This startling interior–hello, elephant!–looks more like an atrium or solarium, but it’s actually the living room of a historic home (now museum) in Rochester, New York. Pioneer of photography George Eastman lived in this house from its construction in 1905 to his death in 1932. Eastman patented the first camera film in roll form in 1884, and four years later created the first Kodak camera intended for use by ordinary people. This revolutionized photography and made it accessible to millions. After Eastman’s suicide in 1932–he was in severe pain from a disorder in his spine–his house was donated to the University of Rochester and eventually became a museum housing collections of priceless photographs. It’s also been restored to look as it did in its heyday when Eastman lived here in the first decades of the 20th century.
Eastman had this house in Rochester constructed beginning in 1905, and it’s quite an amazing place, with a lot of modern (for the time) conveniences including a built-in vacuum system. In the décor of this room we can see a lot of trends that were popular in interior design in these years. The combination of big windows, lots of potted plants (including palms) and wicker furniture contribute to the look of the room as a “winter garden” evoking warmth and tropical locales. This approach was common especially on ocean liners of the same period. I don’t know if the elephant’s head is original to the period, but if it is, it’s consistent with a “safari” theme popularized especially by Teddy Roosevelt, who had exotic trophies of this sort in his own house at Sagamore Hill. If you look closely, in the center background you can see a piano barely visible over some of the plants. Eastman was a huge music buff and his house was the center of musical and cultural life in Rochester while he lived here. This too is consistent with the time: rich business leaders of the early 20th century were often patrons of the arts, and much of their philanthropy was dedicated toward cultural advancement especially in music, art, or as Eastman epitomized, photography.
Whatever else this room says to us, you’ve just got to love the elephant!