Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg expect to see history interpreters in period-appropriate attire, craftspeople demonstrating skills essential to the era, and residences that show how Colonial Americans lived. But on certain days this year, they can also see how nationally known designer Heather Chadduck Hillegas brought Williamsburg’s oldest house – the Nelson-Galt House – into the twenty-first century as a showhouse and her home away from home.
And H.J. Holtz & Son was a partner and sponsor of the project.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Designer in Residence program is a collaborative initiative established by WILLIAMSBURG, the licensing brand of Colonial Williamsburg. The effort launched in 2019, when the first Designer in Residence, Anthony Baratta, redecorated the eighteenth-century Palmer House. As the second Designer in Residence home, the Nelson-Galt House, parts of which date to 1695, opened its doors for tours in December 2022.
The Designer in Residence program was conceived with twin goals: to show visitors how an older home’s history can coexist with modern-day style, and to showcase the traditionally inspired decor – furniture, paint, and wallpaper – that the WILLIAMSBURG brand has created with business partners.
“How do you make tradition and today work together?” posits Liza Gusler, associate director for WILLIAMSBURG Licensing. “One of our challenges now is to show people that eighteenth-century design is still relevant; it can be inviting and comfortable for a family to live in today.”
Using its extensive archives, WILLIAMSBURG has partnered with Benjamin Moore, Schumacher, Paul Montgomery, and Adelphi Paper Hangings on proprietary paint colors, fabrics, and wallpaper. Inspiration comes from archaeological finds, rare books and prints depicting scenes of the time period, and historic buildings. A 1750s silk gown worn by Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, who married George Washington in 1759, inspired the new Dandridge Damask by Schumacher.
While much of the work on the interior of the Nelson-Galt house was handled by Colonial Williamsburg’s staff – “We have to follow stringent strictures with our preservation team about what we can do and what we can’t do,” Gusler says – H.J. Holtz & Son wallpaper craftspeople were hired to install all the wallpaper selected by Hillegas.
“It’s a compliment to Holtz’s reputation when I share that it was sort of a command from our facilities and maintenance vice president [that we hire Holtz],” Gusler says. “The team could not have been nicer; they were very professional.”
The team’s job wasn’t small.
In the living room, the team hung a WILLIAMSBURG Kensington Whitework mural by Paul Montgomery, which was inspired by a pair of late seventeenth-century embroidered curtains in Colonial Williamsburg’s collection. In the dining room, the team installed a panoramic Paul Montgomery mural, Regency Views, wrapping it around three walls with multiple interruptions caused by entryways and windows. A first-floor hallway and adjacent powder room feature a custom iteration of WILLIAMSBURG Jefferson Trellis by Adelphi Paper Hangings. Adelphi crafts papers in the eighteenth-century manner, using a separate block to print each color.
On the second floor of the house’s annex, the hallway and a bathroom sport a modern Kumano Jute covering in Putty from Schumacher. Upstairs in the original house, the blue-and-white twin bedroom showcases Lafayette Botanical, a new WILLIAMSBURG Shumacher chintz pattern, which covers the walls as well as headboards and bed frames. A nearby second-floor bathroom is papered in Front Waltz in Sage by Schumacher.
As the largest living history museum in the country, Colonial Williamsburg takes its mission of bringing history to life, Gusler says.
“We think the Nelson-Galt House is a good opportunity to showcase the WILLIAMSBURG brand and help people understand we are still relevant today,” Gusler says. “We are so thankful for our partners and sponsors, including H.J. Holtz & Son.”
To purchase tickets for upcoming tour dates in the Nelson-Galt House, visit https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/events/tour-designer-in-residence/. The sale of WILLIAMSBURG products supports Colonial Williamsburg’s educational and preservation mission.