Pasadena's wooden wonder, the Gamble House, is a clever abode. Instead of closing its doors this summer for a necessary flooring restoration, the National Historic Landmark has found a way to keep its tours running, while simultaneously staying hip to a growing trend. Though many of the house's most popular rooms are closed — like the grand entryway and the posh living room — many new rooms have been opened to the public with a new tour focused on the servants' quarters: an upstairs downstairs tour.
It seems the manicured mustaches, fluffy petticoats and loungy divans of the filthy, filthy rich no longer fascinate us like they used to. Thanks to Downton Abbey and its buzz-worthy servants, who are treated less as bit players and more as characters in their own right, a trend has been sparked. Forget high-society mansion dwellers; we're enthralled by their help.
And so across the globe, upstairs downstairs tours, with a focus on servant's quarters, have taken a popular hold in grand old houses. From Mark Twain's House in Hartford, Ct., to Berrington Hall in Hereford, England, the trend does not discriminate by continent nor era.
Now visitors can see not only the lavish dining room where decadent meals were served, but the no-frills kitchen where the servants slaved to put those decadent meals on the table.
Ace reviews on TripAdvisor suggest travelers can't get their fill of servant quarter tours. “My favourite room was the servants room, again dimly lit and a huge roaring fire that really let you step back in time,” wrote one awestruck traveler after a visit to the Chirk Castle of Chirk, Wales.
While the upstairs downstairs trend likely works best in old-money mansions that once housed 100-plus servants, the Gamble House tour does what it can to cater to visitors interested in following the trend, even with the Gamble family's wimpy two-person help staff. You won't find Downton-style lines of servant rooms, but you will see the kitchen, the servants' dining room, the coal-room-turned-storage-room in the basement and the two sizable bedrooms that once belonged to the cook and maid.
The beautiful Gamble House is a wooden piece of art built by Greene and Greene, a premier Japanese-influenced, California-based architectural firm from the early 20th century. The home was built between 1908 and 1909 as a winter home for the family of David and Mary Gamble of the Proctor and Gamble fortune. What was originally supposed to be an escape from Cincinnati winters morphed into the family's permanent residence.
While not much is known about the Gamble's servants — a fact that is made clear during the tour — those who are fascinated by servant life, slop sinks and coal rooms can visually piece together the life of an early 20th century servant. Feel as the help felt as you enter through the side servant's entrance and use only the servant's staircases. Learn about the different types of wood; the sumptuous, expensive white cedar in the family spaces and the simple, yet tasteful Oregon Pine in the servant's. Or just spend a few minutes ogling at the unreasonably large closet space allotted to the servants — good on ya, Gambles!
While the tours were originally scheduled to only span the two and half weeks of August 1 through August 18, rave reviews and consistently sold-out tours may lead to something more. “The tour is so popular that they are thinking about doing it every summer,” says Susan Gordon, a spokeswoman for the Gamble House. “It's an ingenious idea that they came up with.”
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