The Parlors

  • Thomas Cole National Historic Site

The experiences at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site are inviting, approachable, and welcoming to visitors, removing the traditional notion of “look, don’t touch” that is often present in historic museum experiences. The thoughtful integration and blending of technology into the home’s architecture and furnishings encourages visitors to lean in, linger, and engage.

In order to preserve and respect the integrity of the historic Thomas Cole house, the design team carefully considered where to intervene with technology, seamlessly integrating the experiences into the architecture and furniture.

The team strove to enhance the visitor’s journey through multiple touchpoints throughout the house, and carefully considered even the smallest details including the ticketing experience. The tickets were designed to combine Cole’s words and works to produce a simple, elegant takeaway for visitors. Each ticket features a Cole painting detail and a quote to pique interest and spark conversation.

Photo Credit: Second Story, part of Publicis

The historic former home of the legendary American painter, Thomas Cole, is a place rich with history and context, making it our greatest storytelling asset.

They leveraged the East Parlor, which Thomas Cole originally used as gallery, as the opportunity for a larger scale, immersive storytelling experience. Thomas Cole altered the dimensions of his landscapes to make you feel smaller. In response, the design team decided to go big and envelope visitors, giving them the opportunity to experience Cole’s work in a way that no one could before, filling visitors with awe.

This cinematic experience is cued by a docent during tours, empowering the guide to conduct the room. The array of canvases comes to life, awash in the rich colors of Cole’s paintings, as visitors listen to Cole sharing his innermost thoughts about his cherished Catskills, his beloved family, and the escalating price of progress through voiceover narration by acclaimed actor Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot”).

His story is woven across seven canvases, with choreographed lighting cues drawing the visitors’ eyes to curated objects and design details within the space. The narrative concludes with a provocative question for visitors to contemplate as they leave the room.

Photo Credit: Second Story, part of Publicis

An array of canvases come to life, awash in the rich colors of Cole’s paintings, as visitors listen to Cole share his innermost thoughts.

The West Parlor, where Cole hosted visitors, presented an opportunity for the design team to embed technology in unexpected ways—allowing digital content to only be present and visible during key moments, enabling surprising moments of discovery for visitors. Through the use of presence detection sensors, as visitors wander around the parlor, they magically unlock stories that are projected onto Cole’s desk, dining table, and pier table.

Each story uses an actual conversation between Cole and a patron or friend to illuminate a key theme of the exhibition, ending with a provocative question for guests to contemplate and discuss. The visual presentation is comprised of portraits, animated handwriting, paintings, and sketches.

Photo Credit: Second Story, part of Publicis

The warm and casual atmosphere of the parlor puts visitors at ease, encouraging them to approach the projection canvases for a more intimate viewing experience.

In the Sitting Room, the design team created an atmosphere of reflection and invited visitors to contribute to conversations that span from Thomas Cole’s time to present day. Seated in a comfy chair, visitors are encouraged to respond to prompts relating to Cole’s most passionate topics, including conservation.

This new approach to a historic home museum experience has made history more approachable, extending Thomas Cole’s work and ideas to a new audience.

Photo Credit: Second Story, part of Publicis

Thomas Cole’s words are brought to life as they animate onto parchment paper, inviting viewers into the artist’s most intimate thoughts.