Otis House

Restoring the Parlor II



In the 1916 examination of the Otis House parlor, no Federal era wallpaper remains were found on the walls. For both the parlor or dining room, curators chose to use plain papers with wallpaper borders. Rooms decorated with solid colored wallpaper, called “plain papers”, and embellished with a wide variety of colorful borders were fashionable in the period when Otis House was built. The border in this room is a reproduction of a paper from Montpeiler, the home of Revolutionary War hero, Henry Knox, in Thomaston, Maine. This was a logical choice as Knox was a contemporary of Otis and his house was likely designed by Charles Bulfinch, in 1794. This particular French paper was titled “Scenes from Pompeii”.  The discovery and excavation of Roman ruins at Herculaneum and Pompeii beginning in 1738 were made fashionable in England through the designs of the architect Robert Adam and influenced American Neoclassical style. The bright yellow paper set off the bold border and created a striking visual effect in concert with the paint and wall-to-wall carpet.

Removal of Victorian carpets in this room revealed unfinished pine boards commonly used under wall-to-wall carpeting. In the Federal era, urban households, especially wealthy ones like the Otises, were likely to possess carpets. By 1790, classically inspired carpets had become popular and this reproduction carpet imitates a Roman tile floor.

Determining the original paint colors for the room required scientific analysis and involved taking samples from areas where the paint was thickest and then analyzing them chemically and microscopically. Most rooms in the house were painted with variations of a light bluish-green color (note the trim and wall below the chair rail in the picture above) with detail picked out in white.