American Period Rooms

Recreations of historical rooms offer a glimpse into the lives of five American families.


Fact #1: The Connecticut Room

Brrr . . . it's cold outside. You'd better come in and warm up by the fire.

Enter this room and step back in time, to colonial New England. Part of the room came from a farmhouse near the country town of Foxon, Connecticut. In colonial days, houses were generally much smaller than those we see today. Although the Foxon farmhouse was two stories high, it contained only four rooms: the parlor and the kitchen, on the first floor; and two rooms on the second floor, used as bedrooms or storerooms.

This was the parlor, or best room, where guests and family members gathered to socialize. It was also the master bedroom. In small houses, rooms often served more than one purpose. Although you can't see it in the picture, there is a bed in the corner for the adults to sleep in. (Beds were among a family's most valuable possessions.) In the cold winter months, the children also slept in the parlor, to keep warm.

Connecticut period room image

The green painted wall, an original part of the farmhouse, draws our attention to the parlor's most important feature: the fireplace. As a source of heat and light, the fireplace was vital to the family's survival. The room's low ceiling helped conserve heat during bitter winter nights. The windows let in daylight, and in the evening hours candles burned in the wrought-iron candlesticks.

Although the furniture here is not from the original farmhouse parlor, it gives you a good idea of how that room might have looked. When not in use, the sparse furnishings were pushed out of the way. As you can probably guess, these chairs, with their stiff backs and woolen seat cushions, aren't nearly as comfortable as the chairs people relax in today. The table placed between them was used for serving tea, a custom popular in England, which the colonists adopted. On top of the tea table sits a small wooden Bible box, for safe keeping of the family's treasured Bible and other important documents." "This room came from Foxon, Connecticut.

This wall was once part of the original farmhouse. From this viewpoint you can see the fireplace that was so essential to the family that lived here.

This portrait of Abigail Gowen hangs above the chest in the room. Although Abigail didn’t live in this house, the portrait gives us a good idea about how a young girl in colonial times dressed.


Fact #2: The Charleston Drawing Room

Come in and have a cup of tea.

This room was once a part of a house owned by Colonel John Stuart of Charleston, South Carolina. Like many mansions in 18th-century Charleston, it was built in the style of a London townhouse—one room wide and several stories high. Because Charleston has mild winters and hot summers, the house had a balcony bordering one side to let the cool ocean breezes in. High ceilings and large windows also helped keep the house cool.

The drawing room, located on the second floor, was used for lavish entertaining and leisure pastimes. The various objects in the room give us a good idea of what went on there. Small tea tables, set with a porcelain tea service, are ready for teatime. On a card table, a chessboard is set up for a game. Near the card table stands a harp. With a little imagination, you can envision people using these objects: elegantly dressed women sipping tea, two men playing a friendly game of chess, a young woman practicing the harp.

Charleston period room image

As you look around the room, it is pretty clear that Colonel Stuart was a wealthy man. Just about everything is ornately decorated—the fireplace mantel, the door frames, the carved wood and upholstered furniture, the oriental rug, the chandelier. Like many rich merchants and planters, Stuart wanted his home to reflect his wealth and social status. The furnishings also show Stuart’s strong ties with England. Much of his furniture was imported from England or designed in popular English styles.

## Fact #2 caption/s

This room was once part of a house in Charleston, South Carolina.

Tea parties were popular social gatherings during colonial times.

Some objects in the room, like this porcelain vase on the mantel, came from China. These items would have been imported to the colonies through England.


Fact #3: The MacFarlane Memorial Room

Come in and take a look around.

Unlike the museum's other period rooms, the MacFarlane room never existed in anybody's home. It was created around hand-painted Chinese wallpaper bought in New York by Mable H. MacFarlane.

The room is set up like a wealthy New England merchant's formal parlor of around 1800. The woodwork was copied from a Boston house built in 1796, which still stands today. As in the Charleston drawing room, the architecture and furnishings follow English styles of the time. However, Americans were also creating their own furniture designs, such as the sewing table a new form of furniture popular in many American parlors and drawing rooms.

In Europe, people were fascinated with exotic places, particularly China. Among the wealthy, imported Chinese wallpaper was all the rage. Each wallpaper was a unique work of art made up of hand-painted scenes, like a giant picture book. The scenes might portray nature, or animals, or everyday life.

This wallpaper shows a family festival. As you move around the room, you'll see boys flying kites, parents buying souvenirs for their children, musicians and dancers performing for the crowd, and families resting on the grass as they watch an acrobat routine. And everywhere, the people are carrying fancy paper lanterns.

MacFarlane Room Wallpaper and Fireplace

Fact #3 caption/s

This room resembles one that might have existed in Boston, Massachusetts.

