Most of the tours at Meadow Brook Hall focus on the awe-inspiring living areas of the Dodge and Wilson families. Guests can gawk at the two-story ballroom or marvel at Matilda’s master suite. But there are a serious of rooms, while not as grand as the family’s, that are just as important.
In the fall of 2011, Meadow Brook Hall embarked on a new project to restore a portion of the east wing, specifically the the Servants Dining Room, Sitting Room and service hallway. Sometime in the 1970s these spaces had been renovated to provide a larger and more functional space for conference room rental purposes.
“The focus of much of our interpretive effort has been on the owners and builders of the house and their family,” Geoff Upward, The Hall’s executive director, said at the time. “But a large portion of Meadow Brook — both in square footage and in daily life — took place in the staff quarters and their working spaces. The restoration project will allow us to convey to our visitors and guests a more accurate and complete picture of how the state actually worked.”
With grant funding from the Matilda R. Wilson Fund, The Hall has returned the area back to an authentic representation of its original design and function. The construction component of the project included a replacement of the wall that originally separated the two rooms, removal of non-original embellishments and fixtures; and restoration of the original linoleum floors, wall finishes, woodwork, cabinetry and lighting scheme.
With the exception of a few items, the rooms’ original furnishings were no longer in The Hall’s possession. But through a gift of Meadow Brook supporters, the rooms were outfitted in 1940s period furniture, floor coverings and accessories as well as the remaining collection items that had been in storage — notably conserving and re-hanging the original draperies.
Things tend to come full circle at Meadow Brook: the rooms that were once the refuge of domestic workers in the heyday of Meadow Brook Estate now serve as meeting spaces for the current staff. Meetings, consultations and presentations now take place where servants used to have dinner or listen to the radio.
Though used by the staff, both then and now, these rooms can be viewed by the public during the Behind the Scenes tour. Behind the Scenes tours are offered April through October each year. In addition to seeing the Servants Sitting Room and Dining Room, guests have the chance to venture behind the ropes to see the China Vault, maids’ bedrooms, attic, Secretary Suite and more. To plan your Behind the Scenes tour, click here.
This article appears in the Spring 2012 issue of Meadow Brook Magazine. The magazine publishes bi-annually and Meadow Brook Members receive it as part of their membership.
My sister and I are curious. how many servants lived/worked at the estate?
we’d appreciate your help is settling our debate!