Otis House-Surpising Lessons From A Late 18th C. Home

via Historic New England facade Otis House #1


Hi Everyone,

A week and a half ago, I was treated to a tour of the Otis House, a late 18th century built in the Federal or neo-classical style. Yes, one of my favorite styles that mirrors the English Georgian style and occurred simultaneously.


But first, thank you so much for all of your thoughts regarding my new kitchen.


I find it interesting the many different viewpoints.

But, please do not worry! I’m a research fiend, and the contractor I’m 99% sure I’m hiring is highly experienced and has done dozens of big jobs in Boston’s Back Bay.

A few of you are worried about the proximity of the fridge drawers to the range. Great point! Fortunately, there’s 3.5″ of space between the two which is plenty of room to insulate that space to the hilt. So, it should be fine.


As for the decor issues such as moulding matching, frankly, that is of little concern to me.

I mean, matching is so 20th century. ;] And, as you’re about to see, at the Otis House, even coordinating is not really necessary. Although, I don’t totally agree with that one.

But, also know that nothing currently matches, (in my apartment) and some things are missing or are poorly constructed.

Please review this post about the entry, and you’ll see what I mean.


As for countertop materials. haha. Some of you don’t know me very well. I WANT the counter to get etched and stained and look like it’s been here for 140 years!


Here’s one of my favorite posts about countertops, particularly marble.

However, I love both materials. My original idea was marble. For me, it’s never polished. I shy away from the word “formal” and “informal.” My place is classical, but formal sounds too fussy for me. That doesn’t mean I’m doing a farmhouse either. Plus, it’s good to mix formal with less formal furnishings. Steve Cordony does this to perfection.


Okay, so now, it’s time to get into the historic Otis House Museum.


The Otis House was built in 1796 for a prominent young, Bostonian couple, Harrison Gray Otis and his wife Sally Foster Otis; plus, their four children. (They went on to have SEVEN more!)

Harrison Otis, if you don’t know the name was a lawyer, a United States Senator, and a mayor of Boston. He was also instrumental in the development of the Beacon Hill neighborhood.


The Otis House location is adjacent to Beacon Hill on what is now Cambridge Street.


At one point, the house was moved back about 200 feet from its original location.

Today, it’s the last surviving mansion in Bowdoin Square in Boston’s West End neighborhood.

(The pronunciation for Bowdoin is Bow-din) (bow, like hair bow)


via Historic New England facade Otis House #1Society of Architectural Historians


Above is an architectural drawing of the home designed by the renowned architect Charles Bullfinch who also created many other exquisite homes in Boston. In fact, Mr. Bullfinch designed two more homes for the Otises. One, at 85 Mount Vernon Street. And, the third home at 45 Beacon Street. So, I guess you could say, the Otis House was their starter home. haha


Below is a map showing the location of the Boston neighborhoods and the Otises three homes.


Otis House Museum - West End Boston(1)
Above, the red dot under Trinity Church is where I live. It’s about 1.25 miles to the Otis House, and that’s an easy (and beautiful) 25-minute brisk walk.


In 1796, Bodoin Square was quite the fashionable address for young, aristocratic Bostonians.


Bodoin Square Boston 18th century sketches

I took the photo above inside the museum of some early sketches of Bowdoin Square from circa 1800.

Well, the area of Bowdoin Square looks nothing like that now.


Otis House via Historic New Englandvia Historic New England

Today, the Otis House is the only large home left in that area and is now surrounded by the enormous Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors’ offices, and Whole Foods. lol

In fact, my doctors, all associated with Mass. General are part of a medical group known as “The Bullfinch Medical Group.” I had no idea when I selected my physician that her group was named after one of the foremost classical architects of my favorite period of architecture!


Otis House - photographer unknown
A closer view of the Otis House – photographer unknown


Time to go inside.


Otis House Art etchings front hall
Of course, we had a guide, (docent) and she was talking while I got sucked into the beautiful art. The art is my favorite part of the house.


Otis House front door

And, here’s a view looking back at the front door.


So far, so good, right?


This entry is pretty much what I expected to see.


An interesting fact regarding historical authenticity:


When the Otis House was restored, layers of wallpaper were removed to get down to the original. And, that goes for paint colors, as well.

The next room we were ushered into was known as the morning room. Yes, south-facing, (and east) with excellent morning light.


