Christ­mas al Frescos


Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Stephanie Agnes-crock­ett

This el­e­gant Massachusetts man­sion brims with Christ­mas cheer full of el­e­gant dé­cor and de­light­ful fresco walls.

Built in 1874, this gor­geous East­lakeStick Vic­to­rian home orig­i­nated as twin man­sions, oc­cu­pied by Eli Hoyt and Free­man Shedd. Hoyt and Shedd, in ad­di­tion to be­ing best friends, were also busi­ness part­ners and the pro­duc­ers of Hoyt’s Ger­man cologne, a Vic­to­rian scent. Nine years later, the home un­der­went its first ma­jor ren­o­va­tion, as builders in­tro­duced Queen Anne in­flu­ence by way of mir­rored brick car­riage houses and new porches.

Fast-for­ward an­other three and a half decades. In 1919, the home was used as a hos­pi­tal for wealthy lo­cals. Moth­ers had their ba­bies de­liv­ered here for a flat $5 fee. The Shaw hos­pi­tal re­mained open into the late 1960s. Forty years later, Vic­to­rian en­thu­si­ast Bruce Macaulay pur­chased the home from Gail (Shaw) Thompson, whose fam­ily op­er­ated the health fa­cil­ity.

Bruce re­mem­bers his first ac­quain­tance with the home. “The house was on and off the market for six years,” he says. “On an im­pulse, I viewed the home.” Upon do­ing so, Bruce im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized the po­ten­tial. “The bones of the un­touched home gave me vi­sions of Vic­to­rian high-style grandeur,” he re­calls. “I had to have it.”


Ac­cord­ing to Bruce, the prop­erty “was in great dis­re­pair” when he pur­chased it. At the time, he ob­served eleven roof leaks. The “plumb­ing [was] non-func­tion­ing” he says, adding that the “elec­tric would short out.”

Out­side, he land­scaped the grounds, plant­ing new lawns and box­woods to cre­ate the eye­brow ef­fect with the cir­cu­lar drive. Bruce also up­dated the ex­te­rior with ir­ri­ga­tion to wa­ter the new plants. He re­placed the front porch cop­per roof and the flat roofing, re­pair­ing the slate. He re­built the front tower, “re­stored the orig­i­nal lion’s head

Ac­cord­ing to Bruce, the prop­erty “was in great dis­re­pair” when he pur­chased it.

foun­tain” and re­stored each stained-glass door. Plus, he in­stalled benches for the side porch. “I was told the house orig­i­nally had them,” Bruce ex­plains. Like­wise, he in­stalled crest­ing on the side wing that would have orig­i­nally been there.

In­side, Bruce re­placed the eleven pop­corn ceil­ings and the plumb­ing in three of the bath­rooms, restor­ing the claw­foot tubs. “The third-floor bath­room hadn’t been op­er­a­tional in over twenty years,” Bruce re­calls. He also sanded and re­paired sev­eral floors and fixed “many of the over 100 win­dows.” Ad­di­tion­ally, Bruce per­son­ally cre­ated all of the win­dow treat­ments in the house. He com­pletely re­stored the seven-room ser­vants’ quar­ters, as well as the bil­liards room.


Bruce also re­freshed the walls to their first glory, la­bor­ing to un­cover and re­store the for­mer mold­ings and art­work. “When it came to the orig­i­nal art­work,” Bruce says, “it was a trea­sure hunt.” Find­ing the first layer of a wall of­ten en­tails strip­ping away sev­eral lay­ers and the process can be long and painstak­ing. But when he got to the bot­tom, the frescos—which Ital­ian ar­ti­sans had painted in the 1800s—ap­peared. As Bruce ex­plains, frescos dif­fer from wall sten­cil­ing as they stand out three di­men­sion­ally. “Fresco, un­like sten­cil­ing, is embed­ded into the plas­ter like a tat­too.”

For Bruce, the best fresco in the home is the most elab­o­rate. “My fa­vorite room is the one with the most de­tail­ing of the fresco,” he says. “It took me three years to com­plete that one room.” And with good rea­son. On top of re­mov­ing the var­i­ous wall cov­er­ings, Bruce was also tasked with fill­ing in the in­tri­cate fresco de­tails. While most Amer­i­cans to­day paint their rooms one color, Bruce used over ten shades for the mold­ing alone. “The crown mold­ing is plas­ter where I have painted in thir­teen dif­fer­ent col­ors with a bronze gild­ing,” he ex­plains.


