In January 1929 Mabel and Leslie Cheek began the new year by receiving the first of many floor plans from their recently appointed architect, Bryant Fleming of Ithaca, New York. The drawings provided by Fleming outlined a four-story home whose impressive façade was to reflect the premiere design choice of eighteenth-century English aristocrats. The interior was to replicate and follow the formal stylistic trends of the era.
Furnishings and decoration were carefully selected in keeping with English formality yet introduced contemporary conveniences that modernized the historically inspired home. Cheekwood has collected the original receipts for the grand furnishings that decorated the mansion years ago—furnishings that are said to have filled four freight cars—traveling from the estates of English royalty to the Cheek family residence in Middle Tennessee.
In early January 2016 Cheekwood made a historically inspired resolution: to revive and restore a group of interior spaces to reflect the original design and environment created by the Cheeks in the 1930s. To facilitate this important initiative, the Cheekwood Museum of Art
was closed from January 3, 2016, through June 16, 2017. Recently reopened to the public, the mansion’s historic restoration and the sharing of these spaces debuts with the DressingDownton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times exhibit, including 36 award-winning official period costumes worn in the PBS-TV series Downton Abbey, on view through September 10.
Cheekwood functioned as the Cheek family residence until 1960 when it was opened to the public as a 55-acre botanical garden with 90,000 square feet of buildings comprised of an historic residence and art museum. The historic restoration has unveiled previously shrouded areas of the home and restored rooms in the lower level of the mansion to their original look in the 1930s. Such a major project allows Cheekwood to realize its full potential as one of the finest remaining examples of an American Country Place Era estate in the United States.
The project includes original paint matching, molding replication, drapery authentication, the original working dumbwaiter system, and more. Forty percent of the objects are original to the home. Other items are near-duplicates of the original furnishings or commissioned as identical pieces.
First floor and ground floor rooms that were restored include the drawing room, library, dining room, loggia, morning room, recreation room, and bedroom suite. The upper level art galleries will continue to serve as art exhibition space. Each interpretation considered the interior-exterior relationship of Fleming’s design, incorporating the rooms’ intended landscape views as well as furnishings that would have been purchased and placed in each room by the Cheeks.
The restoration of Cheekwood’s historic rooms and gardens and the endowment for their care and maintenance have been made possible with generous support from the Andrea Waitt Carlton Family Foundation, the Bovender Family, Mr. and Mrs. William F. Andrews Jr., and the Founding Members of The 1929 Club.
Photographs provided by Millie Fullmer, director and curator of HART’s Visual Resources Center, who received the Lazenby Library Fellowship, a part-time, six-month fellowship that began in January 2016 as part of a historic initiative to reinstate Cheekwood as an American country era estate