Morning room - Sally Otis - fireplace mantel Federal colors Boston circa 1796

Here, Sally Otis would teach her young children. In addition, this is the room where the Otises received their guests. And, yes, that is a portrait of Sally over the surprisingly vivid aqua-blue mantel.


Sally Otis - portrait 1796

The guide pointed out the little flower was most likely there to cover up Mrs. Otis’ bosom.


Otis House - painting from circa 1797While the wall color is much different in the painting, we can see the expensive wall-to-wall Wilton carpet copied for the Otis House Museum.

In addition to being prolific baby-makers, the Otises were socialites who loved to entertain.


See, I was listening to the docent while running around like a little nerd snapping pics.


Otis House morning room giant mirrorWhat do you guys think of the colors?

Wait! Don’t answer yet. There’s more!

While we were still in this room, my eye was drawn to the room behind us. And, I stole away for a minute to take this image.


Otis Office - original wallpaper copy
Yes, this color is butted up to the room you see above.

What of it?

Oh, you think there’s supposed to be a flow between rooms?

What for?



Yes, I’m being entirely facetious.


And yet, it appears that for the elite Bostonians of the 18th century, color coordination was not even remotely on their radar. I noticed this phenomenon when I visited the country home of John Jay in Katonah well over 20 years ago.

However, the lovely space above was Mr. Otis’ office and, my favorite room in the house. Weren’t we just talking about sage green? Yes, we were!


As this is a center hall, we went across the hall into what we would call the dining room. They just called it a parlor, I believe.


portrait Harrison Gray Otis - dining room
neo classical colors Otis House - Boston
Harrison Gray Otis

Young Harrison Gray Otis


I would call this neo-classical on acid.


Otis House - dining room - exquisite art

But, this painting over the fireplace!!! I wanted to take that baby home with me!


So, let’s take a breather here.


I have to say I was kind of gagging over the colors; not only are they intensely bright (high chroma), but as already mentioned, many opposing rooms clashed horribly.

But, the strangeness doesn’t end there. Below is a depiction of how the 18th century, highly cultured, educated, sophisticated, wealthy Bostonians dined.


aristocratic drop cloth otis house dining room
Yes, with a freaking DROP CLOTH under the Chippendale dining table!

Where are the women, you want to know?

I don’t know. I guess tending to their children.


But, let’s get back to the colors.


Ya know, I’ve always associated the neo-classical period with soft grays and creams such as one would see in the interiors of Robert Adam.

And, yes, that very much existed. But, then I thought about Monticello, which Thomas Jefferson designed and built around the same time.

Remember that amazingly glorious acid-yellow dining room?

Well, it appears that Americans of the Federal period adored bright color. It seems I should’ve known that, and maybe it’s more of a regional situation?


Okay, time to go upstairs. Please don’t be afraid. It’s going to be okay. lol


The second we got upstairs, I was in heaven.


2nd floor neo-classical art
Two huge, gorgeous classical paintings.

I wanted to take these home too!


Neo Classical art 1-Otis House
Neo Classical art 2 -Otis House
These are exactly what I would love to have on those two walls flanking my fireplace.


(the new one)


The painting above is the third one further down the hall.

Then we went into Sally Otis’ bedroom.


Sally Otis bedroom - beautiful needlepointMuch better! Sally Otis spent a lot of time in her bedroom.

After all, she spent the better part of 20 years being pregnant.


baby crib otis houseWhat a cool crib!

Unfortunately, there was unlikely a baby in it. Or, at least not until the baby was weaned.

I learned that Mr. Otis sent his wife a letter while he was away, telling her that he felt that she was in too delicate a condition to be nursing their newborn. Instead, he wanted the baby to live with the wet nurse (somewhere not terribly close), and she could go and visit the baby.

I guess she wasn’t too fragile to be pregnant, however.


 via Giphy


Okay, we’re almost done with the Otis House.


Drawing Room -Otis House
Across the hall from Sally’s bedroom is the drawing room where guests would go after dinner.

Settee - gold chandelier - drawing roomI love the settee, and there’s more gorgeous art.

The somewhat ditzy wallpaper border? That doesn’t seem right to me. I don’t know if this was the standard decor. Or, maybe, this was the Otises’ style?


settee late 18th century - artOne more of the settee and art to get a closer look.

I hope you enjoyed this visit to the Otis House Museum.



PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES

***And also, the newly updated HOLIDAY SHOP for 2021 is now open! Please check out ideas for decor as well as numerous gift guides!***

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