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posted: 6/7/2014 12:01 AM

Go back in history to define drawing room

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  • Something to write home about: an elegant "room of her own," designed to inspire any woman author. Photo: Timothy and Associates Interior Design (END CAPTION)

    Something to write home about: an elegant "room of her own," designed to inspire any woman author. Photo: Timothy and Associates Interior Design (END CAPTION)

By Rose Bennet Gilbert

Q. We just toured a designer show house, and I have a question: What is a "drawing room"? This one was done up like an elegant living room, no arts and crafts materials at all. Why "drawing" room?

A. LOL, as they say online. You've just discovered a time warp, what happens when life itself changes but the words for it live on in everyday language. Think of "icebox" for the now-electric refrigerator; "glove compartment" for where you keep your GPS; "the hoover," as the English still call all vacuum cleaners (it's also a verb, as in, to "hoover" the hall rug).

Once upon other more formal times, there was a space just off the entrance of grander homes in which the maid or butler invited guests to "withdraw" and wait till the mistress or master of the house could receive them. Hence, the "withdrawing room."

In the passage of time and the evolution of customs, it morphed into the "drawing" room ... then disappeared, at least, for all practical purposes. Today, even the living room is endangered, threatened to near extinction by the burgeoning great room. Nowadays family members and good-friend guests alike are more apt to come in through the back door, casually eschewing the front.

Drawing rooms live on, however, in period English dramas and in present-day designer show houses, like the one you just toured. Could it be we both visited Blairsden, New Jersey, the site of this year's Mansion in May fundraiser for the Morristown (New Jersey) Medical Center?

In that case, you encountered not just one but three "drawing rooms": a large, grand formal room (made livable by designer Barbara Ostrom), a humongous (30-by-60-foot) grand salon in formal, contemporary black and white (by designer James Rixner), and the almost-cozy room we show here by designer Timothy G. Miller (

Miller thinks the room, located just inside the entry and paired with a guest bath, may have originally been intended as a place where women guests could freshen up after traveling the long, dusty roads to Blairsden. The majestic country estate, said to be one of the finest examples of Beaux-Arts architecture in the U.S., was built in the Somerset Hills just after the turn of the 20th century for the fabulously wealthy C. Ledyard Blair and his wife.

But it was not she who inspired the Miller team, it was Virginia Woolf, the English writer/feminist who so famously suggested that " ... a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write." Miller gave that imaginary woman an exquisite place to withdraw from the world, with an elegant writing desk, comfy furniture and ceiling painted with fluffy clouds. They float against a sky of "Radiant Orchid," the Pantone Color of the Year 2014, which instantly fast-forwards the early-20th-century space into the 21st.

© 2014

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