Before and After

Students in Debra Zappitelli’s History of Interiors course weren’t aware that being apart of American history was their final exam.

Last semester, The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont and Zappitelli’s class worked together, color rendering President Hayes’ master bedroom and a room called the “Red Parlor,” in the 31-room mansion located on the corners of Hayes and Buckland avenues.

The Hayes Presidential Center is using the renderings for promotion in the efforts to restore seven rooms of the Hayes home back to their original 19th-century setting.

This is part of the Save America’s Treasure program for which the center has received $400,000 in national funds. These must be matched for the restoration of the project to begin, Nancy Kleinhenz, the center’s communications manager said.

In less than three weeks, the 30 students sorted through written accounts of the rooms and black and white archival photographs. They also made frequent visits to the home, taking measurements and photographs to create accurate accounts of how the 19th century master bedroom and “Red Parlor” appeared during President Hayes’ and his family’s settlement.

According to Kleinhenz, the “Red Parlor” was a formal room set aside for guests, clothed and furnished in red. The red is reminiscent of the room President Hayes took his oath of office in, being the first president to take oath inside the White House.

The project became a “shared collective experience,” according to Zappitelli, where the students were faced with a real-life challenge. Students were split up into two teams that had to not only collaborate within each team, but also between teams in order to “communicate the design intent.”

“Students had to problem solve, make decisions based on their research, and distribute tasks,” Zappitelli said. “Each group had to organize and prepare scaled renderings, perspectives, elevations and material boards.”

Many students saw this experience as a “career builder,” and to identify what they learned inside the classroom and apply it to a real life scenario, Jillian LaFavre, an interior design student involved in the project, said.

Most final exams are hypothetical, but this was a project “that people will recognize,” and was about accomplishment, LaFavre said. She now feels better about her career because of the hands-on experience of the project.

In past semesters, seniors from the course made visits to the 19th president’s home in Fremont to observe the “Victorian design of the home and furnishings,” Zappitelli said. This was the first time students engaged in lending their services to the center.

History of the home can be traced back to 1853 with Hayes’ uncle and guardian Sardis Birchard wanting to build a summer cottage. Originally constructed in three stages, with the first part between 1859 and 1863, Birchard spent 10 years on the home due to the beginning of the Civil War. In 1873, Hayes moved his family into the home with improvements in mind.

Two years later, Hayes left to serve as governor of Ohio and then president. He returned in 1881 with plans for a second stage to double the home’s size to include a library, large reception room, three bedrooms, indoor plumbing and a four-story staircase leading to a roof-top lantern that overlooks the estate. The third stage of the home occurred in 1889 with the addition of the large dining room.

After generations of the Hayes family inhabiting the home, it was time to restore it back to the way the president’s family left it.

BG connected with the Hayes Presidential Center through Dr. Albert Gonzalez, vice provost for academic services at the University, and his brother Gilbert, the director of the photo archives at the Hayes Presidential Center, after contacting Zappitelli about the project.

“I thought this would be an opportunity to engage the Interior Design students in a service-learning project, and at the same time help the Hayes Presidential Center,” Zappitelli said.

Kleinhenz was pleased with the students’ work.

Zappitelli added that there was a “shared sense of work, effort and personal responsibility.”