The Chancellor built this house as his country estate after the American Revolution. It was highly unusual, built in a H-shape, of which there are few comparables in the US from that time. It's hard for people (including me) to imagine what it looked like inside, and because of this I was excited when I recently located a floor-plan of the mansion, which appears to show the house much later in the 19th century.
I only wish I knew the source of this image! Nevertheless, I've decided on the date primarily because because the Chancellor's large orangerie was torn off the south side (at right) in the mid 19th century and replaced with a small "conservatory." Even this seemingly-sparse picture can be a huge help in trying to piece together what it was like to actually walk through the mansion.
For one, there's the orangerie itself. This was a spectacular feature of the house--something akin to a greenhouse--where the Chancellor grew citrus trees and other exotic plants. Although I can't be sure, I've always guessed that this unusual picture below shows the house during the removal of that structure. You can see curious damage to the stucco as though some sort of strapping has been removed. It also appears that the shutters may have been closed over the window to protect them as the work was going on:
crown glass. It limited the size of each pane to no bigger than the smooth part of the disc (the center was marred by a bullseye) that could be spun out flat, as seen at right. The large stretches of the Chancellor's glassed-in walls would then have been constructed of small panes and criss-crossed with wooden slats like house windows of the same time period. Nevertheless all that glass would have thoroughly impressed just anyone of the time period.
Of course, it could also be a garden trellis. It's tough to tell.
So what else can we learn from the floorplan?
For one, I can't help but note the centrally-located main staircase. Leading up from the front door, it would have presented 18th century visitors with a familiar view: the grand front hall. Upon entering the house, you would have been treated to a view straight through the house to the back courtyard and up a big staircase, much like at Clermont and other Georgian or Federal mansions.
What would have been more surprising to visitors however, would have been the broad gallery or receiving hall that stretched away to the right and left as you stepped in the front door.
It was 46 feet wide and 10 feet deep with huge west-facing windows that flanked the front door and would have glistened with afternoon sunlight. The towering ceilings were approximately 13 feet tall, and the sense of space this all gave you must have been duly impressive. Then of course you add in the large Gobelin tapestries that were said to line the walls in here. This was all after coming in through an impressive courtyard and heavily-ornamented front door (seen below after years of neglect). Quite simply, it's evident that the Chancellor wanted his guests floored when they entered his house.
Both front wings (listed in the 19th century floor plan as Dining Room and Library) include recessed cabinets to one side of the of the fireplace, likely with a door that created a symmetrical appearance. Symmetry in architecture was valued as part of the reinterpretation of Palladian works of the Renaissance. You can see a similar layout with two doors on either side of the fireplace in Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.
Of course, instead of plain paint on the walls, the Chancellor covered his walls with fancy French papers (according to a visitor's account), "the patterns being more beautiful, elegant, & lively, than what are manufactured in, & exported from England..." We don't know what these French wallpapers looked like precisely, but they were most likely brightly-colored with curvy, floral-based designs. The image at left is one that would not have been out of place.
Most vernacular homes of the time boasted few windows, often 12 panes of glass such as our neighbor "The Stone Jug" at right. The Chancellor's windows required 36 panes each! (The only draw-back to this being that the house was notoriously cold in the winter. As someone who sits in a river-facing office through the wintertime, I can tell you that the wind just rips right through historic windows here!)
Billiards was not uncommon in the homes of the very wealthy by this time, but still you have to admit that it's a nice addition.
Mount Vernon, and Montpelier. It just makes it all the sadder that it first declined so severely and then finally burned in 1909.
I suppose I will never have a chance to see the house in it's full glory, but at least by gleaning what details I can from the various documentary sources, I begin to get a sense of what an architectural masterpiece the Chancellor's home really was.
**Want to see inside? The only known interior photographs of Arryl House can be seen in this blog entry.