William Lea Thompson
CAHPT Board Member and Interior Designer
[Article originally published in the CAHPT Winter 2013 Newsletter]
We are pleased to introduce this new section of the Classical American Homes newsletter. In each coming issue, we will highlight an individual in the CAHPT “family” and their contributions to our organization. Our initial profile features Mr. William L. Thompson (pictured at right), a CAHPT Board Director, or as most of you know him, Bill.
In addition to being an ardent supporter and donor, Bill currently sits on CAHPT’s Board of Directors, of which he has been a member since the organization’s inception in 1993. Over the years, Bill’s design vision has proven invaluable to CAHPT. Many of the handsome carpets, curtains, and fabrics at CAHPT’s properties have been designed or created exclusively by Bill.
In addition to researching and locating period wall colors, fabrics, furnishings, etc. he also serves as CAHPT’s resident historian. In fact, Bill’s first venture in interior design was the Octagon Room (pictured at right) at Edgewater, which was designed by A. J. Davis, where Bill fashioned an elegant carpet that would become the linchpin of the room’s décor. In coming up with the design, Bill recalls how he “sat down on the floor and using gold paper, cut out patterns using the ceiling of the baths of Pompeii as [his] model. I used green because A. J. Davis liked his interiors to bring in the outdoors.” This room was later featured in The Finest Rooms in America: 50 Influential Interiors from the 18th-century to the Present by Thomas Jayne, published in 2010.
Bill grew up in Western Pennsylvania during the Depression, which he matter-of-factly
describes as “not too inspiring,” setting the stage for his pursuit of beautiful projects and inspiring details. On his initial trip to Philadelphia, his first stop was Wanamakers where he says, “I discovered there was something more than mission and waterfall furniture and mohair.” Bill recounts his experiences in working with many renown architects and decorators, who encouraged and provided ideas that Bill has drawn on in his own work. Among others, he includes
Ed Jones, Fred Johnston, Tony Hail, Rose Cumming, Otto Zenke, Georgina Fairholme, Lee Radziwell, and Nancy Lancaster as inspiration. Some of Bill’s favorite interiors are Nancy Lancaster’s drawing room, the Colefax and Fowler shop, Crescent Hotel in Bath, England, and the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine (which he states, “has some of the most beautiful colors I’ve ever seen although it is not my favorite period”). Some of his favorite houses include Temple de la Gloire by Pierre Vignon, Villa Emo by Palladio, Poplar Forest (pictured above left) (“Thomas Jefferson’s get away house in VA, [which] is different, well planned and not too big,”), and Villa Malcontenta by Palladio (pictured lower left).
Bill Thompson’s historic knowledge and design vision has been instrumental in the interior design of Classical American Homes’ portfolio of classical residential house museums. For the future, he would like CAHPT to continue our mission of caring for and promoting our properties, while maintaining focus on historical accuracy and the highest quality. Bill singles out Frances R. Edmunds, the Executive Director of Historic Charleston Foundation from 1948-1985, as a visionary preservationist, and applauds her for the important and early work she did to preserve Charleston. Please take the opportunity to visit our houses to see some of Bill’s extraordinary work.