of dogs. The vibrant colors and dramatic poses -- horses galloping and a stag leaping -- make the tiles a focal point of the room. The iconography of this functional and decorative  element of the room asserted George Whetmore's role as a provider of a blessed and bountiful feast and suggest he is privilege to aristocratic pastimes -- like hunting.

The decor of Chateau-sur-Mer has a more masculine character than some High Victorian homes because it was dominated by the presence of William Whetmore and then Geroge Whetmore for many years. High Victorian homes where women were more influential were sometimes less masculine in character. All the rooms of the house remained decorated in the Eastlake style that Hunt favored until shortly before George Whetmore's death when his wife persuaded him to have his cousin, Ogden Codman Jr. redecorate the southwest parlor. Codman decorated the room in the Louis XV style with white paneled walls and scroll, shell and foliage plaster details around the mantel, doors and windows. Not until after George Whetmore's death in 1921, when the house passed to his daughters, Edith and Maude, did other rooms become more feminine in decor; however they did not change the decor of the dining room. 

 Beginning in the 18th-century, the dining room took on a masculine tenor. This started because, customarily, men and women would dining together in the dining room, but after dinner the women would withdraw to the drawing room while the men would remain in the dining room having after dinner drinks and tobacco. The dining room's masculine qualities were often expressed by the objects that inhabited it; fine art, furniture, china and silver, but they were also expressed by the rituals that took place there. Kenneth Ames fascinating and provocative book Death in the Dining Room, in the eponymous chapter, focuses on the symbolic and cultural significance of the sideboard;  however there are many objects typically found in 19th-cenury dining room that  worth studying in relation to gender. Ames states that the sideboard became the most important piece of furniture in the dining room because it became a great source of iconography and display. The Fourdinois sideboard, exhibited in 1851 at the Great Exhibition of London set a precedent that lasted at least three decades and inspired craftsmen throughout Europe and America. The Fourdinois sideboard, its whereabouts now are unknown, established the sideboard and the dining room as a shrine to man's dominion over nature. Unlike their plainer 18th-century ancestors, 19th-century sideboards came to have little room to store or display china, silver or glass; their primary function was to display themselves. There are several examples of American sideboards that Americanized the established iconography; besides trophies of the hunt, hunting dogs, and fruit, they have American eagles perched at the top and an example in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art has male Native American figures carved in high relief at the sides, above a marble counter top. While these figures have been described as hunters, they also represent white male domination of the Native American population.   

    In most homes the dinner was prepared and served by the women of the household or female servants, but furniture, china, silver and fine art asserted that the man of the house was the provider of the feast. Many new types of furniture, flatware and china offered opportunities for the dining room to display its status as a male room of the home. Images of dead game, fruits and vegetables were carved on furniture, displayed in paintings and prints on the walls, and adorned china and silver. The iconography made reference to hunting, fishing, the frontier and even commerce. Animals and fish could be depicted alive or as trophies of the hunt. Fine art was an important part of the dining room decor in affluent and modest homes. Oil paintings of dead game and cornucopias of fruit were popular choices for the dining room in wealthier homes. Prints were accessible to many of those who could not afford oil paintings. Currier and Ives prints were popular decorations for the home; they depicted a wide range of subjects suitable for the dining room including trout fishing and still lifes of fruit.   

Gender roles in the dining room became more ritualized during the late 19th-century, as one finds in the novels The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells and The Age of Innocents by Edith Wharton. In The Rise of Silas Lapham the subject of the pivotal chapter is a dinner party. Silas Lapham, the main character, a successful and respectable business owner, husband and father fails in his attempts  to impress and fit in with high society. He struggles to choose the proper attire for the dinner party and despite his best efforts arrives inappropriately dress, wearing the wrong gloves. An awkward situation arises when the guests are to enter the dining room; Silas is unaware that he is expected to escort the hostess to her seat at the dinner table. Silas's greatest faux pas is his failure to provide interesting after dinner conversation. Unlike his hosts and the other guests, he is unaccustomed to drinking alcohol with dinner and he becomes intoxicated. When the men and women separate after dinner for drinks and conversation Silas rambles on in a drunken state and eventually dozes off. Howells fictional account of the dinner party serves to illustrate the complexity of actual social rituals at the end of the 19th-century. Despite being wealthier than his hosts, high society was too difficult for Silas Lapham, the self-made millionaire to navigate. Its rituals of dress, etiquette and even cuisine were esoteric and treacherous to uninitiated.

By the end of the 19th-century the dining room was on its way to becoming a more gender neutral space in the home. Women had more control of the furnishings in their dining room than ever before. In the past, he bridegroom's family often bought the china for the newlywed couple, but by the end of the 19th-century this practice was in decline. Retailers began marketing aggressively to brides. Marshal Fields in Chicago was the first retailer to have a bridal registry and other stores soon followed. Marshal Fields devoted an entire floor to household goods; china, silver, glass and linens, for the bride. Retailers later began marketing to girls as young as fourteen, who were dreaming of and preparing to become brides.

