Hooked on a Ceiling

by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
February 27, 2024

At the time of Acorn Hall’s construction and expansion in the mid-19th century, an element of interior décor was at the peak of its popularity among the upper middle class: ceiling medallions. Both fashionable and functional, these often ornate plaster features first loomed impressively over the principal rooms in affluent homes, adding to the grandeur of the chandeliers and other central light fixtures that only the well-to-do could afford. Like those found in the most stately homes, the largest and most elaborate medallions incorporated into the Hall’s interiors are in spaces where guests would be most likely to see and admire them.

Acorn Hall’s front hall light fixture is one of three originals in the home, now electrified.

A plaster medallion still graces Acorn Hall’s front parlor, along with a nearly identical medallion in the accompanying back parlor (top photo). Part of the original 1853 Foursquare and the most lavishly decorated room in the home, the medallion adds a final touch of elegance to the Rococo Revival rosewood suite of furniture, John Crossley & Sons carpet, gilded mirror, and marble fireplace. Smaller medallions found in both the vestibule and main hallway served to further illustrate to waiting guests the status of the home and family. When the Cranes added the dining room addition in 1860, which better allowed for entertaining, the Hall’s largest medallion was incorporated into the center of the room. In the decades that followed, mass-produced varieties became more available, increasing their affordability. 

Acorn Hall’s dining room ceiling medallion.

Not only a stylish marker of wealth, ceiling medallions were also sensible. As exemplified by Acorn Hall’s remaining original chandeliers, the Hall was illuminated by oil-burning light fixtures until 1935. Upon burning, the soot would quickly accumulate on the ceiling above, leaving damage. To avoid this, it is said that homeowners like the Cranes positioned the medallion directly over the light source, so that only it would be affected by staining while the rest of the ceiling was protected. As a result, the theory goes, they could easily repaint or replace the medallion, saving time and money, especially where painted or papered ceilings were involved.

Continuing to evolve with the advent of new materials, the ceiling medallion was found in homes through the mid-20th century. By this point, the 3rd generation to inhabit Acorn Hall, Alice and Augustus Crane Hone, electrified the residence. While they fortunately preserved the Hall’s medallions and chose new fixtures sympathetic to the original décor, the widespread use of electricity and changes in taste caused these decorative elements to fall out of fashion. However, in the examples that remain throughout the Hall, the modern individual need only look up to be transported back in time.

Did you enjoy this blog? MCHS is an independent nonprofit. Please consider supporting our mission at morriscountyhistory.org/donate or become a member at morriscountyhistory.org/get-involved/ to help us continue to preserve and promote Morris County history through programs, exhibits, and blogs like this.