Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation is charged with exploring and protecting all things related to the life and times of this extraordinary American founding father. The jewel of their holdings is Monticello, the mountaintop retreat that Mr. Jefferson built in central Virginia and to which he would return when his far-flung obligations were met. Over the years the foundation has sold many picture books about Monticello, but they had never produced one themselves. In 1999 they decided the time had come to produce the definitive book about the house, the plantation and the residents of Jefferson’s “little mountain”, and they hired us to design it.

The book has heavy text as well as a dense photo count. In other words they wanted to fit a lot in. The trick was to make the text inviting, but still make it feel like a “picture book”. One way we tackled this problem was to suggest very dense, thematic sidebars, that fall in the spaces between chapters. This allowed us to compress a lot of text and photography in these pages and correspondingly “air out” the rest of the book. It works well. This project, similar to the pictorial history of the University of Virginia that we designed a few years earlier, was graced with a superabundance of photography. We had all of Monticello’s generous archives to work with, as well as the ability to find or commission new photography and illustration as needed.

The Los Angeles Times says of this book: “This is a rare coffee-table book, not only handsome but full of worthwhile text and insights into the life and thinking of Jefferson as president, architect and Renaissance man. Along with the excellent photographs of Monticello’s interiors and gardens, the book explains the contemporaneous influences that shaped Jefferson’s design and use of the house.”