Then there was the mat­ter of bridging the gap be­tween the present and the past. Re­cov­er­ing the fres­coes was like open­ing a time cap­sule, trans­port­ing the room back to the 1870s. But, be­cause some of the fur­ni­ture didn’t date back to that same time, it be­came con­spic­u­ous in light of its new (old) sur­round­ings. The book­cases, for in­stance, were ac­tu­ally added in the 1950s. Un­de­terred, Bruce mod­i­fied the shelves, so they would match the style of the rest of the room. “I blended them to fit in with faux paint­ing-ma­hogany,” Bruce ex­plains. But Bruce rec­og­nized a greater need, be­yond this su­per­fi­cial change. Given that the shelves were built sev­eral gen­er­a­tions af­ter the rest of the home, they still didn’t ap­pear his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate. So, Bruce also opted to “re­place the hard­ware with ap­pro­pri­ate East­lake de­sign.” Now, the book­cases fit per­fectly with the other fur­nish­ings.

You wouldn’t tell it by look­ing, but the book­cases aren’t the only new de­tail in the room. Tak­ing his cues from Vic­to­rian tra­di­tion and the home’s ex­ist­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, Bruce crafted each as­pect, cre­at­ing an ap­peal­ing pe­riod at­mos­phere fit for Eli Hoyt, him­self. The drapes, for in­stance, are Bruce’s “own de­sign that mimic[s] the twoclover pat­tern found in [his] dou­ble doors and the newel post.” Sim­i­larly, his Vic­to­rian mir­rors, while not orig­i­nal to the home, are per­fectly in keep­ing with the scale and de­sign of the space.

The crushed blue vel­vet fur­ni­ture in this room, un­like the drapes and shelves, are in­deed pe­riod pieces, but are not orig­i­nal to the home. Bruce re­ceived these pieces from a neigh­bor­ing friend. They came from a man­sion that was torn down, three houses away.


Ev­i­dently, Bruce put sub­stan­tial ef­fort into mold­ing and main­tain­ing his house’s his­toric­ity. So, when the hol­i­days roll around, he is just as ea­ger as ever to keep an

“When it comes to styling for the hol­i­days,” Bruce says, “of course I look to Vic­to­rian homes for in­spi­ra­tion.”

ap­pro­pri­ately Vic­to­rian abode. “When it comes to styling for the hol­i­days,” Bruce says, “of course I look to Vic­to­rian Homes for in­spi­ra­tion.” He also ad­heres to a few dec­o­rat­ing prin­ci­ples. “Scale is ev­ery­thing for a ba­sic foun­da­tion,” Bruce ex­plains, fol­lowed by “the lay­er­ing with the ba­sic de­tails.”

Bruce is also will­ing to en­list the help of oth­ers—a wise de­ci­sion when you’re work­ing with a man­sion. “Hon­estly,” he ad­mits, “dec­o­rat­ing a home of al­most 8,000-square feet of liv­ing can be daunt­ing.” That’s why “this past year’s dec­o­rat­ing was a col­lab­o­ra­tion from the ‘com­mit­tee.’” With ev­ery­one pitch­ing in ideas and man­power, the task be­comes a chummy af­fair. “Dec­o­rat­ing with friends,” Bruce says, “the vi­sion comes through in a fun way.”

With the help of the ‘com­mit­tee,’ Bruce out­fits his home with sim­ple, but el­e­gant ac­cents that em­brace the Christ­mas spirit: fresh gar­lands for the stairs, rib­bon-wrapped sprigs for the fire­place and green can­dles dis­persed through­out. These are per­fect dec­o­ra­tions for a Vic­to­rian Christ­mas be­cause they bring warmth to a room, with­out step­ping be­yond the bounds of his­tory. Each of these ad­di­tions was avail­able dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, so they don’t compromise the his­tor­i­cal in­tegrity of the home. This isn’t to say that Bruce never in­cor­po­rates mod­ern con­ve­niences, but when he does, he does so thought­fully and pur­pose­fully. “In mod­ern times,” Bruce says, “you can put a taste­ful spin on Vic­to­rian dé­cor with light­ing to make your jewel box glim­mer.” Rather than al­low­ing the mod­ern el­e­ment to dis­rupt or over­power the Vic­to­rian theme, Bruce uses elec­tric­ity to his ad­van­tage, high­light­ing the ex­ist­ing beauty.

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