Cheekwood Retrospective: Mansion Restoration
As Cheekwood celebrates its 60th Anniversary as a public institution, we reflect on the many changes to our estate and gardens. One significant transformation began in 2012, when Cheekwood embarked on a five-year process of preparing and planning for a historic restoration of the mansion’s interior. While approximately 40% of the furniture in the house is original to the Cheek family and stood in Cheekwood during the family’s time in the home, the remaining 60% is new to Cheekwood, including antiques and more recent replicas. Read on to learn more about the restoration process!
To guide the restoration, staff consulted and compiled a variety of historical, primary resources: oral histories with family members, friends of the Cheeks, former Cheekwood staff, and members of the community with ties to Cheekwood; itemized receipts saved from the family’s 1929 trip to England with Bryant Fleming; a 1932 household inventory list initiated by Leslie Sr. for insurance purposes included all structures, automobiles, furniture, china, linens, and decorative objects. Separated by room and detailing the color and texture choices of textiles and furniture arrangement, the list provided an understanding of how the Cheeks curated their space.
Photo documentation also informed restoration choices. Family scrapbooks passed down through generations include pictures of the Cheek family from the days at their home on West End to the lavish parties held on Cheekwood’s grounds in the 1930s. These books bring the family to life and illustrate how they made a grand house into a home. The September 1934 issue of Country Life Magazine featured a stunning seven-page spread on Cheekwood, including photos documenting the main rooms of the home. These photographs, the only known images of the mansion’s interior, show room arrangements, curtain and drapery design, height and placement of paintings, and other valuable visual clues that allowed the rooms to be restored to their former glory.
Color choices in fabrics, rugs, ceramics, and paint are critical in the attempt to recreate an historical space. With many of the photograph documents in black and white, Cheekwood staff consulted color experts and collaborated with renowned fabric companies to ensure accuracy. Curtains and drapery in the library, dining room, transverse hallway, and drawing room were updated with silk damasks in 18th century patterns, all produced by Scalamandré, a textile manufacturer in Italy. Some dyes were customized, like the rich red tones found in the drawing room. Custom dyed and designed passementerie, also handmade by Scalamandré, were updated for all draperies in the historic rooms as well.
The restored and refurnished mansion opened to the public on June 17, 2017. But the gathering of information related to Cheekwood will never cease. More recently, photographs of the Loggia and notes written about the space by Leslie Cheek Jr. were uncovered. After describing the steps he took to design the first set of doors for the space, he noted that the color scheme throughout the room was white, yellow and green, and that there was “much use of clear and mirrored glass to aid in the effect of coolness.” The lamps and rugs were bought at W. & J. Sloane, a store in New York City which catered to prominent spaces and families, including the White House and the Vanderbilts.
Last summer, extensive conservation efforts began in the loggia. The eighteenth-century terra cotta fountain was restored off-site while work was completed on the underlying plumbing system. The plaster walls were returned to their original color following patchwork and refinishing. Documents, photos, objects, and stories continue to reveal themselves and enrich our understanding about the family and their place in Nashville’s history.
Cheekwood History Activities
Download our activity sheets that celebrate Cheekwood’s history!
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.