A Visit to Boston’s Ayer Mansion

Catalano Architects spends a lot of time studying great design solutions of the past to inspire its current projects. If you are seeking design inspiration, the New England region is a wonderful resource. Boston and the surrounding areas have a wealth of inspiring historic homes to visit.

This month we would like to highlight the Ayer Mansion on 395 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. The home was built for Frederick and Ellen Ayer. Though famous in their own right as art collectors and titans of the business world, the Ayers are further recognized as the parents of General George Patton’s wife.

TiffanyMantelThe famous American artist, Louis Comfort Tiffany, designed the Ayer Mansion. Though best known for his interior glassworks, Tiffany also dabbled in architecture. The Ayer Mansion is the only surviving house that Tiffany had complete control over, right down to the exterior façade.  This allowed him to integrate themes and details throughout the house such as the lotus flower that appears on the façade, fireplace detailing, stained glass and more. Completed in 1902, this house was very progressive for its time in particular because of its middle and far-eastern influence.

The main stair is incredibly unique – it alone is worth the visit. The stair originally doubled as a performance stage for the lady of the house. This “stage” is framed by a wall of semi-transparent, glass mosaic tile backed by metallic foil as a way to enhance the lighting in the space. Tiffany created a flat backdrop for the stage but implemented unique layering tricks using clear and opaque glass to give the backdrop a sense of being three-dimensional.  These two design features were quite creative for the time period.

In addition to the main stair, the entire mansion contains examples of Tiffany’s famous stained glass, mosaics, lay lighting, and intricate woodworking and wood floors. This mansion is currently a restoration in progress. It is fascinating to learn about the process involved in restoring this house to its original state and what remains to be uncovered and reconditioned. If you are interested in planning your own trip, you can learn more at http://ayermansion.org/.


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