By this time, sofas were very popular in parlor rooms. In front of the sofa is the sewing or “working” table.

In this scene, a man buys an item for his son from a local merchant.


Fact #4: The Duluth Living Room

Come in and experience a little culture.

This living room was once part of the home of William and Mina Merrill Prindle, in Duluth, Minnesota. The Prindles were an important couple in Duluth. William Prindle was a real estate developer who worked hard to draw people to Duluth, while Mina Prindle helped bring music and the arts to the town. When Mrs. Prindle hired the well-known interior designer John Scott Bradstreet in 1904 to decorate their new home, she wanted to show others that Duluth was a civilized, cultured place to live.

Bradstreet, who lived in Minneapolis, often traveled to Japan. On one trip, he had learned about a technique called jin-di-sugi, in which cypress wood is buried for many years and then dug up. The rot and decay created interesting patterns. Bradstreet discovered a way to produce the same effect much faster, using chemicals. This treated wood became his trademark, and he used it for all the paneling and wood furniture in the Prindles living room.

Other signs of Bradstreets interest in Japanese design appear throughout the room. As in Japanese art, many of the decorative patterns were inspired by nature. The table near the fireplace, called the lotus table, is carved to resemble a water lily popular in Asian art. Many of the chairs and tables have carved designs of flowers and imaginary creatures. Above the bench by the table hangs a picture of a Japanese woman. And though not shown in the picture, a Japanese birdcage adds to the room's exotic look.

Bradstreet Duluth Living Room

Fact #4 caption/s

This room came from a house in Duluth, Minnesota.

Lotus Table

The top of the Lotus Table represents the blossoms of the plant. The pedestal and table base are formed to look like the stem and roots.

Card Table

This furniture was also made with the jin-di-sugi method. If you zoom in close, you can see different flower and animal designs carved into the wood.


Fact #5: The Frank Lloyd Wright Hallway

Come in, relax, and enjoy a view of the lake.

Imagine sitting here on a summer day. The sunshine warms you through the open windows. The water sparkles. A cool breeze glides past your face. This is truly an enjoyable place to be.

In Minnesota, many people spend some time in the summer relaxing by a lake. This hallway was part of a house on Lake Minnetonka that was the summer retreat of Frank and Mary Little. The architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, had already designed a home for the Littles in Illinois. When they moved to Minnesota in 1908, they knew they wanted him to design another.

This hallway, which led to a bedroom, was a private place to enjoy a view of the lake through the long span of windows. Wright originally designed windows with elaborate patterns of colored glass. But Mr. Little thought windows like that would block too much of the wonderful view. As a compromise, Wright left large spaces of clear glass in the center of many windows and framed them with intricate borders and geometric patterns. The Littles thought this design really highlighted the lake view, much as a frame sets off a beautiful painting.

FLW hallway image

After Mr. Little died, Mrs. Little gave the house to their daughter, Eleanor. Over time, the house became a burden for the family. It was large and expensive to maintain. And as Wright's fame spread, many uninvited guests tried to catch a glimpse of the Littles’ house. Eventually, Eleanor decided to sell it. At first she couldn't find a buyer and feared the house would have to be torn down. Luckily, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York came to the rescue, buying the house and carefully dismantling it. The spacious living and music room was installed in the Metropolitan, and other rooms were sold to other institutions, including The Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Fact #5 caption/s

This hallway was part of a house in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

This how the hallway looked in the original house.

Up close, you can see the different patterns on the windows.


Related Activities


Your Favorite Room

If you could have one of these rooms in your own home, which would you pick? What do you like about the room? Write a paragraph explaining your selection.

Comfortable Living

The climate of a region affects the design of a house. For example, in the Charleston Drawing Room, the very large windows allow cool breezes to enter the room on hot summer days. Look around your house and make a list of architectural features that reflect your region's climate.

Rooms Reveal

Imagine that one of the rooms in your house will be made into a period room in a museum. Which room would you choose? Why? What does the layout of the room and the objects in it tell us about you and your family? What does it reveal about the environment you live in? Sketch the room and then write some labels to identify important features.

A Good Fit

Use the Art Collector tool to view more furniture in the museum’s collection. Look at each furniture item closely, examining its style and design. Pick your favorite item and based on the style, determine which period room it would fit well in. Draw a sketch of the period room, adding the new furniture item. Click here to start. (Click here to learn more about Art Collector.)

At the Museum:

The Period Rooms are always on view at The Minneapolis Institute of Art. Visit the museum to see the real thing! The rooms are even decorated for the holidays between late November and January every year."

Five Facts

Reading time: 8 minutes

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