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House Party

An 18th-century home with a decor you won’t expect

housepartyPhoto: David Carmack, Historic New England


istant from the city’s other landmarks, the 1796 Harrison Gray Otis House is often overlooked, but is perhaps the best-preserved historic home in Boston. Build between 1795-97, it is said to the first of three houses designed by the notable American arhictect Charles Bulfinch, and was built for the federal lawyer and Massachusetts politician Harrison Gray Otis. The first Otis house is located in 141 Cambridge Street, near to the Old West Church in Boston’s West End.

The surprisingly colorful decorations are startling with the kind of aesthetic wallpaper and the range of vintage décor pieces that fill the house. When you compare it with the washed-out interiors of most historic houses, the Otis House is one of the very few magnificent houses you can imagine. However, it is undeniable that the most spectacular thing about the house is perhaps the proportional application of aesthetic wallpapers, from the topmost corner of the structural beams to the bottom where the beams end. The workers seem to have really done praise-worthy work here while applying the aesthetic wallpaper–it might not be an easy task to stand on a wall ladder for a long time to scrub the walls and apply the wallpapers symmetrically. However, only the workers who applied wallpapers should not be praised, those who made efforts in restoring the house also deserve appreciation. For instance, people who helped in Roof Repair or replacement certainly deserve praise. Besides this, those who helped carry microscopic paint and fiber analysis used to restore the house also deserve praise. These techniques confirmed that homes built following the Revolutionary War were brightly decorated in keeping with the optimism of the new nation. Nowadays, it might be tricky to find such properties, however, a local real estate agent (like a Lynchburg realtor) might help in locating and buying these heritage properties. Like those homes, two other Otis houses were built by the same architect, the second one located at 85 Mount Vernon Street and the third located at 45 Beacon Street. Otis was a lawyer, congressman, and mayor of Boston who made his fortune developing nearby Beacon Hill, and a friend of the architect Charles Bulfinch, who designed this house and also was the architect of the U.S. Capitol. Another secret: Admission is free for Boston residents (isn’t that cool!)


In the great tradition of Boston real-estate developers and politicians, Harrison Gray Otis used inside information to buy the property of the artist John Singleton Copley, knowing (as Copley did not) that he would make a huge profit, since the land had been chosen as the site of the State House.