De Lorbe, who founded the nonprofit educational organization Made: In America to foster American enterprise, was looking for a way to feature U.S. furniture manufacturers and to give design students hands-on experience working with historic properties. Having been involved with projects for Oatlands Plantation and President Lincoln’s Cottage, De Lorbe decided to approach officials from the National Trust for Historic Preservation about Woodlawn.
“I really thought, ‘Oh, they’re going to think I’m crazy,’ ” De Lorbe said. “They were both like, ‘Oh, wow, we like the concept. Let us think.’ And so they did.”
Woodlawn was once part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The former president gave 2,000 acres of the estate to his step-granddaughter, Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis and her husband, Major Lawrence Lewis. William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol, designed the Georgian home, which was built in 1805. It was the first site owned and operated by the National Trust.
“It is what people would envision is the all-American house,” De Lorbe said.
Once the National Trust gave its approval, De Lorbe invited three schools to participate in the two-semester project; one school later dropped out. UNCG had the largest contingent, 16 students for the first semester, seven of whom continued into the second semester.
“We said, ‘Sure, we’d love to do it,’ having no real idea what it meant,” said Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll, professor of interior architecture at UNCG.
GWU started off with five students, but only one, Jasmine Callender, a 20-year-old junior, saw the project through to the end. Unlike the UNCG students, Callender, who is working toward two degrees, one in fine arts and one in interior design, did not receive college credit for her work. It was strictly an extracurricular project for her.
“My biggest challenge was coming up with a concept,” Callender said. “We were given the question, ‘What is American? What does that mean?’ What I did was really research what Woodlawn was about, its push for sustainability and being a self-serving community. I was going to use that idea, and our new focus on being eco-friendly and healthy.”
Working within the exacting limitations presented by a historic property — some furniture couldn’t be moved — the students transformed the home from staid to sensational. The rooms were judged by members of the Congressional Club — Julie Reichert, Tamra Bentsen, Betty Ann Tanner and Marty Hinojosa.
UNCG, which designed six of the eight rooms, won first place for the parlor and third place for the center hallway. GWU won second place for the dining room.