The de-masculininzing of the American dining room coincided with the increasing status of women in American society. Increasing numbers of women were pursuing higher education, fighting for the right to vote, seeking divorces and finding ways to get around legal restrictions. Laws had restricted married women from some of the basics activities essential to build and decorate a house; for example: making legal contracts to buy land or hire an architect and buying materials on credit from a store.  Frank Lloyd Wright's first prairie style house, the Robie House in Chicago was designed and built in 1909 with an open floor plan -- one that integrated the masculine and feminine spaces within the home ( Wright designed all the furnishings of the house and some of the most innovative are in the dining room. The architectural elements and decor of the dining room echo the elongated rectangular forms of the house itself. the dining room chairs have extremely tall straight backs with a series of narrow vertical slats that extend from the floor to the top rail. They have no armrests and the rectangular seats are only slightly padded. When pulled close to the table, when dining, the chairs create a private space within the house.   


7.) In The Age of Innocence, Wharton vividly describes the dining rooms and customs of wealthy New Yorkers and Martin Scorcese's film has been praised by critics for its meticulous research and attention to detail, and its faithfulness to the novel. In The Rise of Silas Lapham, Howells deals with the building of a grand house; a dinner party contains the pivotal action of the novel. (As far as specific novels by James and Twain, this will require more consideration).

8.) Dining and entertaining guests outside the home was rare until the late 19th-century. One typically ate outside the home only when traveling. Inns, taverns and hotels catered to travelers and often such places were neither pleasant nor attractive places to dine. Delmonicos, considered the first restaurant in New York City, figures prominently in 19th-century discussions of restaurant dining. It was George C. Boldt, the proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel that first made it fashionable and acceptable to take guests out to dinner. The American ambivalence to the experience of dining outside the home is expressed in many late 19th and 20th-century paintings. Despite the level of refinement that could readily be found in restaurants, many images emphasize loneliness, isolation, immorality and a general lack of comfort as part of the dining experience. William Glacken's Chez Moquin and John Sloane's The Ratskeller are examples of the seedy images Ash Can School painters chose to portray. Edward Hopper's iconic painting of a diner titled Nighthawks (1942) depicts three people psychologically isolated from one another. The harsh lighting and austere interior and street added to the uncomfortable atmosphere. The painting Lunch (1964) by George Tucker shows the midday meal reduced to the most simplistic and antisocial acts.

The 19th-century was truly the heyday of the dining room in America. The concept of the dining room --its function and appearance -- had become quite homogenous in American culture.  Of course the majority of Americans had never dined in a dining room like the state dining room at The Breakers, nor could they afford a dining room decorated by Louis Tiffany and Associated Artists like the one in the Mark Twain House, but many Americans knew what these dining rooms looked like. Through advertisements, department stores, worlds fairs, popular decorating guides and literature Americans could aspire to have a room of their home devoted dining. Depending upon a person's means, there were virtually limitless decorating options; furniture, silver, china and linens to buy -- all created for the specifically for the dining room. Through thier decorating choices and the rituals they enacted in the dining room they defined their role in society. At the end of the 19th-century the dining room and all it meant seemed a secure institution in American culture. After a century of flowering into one of the most artistic and complex rooms of the home few Americans would have foreseen the changes ahead in the first decade of the 20th-century.



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great work, evelyn!

Hi Evelyn:  Your chapter was fascinating and well written!  I was very interested in your discussion of the masculinization and feminization of dining rooms and their relationship to shifting gender roles during that particular time period.  I am also very interested in learning more about your "fieldwork" - your visits to these homes, what you noted, what you did not note, what you did, who you spoke with, etc,.  The only suggestion that I have is regarding the numbering in the text of the chapter.  From a reader's perspective, I think that the numbering helped organize chapter yet at the same time I also think that at certain points the numbering broke it up too much and it interrupted the flow of your writing.  Well done, Evelyn!  What a fascinating topic to study!

Cleveland's Industrialists' Bouquets


I attended an openhouse at one of the old mansions on Euclid or Carnegie and learned that the interior designs - colors of wallpaper, rugs, furniture style etc, were known of many other long demolished mansions because the "day book" of a woman's flower arrangement business had been found.   In the book were detailed descriptions of all her clients' interiors and floral preferences so that bouquets could be delivered to the varied customers and coordinate with the home's interior and in a manner satisfactory to her clients. 

Pretty cool way to Sherlock Holmes the long absent rooms' appearances!

Beautiful work by Evelyn Keifer....some REALNEO delights

These photos are absolutely amazing.... I love this and will revisit to review in whole.

Oglebay Park in West Virginia is an exceptional visit for one tank trip travelers from Cleveland....

Always Appreciative, "ANGELnWard14"