Patricia Gaye Tapp, of the blog Little Augury, has written this month’s House of Details. Patricia regularly examines design history for the “authentic & what will endure.” We share her purpose with our blog, so it is only natural that she contribute here. A native of North Carolina, she selected a local landmark , Ayr Mount, for this guest post.
Ayr Mount, named for its first owner’s roots in Ayr Scotland, is a tranquil respite situated just miles from Chapel Hill in Hillsborough, North Carolina. My recent visit when the heat index was making me delirious soothed my senses and revived my drooping aesthetic.
Ayr Mount was inhabited exclusively by the Kirkland family from its completion in 1815, until its purchase by the famous trustee of old houses, Richard Jenrette, in 1985. Jenrette, a Raleigh, North Carolina native and author of several books about his personal history with historic houses, purchased Ayr Mount from the last living Kirkland descendant and restored it to pristine condition.
In several rooms at Ayr Mount, period Zuber panels cover the walls, this one (a detail), “Vues d’Amerique du Nord”, depicting Winnebago Indians dancing against a backdrop of Natural Bridge, Virginia, hangs in the Warming Room just off the Dining Room at Ayr Mount.
Ayr Mount is a treasure to behold and the Gods shine upon the verdant 265 acres set along the Eno River and what was once The Indian Trading Path.
Anyone that happens along the brick Federal-period house will leave feeling as if they wandered through the Kirkland’s open door while the family might have stepped out for a moment. An eerie calm pervades the house. Perhaps it is the portrait of William Kirkland hanging in the Dining Room over the mantle placed there almost 200 years ago, or the family’s Broadwood fortepiano in the West Parlor Music Room. Jenrette noted in his Adventures with Old Houses, “The house has a great feeling of antiquity and timelessness, almost lost in time and haunted by 170 years of occupancy by the Kirkland’s descendants, many of whom rest in an adjoining family cemetery.”
Photograph by John Mark Hall, the Dining Room at Ayr Mount with its original Kirkland table and William Kirkland’s portrait over the mantle.
Jenrette gave Ayr Mount to Classical American Homes Preservation Trust and North Carolina is the richer for it. Today the house is open for the weary wanderer to visit and to linger on the property’s grounds and along the paths known as Poet’s Walk.
William Kirkland’s Ayr Mount with its unique brick construction was one of the finest of its kind in the state when completed. Built on a tripartite plan, a central structure with connecting wings on the first floor and subsequent floors above the main floor, Ayr Mount is deceptively large. Its rooms’ gracious proportions- thirteen foot ceilings on the main floors and twelve foot ceilings on the second- create a subtle elegance- graceful in every way. Four foot wainscoting throughout the house is another of the many distinctive details at Ayr Mount.
Photograph by John Mark Hall, Ayr Mount Entry Hall. The large entry may have been used by the Kirkland family as a small ballroom. A grand second hall above mimics the space below
The Late Georgian interior woodwork present at Ayr Mount is a testimonial to William Kirkland’s desire to build the finest house possible- additionally, there is some unusual Gothic woodwork in the house. The perfect proportions and planning is enriched by the repetition of color details throughout the house. The wainscot, in its original color, is a rich dark chocolate and the trompe-l’oeil baseboards are a coal black. The striking floor is actually a floor cloth placed over the heart pine floors, though not authentic to the Kirkland’s Ayr Mount inventory, it is noted that a large floor covering was used in the room.
Detail of the Entry’s Floor Cloth
Detail of the molding in the Entry
Detail of the baseboard
Faux grained doors have been meticulously painted by artists to reflect the original plans of Kirkland’s design. This door is located on the third floor where paint original to the house remains.
The Music Room of Ayr Mount is graced by the Kirkland family’s fortepiano and a portrait and bust of Thomas Jefferson. The period swag and jabot window coverings are enhanced by taped wood blinds. The fortepiano was made by John Broadwood in 1797. The Gothic design of the moldings add another distinctive touch to the room, along with American period furnishings, a sofa by Duncan Phyfe and the exquisite palette of the room’s Aubusson carpet.
Photograph by John Mark Hall, Ayr Mount Music Room
Detail of the Jefferson bust poised in the Ayr Mount Music Room
Details of the Kirkland’s fortepiano in the Music Room
Detail of the Music Room’s Aubusson carpet
The largest room in the house is the Dining Room, measuring 24 feet by 28 feet; it reaffirms William Kirkland’s vision to set Ayr Mount apart and above other houses of the day.
Atop the table are several of the Kirkland family’s cut glass biscuit jars. Another beautiful feature of the room is the built in breakfront.
Detail of the Dining Room table
The Dining Room Breakfront
A settee in the Dining Room made by French born American cabinetmaker Charles-Honore Lannuier is covered in a rich blue, possibly Carolina Blue, the University of North Carolina being just minutes away from Ayr Mount.
The apparent charms of Ayr Mount are enhanced by the meticulous and painstaking restoration undertaken and executed by artisans with the same passion William Kirkland must have had when he envisioned this place of beauty. The house tells the Kirkland story-many of which are recounted in the book written by Jean Bradley Anderson, The Kirklands of Ayr Mount, and many no doubt held by the house in silent trust.
Spellbinding outside-the idyllic Ayr Mount, is suspended in time on a sultry day during my recent visit to the house.
Ayr Mount is now part of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. Donations can be made here to insure the preservation of this important home for future generations.