A Great Victorian Cover-Up!

by Amy Curry, Executive Director
May 18, 2021

Acorn Hall’s front parlor still has its original cornices.

Augustus and Mary Crane had a definite aesthetic for Acorn Hall. They invested in decorative arts, like John Crossley & Sons carpets, mahogany furniture with silk-blended fabric, and draperies with 3 foot repeating patterns. Miles of gessoed gold trim to offset these style choices. Nowhere in Acorn Hall was this gessoed trim more apparent than atop each window’s impressively large and ornate window cornice.

In the 19th century, window cornices served both form and function. Acorn Hall’s cornices were either painted solid gold, as seen throughout the first floor, or trimmed in gold, as seen on the second floor. When struck by the amber light of a glowing flame, the cornice’s gold trim added grandeur to a room, often accenting the shimmering gold print on the wallpaper. Functionally, the cornices also had a critical job… hide the curtain hardware! That included brackets, rods, and rings for the lace panels and drapes. After all, one of the major themes of the 19th century was effortless elegance. How one achieved that effect was of no concern!

Music room cornice in the process of being cleaned to begin restoration.

While stunning in 1860, by 2020, the Hall’s window cornices were only performing one part of their job, if that. Several of the cornices had long been removed, and, without the Victorian disdain for showing a curtain rod, not replaced. Victims of time and gravity, those remaining were tired, their flocked paper missing or extremely faded, their gessoed gold trim broken or missing.

Installation of the restored music room cornice.

Located in the carriage house was an original, 12-foot gessoed bay window cornice, definitely worse for wear. A skilled volunteer accepted the challenge to restore and return it to its proper location in the music room. Then, using that original cornice as a pattern, another bay window cornice was made for the dining room, with a single window cornice to match. On the second floor, six original cornices were restored with custom-made gold trim to match the original. The effect was incredible and immediate. Instantly, the rooms seemed more luxurious, the ceilings seemed higher, and the plaster moldings more grand and pronounced.

Seeing it, you can’t help but think… maybe our ancestors were on to something…