The Jefferson Suite (Part II)


I shared my post "Flipping Jefferson's Desk" with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello to get their opinion on my theory. Their associate curator, Diane Ehrenpreis, was not convinced. She referred to "first hand accounts that Jefferson used the three pieces of furniture as we [Monticello] show." She described the use of casters as to how Jefferson could get his legs under the desk. She also claimed my arrangement of the suite (the term used to describe the 3 pieces) would not fit in the cabinet room.


I made a passionate rebuttal.

"The human body", I wrote in reply, "isn't designed to sit forward with the legs straight out. In order to use an ottoman, the body leans back in the chair so the legs can rest comfortably. However, this position is very unsuitable for writing on a desk." I invited Mr. Ehrenpreis to try writing a letter at the desk while her legs were on the ottoman. "You will see the position is very uncomfortable" I said with first-hand knowledge. The only comfortable way to use the ottoman is to lean back into the chair and this is not a comfortable writing position (see left images). I continued, "Another problem with the ottoman under the desk is that you can't swing your legs into position or cross your feet - which is what makes ottomans so comfortable and easy to use." Gaining momentum (or so I thought), I suggested, "...perhaps the claims about how Jefferson arranged his suite are based on assumption or poor recollection ." Regarding the suite fitting in the cabinet room if it were rearranged; well, I never tried rearranging the suite at Monticello, but it sure looks like it would fit with the ottoman behind the chair.


Ms. Ehrenpreis' second email response was very brief. My theory, she wrote, "just wasn't so". She noted Jefferson's arthritis saying "he specifically chose this posture and seating arrangement for his personal use and comfort."


Ms. Ehrenpreis is a highly respected curator at Monticello. She is an academic. She has far more historical knowledge and access to the suite than I do. As much as I enjoyed our discussion, there was nothing more I could say to convince her that I was on to something. Regardless, I propose that my theory is hands-on, legs up, and posture tested over long periods of time. It's physical application day in and day out. It also explains the purpose of the flat sides; the need for the desk to turn; the chaise-like design; and gives reason for the rotating chair. Using the desk as arranged at Monticello (and to claim the casters provided all the functionality) ignores the rotating features and unique shape of the desk. Any standard desk or table, chair and footrest can do what the Jefferson suite can do if used as arranged at Monticello. So why did Jefferson innovate a rotating desk with two flat sides? Because of his arthritis? I don't think so.


I still hold the desk was used by Jefferson as shown below. If not, then I have somehow, miraculous, discovered how to better arrange Thomas Jefferson's suite to be more functional for its design and more comfortable to use. The correct arrangement, in my opinion, is obvious to anyone using the desk rather than just observing it.


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