East Front & Piazza
The east front of the Mansion looks out over the Potomac River to the far Maryland shore. The two-story piazza is the Mansion’s most distinctive architectural feature. Extending the full length of the back of the house, it also has a practical function - catching the river breezes on a hot and humid Virginia day. The Washingtons treated the piazza as an outdoor room, serving afternoon tea here to visitors and family members seated in simple Windsor chairs.
Washington called this room - the last addition to the Mansion and the grandest space in the house - his “New Room”. With its two-story-high ceiling, detailed architectural ornament, and stylish furnishings, the New Room was intended to emphasize unpretentious beauty and fine craftsmanship, qualities he believed communicated the new nation’s values. Like the grand “salons” of fashionable 18th-century English manor homes, this room was meant to serve several functions. As a receiving area for visitors, its high ceiling, large volume, and symmetrical decoration made the space truly impressive as the room alone was larger than most houses in colonial Virginia.
Before the New Room was complete, Washington considered the west parlor to be “the best place in my House.” This elegant room was a public space where visitors enjoyed the Washington family’s company. Tea and coffee were customarily served here during the winter and on rainy days, and the household gathered here in the evenings to read, discuss the latest political news, and play games. In 1787 changes were made to update the room, including the application of fashionable and expensive Prussian blue paint. The ceiling was also replaced and decorated in the neoclassical style.
When George Washington returned home from the presidency, he decided to convert what had been a first-floor bedchamber into a music and family room, thus allowing more space for informal entertaining. In this room you will find a harpsichord which was purchased by Washington in 1793 for his step-granddaughter Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis.
The central passage is the entryway into the Washingtons home, the place where visitors who pulled up on the drive in front of the house were greeted. Entertaining also occurred in the central passage, particularly during hot Virginia summers when the family gathered here to enjoy breezes from the open doorways. The elegant space, which runs the width of the house, provides magnificent views of the Potomac and the Maryland shoreline to the east and of the pastoral bowling green, fields, and woods beyond to the west.
This bedchamber accommodated some of the many visitors who stopped at Mount Vernon before, and especially after, George Washington’s presidency. He once described the house as a “well restored tavern” because “scarcely any strangers who are going from north to south, or from south to north do not spend a day or two at it.”
One of the most striking spaces in the Mansion, the dining room is part of the original house, built in 1735. Over the years, the room underwent a series of renovations. While Washington was away with the Continental Army in 1775, it was updated under the supervision of his cousin Lund Washington. In 1785 striking verdigris-green paint was added. Washington believed the color to be “grateful to the eye” and less likely than other colors to fade; an overcoat of glaze further intensified the color.
After George Washington’s return to Mount Vernon in 1783 at the end of the Revolutionary War, the study became his retreat from ever-present family and visitors. Reportedly, no one was allowed in this room without his invitation. From here, he directed the management of his estate, receiving reports from overseers, making daily diary entries, and posting his accounts. The study was also where Washington bathed, dressed, and kept his clothes. Each morning, he rose between 4 and 5 a.m. and went to the study, using the private staircase that led down from the bedchamber.
This room was originally part of a larger room called the “White Room” on Lawrence Washington’s 1753 probate inventory. George Washington’s 1757 enlargement of the house gained enough space on the second floor to create two rooms out of the White Room, this room and the Lafayette Room. Washington utilized this room as a storage or lumber room, and its woodwork was originally painted with the grey paint frequently found in such utilitarian spaces during the 18th century. As a storage space, the room was unheated; the current fireplace was added during the construction of the New Room in 1776. After that point the room became a bed chamber and was painted with the blue color seen today.
This room is often referred to as the Lafayette Room because it is believed that the marquis stayed here while visiting the Washingtons. Lafayette was a young French nobleman who volunteered his services in America’s fight for freedom during the Revolutionary War. Like his beloved Washington, he served without pay as a general in the Continental Army, and the two maintained a strong bond.
Nelly Custis Room
This room was used by Martha Washington’s granddaughter Nelly Custis, who lived at Mount Vernon from early childhood. The room dates to the 1758-59 enlargement of the house, and much of the plaster and woodwork are original. As with other rooms in the Mansion, a more fashion paint color was added to the walls in the 1780s, and there is evidence that the room once had blue wallpaper.
The Yellow Room occupies the southeast corner of George Washington’s 1759 house and is slightly larger than the first floor bedchamber that is below it. Before the remolding of the 1750s, this space formed two rooms, one an unheated room tucked under the east slope of the roof, and one heated room called the “Yellow Room.” With the creation of the full second story, the new Yellow Room received a corner fireplace and a window in the east wall.
Located directly above the study in the private south wing was George and Martha Washington’s spacious bedroom. Designed according to Mrs. Washington’s suggestion that it be simple and functional, the room was also her sanctuary, where she planned her schedule and wrote letters to friends and family members. According to her grandson, she also spent an hour each day reading the Bible and praying. George Washington died of a severe throat infection in this room on December 14, 1799.