I visited the Nichols House prior to popping the champagne for a friend’s birthday this past weekend. A hidden gem located on Beacon Hill just behind the Massachusetts State House, this house somehow blends in yet stands out among the rows of pretty brick townhouses that make up the famous neighborhood. I love a Boston day trip, especially when the sun is shining, it’s above 45 degrees and I get to check another house off my list!
- This home was built in 1804 by Jonathan Mason, a Massachusetts Senator at the time, and designed by Charles Bulfinch, who also designed the Otis House which is just a few streets away! Dr. Arthur Nichols and his wife Elizabeth, purchased the home from the Masons in 1885.
- Arthur & Elizabeth had three daughters – Rose, Marian & Margaret – and a son who sadly passed away at a young age. They moved to their new Beacon Hill home from nearby Roxbury, which was an important move for both Arthur’s practice (he saw patients right in the home), along with educational opportunities for the three girls as well as the high social life that Boston had to offer.
- The Nichols family were a progressive bunch – the three daughters went to a school that taught both girls & boys alongside each other (gasp!), but also taught what we would call vocational classes, such as wood working & needlepoint, which ended up spurring passions & skills that they would use throughout their lives. There is an incredible wood carved set of chairs and trunk that Rose made, along with a book shelf made by Margaret that are still in the home to this day. The three girls were well traveled, spending time frequently in Europe, collecting art and supporting different rights movements both in Boston and internationally as well.
- Rose, the eldest sister, is really who the story of the home centers around. She was one of the first women to work in garden design, writing three books on the subject, was a suffragist and also a peace activist through her involvement with the League of Small Nations and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She never married, and remained in the same home until her passing in 1960. She specified in her will that the house be open as a museum, and it has operated as one since 1961, becoming an official National Historic Landmark in 1966.
If you’ve been following along in my journey here, you know I love good staircase. And well, this is one of the best. Spiral? Check. Round door? Check. A “robbers window” to “rob” light from the second floor landing so you didn’t kill yourself going down an otherwise dark, windy staircase? I didn’t know this was a thing, but I now that I know it’s on the list. Check, check, check! Stunning.
Second Floor Parlor
There’s one word to describe this room and that is “rose”. Both the color and the decor were chosen by the eldest Nichols daughter, Rose, as she remained in the house and did some redecorating after the passing of her parents. She would have hosted her Boston society friends and her international guests here for what she called “Tea Salons”, preferring intimate gatherings with long, intellectual conversations versus the lavish dinner and dancing parties her mother would have hosted in this same room.
Directly across from the parlor, this room is vastly different. The dining room was originally decorated by Elizabeth, Rose’s mother, and Rose did not touch this room when she inherited it. The “Spanish Leather” wallpaper is incredible. While not of Spanish decent nor leather, the 3D effect it creates is something that cannot be captured accurately in photographs. There is a butler’s pantry located just off this (another of my standard favorites in a historic home), allowing easy access to the kitchen via a dumbwaiter and hidden staircase.
The irony that her bedroom is not rose colored (but many other rooms are) was not lost on me – and I loved the color she chose (I painted our bathroom in our former apartment this same color one weekend while was my husband was away – surprise!). The tapestries on the bed were made by Rose over the course of two years – incredible to see such talent in such great condition today!
- While the kitchen has been converted to the welcome area, the Cyrus Carpenter & Co stove is still a marvel to see!
- Don’t miss the original “Dr. Nichols” sign that was used for Arthur’s practice, which was in the current library
- There are a few hand made pieces of furniture in the house from Rose & Margaret including a chair, an elaborate trunk and a book shelf that I would love to have in my home!
- This home is open year round – which is not a usual things for historic homes in the Northeast! So, if the winter is making you stir crazy this is an easy trip if you live in the area – and an excuse to wander Beacon Hill for an afternoon!
- Trust your GPS once you start walking – it was trying to tell me to take a cut through at the back of the State House, and I thought it was lying. Then I got all turned around and extended my walk by about 10 minutes, only to see that I easily could have taken the path it told me to. Just ensure you have the correct address – Mount Vernon Street, Boston not Mount Vernon Street, Dorchester! – and you’ll be good to go!
- Parking in Boston isn’t fun, ever. I was staying overnight nearby so that was easy for me, but I’ve always had good luck parking under the Boston Common or in Downtown Crossing when visiting this area, which is a quick walk to the home.