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Like many creative endeavors, interior design and architecture have a history behind them that influences much of what we see today. In this case, the preservation of historic homes gives us a glimpse of their glorious features from the past that impact the present.

During a recent family trip on a Mississippi River Cruise, I toured some notable homes in the South. Though their histories are heartbreaking, it was interesting to learn about them and the exceptional architecture and design that make each one unique.

First there was Longwood, located in Natchez, Mississippi. The unfinished dream home of Haller Nutt and his wife, Julia, is said to be the largest octagonal house in the country. Described as an Oriental Villa, Longwood was designed for the couple by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan. Though construction of the grand residence began in 1860, it was halted the following year due to the Civil War.

While the exterior of the structure was mostly complete, the interior was left unfinished with the exception of the lowest level. The Nutt family would reside in this finely furnished basement until the 20th century.

Today, visitors can see these and hear about their original intention, while seeing what they became when construction ended and the family was forced to live in the basement and leave the rest incomplete.

Our next stop was Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana. This circa 1835 Greek revival style home with Grecian style wings that were added a decade later is situated at the head of a striking 660-foot long oak allee.

The last historic home I toured is on a property known as the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. This Greek revival style house took three years to complete. My daughter said the enormous 300-year-old oak trees that lead to the main residence look like something from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Some of the features that struck me while touring these stately structures are reminiscent of those that remain in demand today, such as a second-story loft area for children to gather and play games and a men’s lounge that someone on one of the tours called a man cave.

Though his-and-hers home offices may sound like a modern marvel, I learned that these spaces existed well over 100 years ago in some of these historic sites.

These historic homes and their contents that were often passed down through generations also showcased sentimental items like exquisite family portraits and black-and-white photos proving once more how our homes are rooted in history.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@earthlink.net.

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