Christmas al Frescos
THIS ELEGANT MASSACHUSETTS MANSION COMBINES CHRISTMAS CHEER WITH ELEGANT DÉCOR AND DELIGHTFUL FRESCO WALLS.
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.”
REDEEMING A TREASURE
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.