395 Commonwealth Street, Boston
price: 17 million dollars
Size: 15,000 square feet
bed room: 23
bathrooms: 6 full, 6 partial
It was the stairs that made the current owners of Ayer Mansion decide to change their plans.
The curved staircase is one of the first features to welcome you as you enter the great hall in this house. With a tall fireplace tucked under vaulted ceilings and oval backs above giving you a peek into the upper floors, there’s definitely competition for your attention. But the imperial staircase dazzles. Perhaps it is a proscenium arch above it, framing the steps with intricate tiles. Perhaps it’s the shimmering Tiffany mosaic tiles that line these risers, with patterns in shades of bottle green and navy blue against a stone-colored background. Although, in all likelihood, it’s a trompe-l’oeil upon landing – visible from the bottom of the stairs – and it’s been painted to make it look like the stairs to an ancient Greek temple, making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time…or at least reminding you that you You enter a very special place.
Whatever it was, it was enough to induce the current owners to convert their plans to convert this home into condominiums. They realized they couldn’t transform the space without destroying the work that architect and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany put into it, according to the real estate team that sells the mansion. The two-building estate will now be divided: the one to the left of the mansion will become luxury apartments, while Ayr Mansion will be sold as a single-family residence, perhaps one of the most coveted places in Boston.
Art historians may claim this property, knowing its history. Its designer, Tiffany, was the son of Charles Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co. Rather than pursuing his father in jewelry, Tiffany used his artistic eye to go into architecture and design, crafting lamps, furniture, and decorative objects, as well as interior spaces. This home is one of Tiffany’s three surviving residential commissions, according to the mansion’s website, and it’s the only design he’s worked on from the start. The mansion was made for Frederick Ayer, owner of the American Woolen Company. His daughter was married to General George Patton and there are rumors that he proposed to her at Eyre Palace, although this particular legend has been disputed. Either way, it’s easy to see how someone could be moved by a major romantic gesture in this home, which the Ayr family sold after Frederick’s death in 1918.
This building is also one of the only exterior designs designed by Tiffany. His vision of a sleek, faded granite building with its famous mosaic designs around the entrance was outside the red-brick base of Commonwealth Street in 1902, but as we know, Tiffany was never afraid to stand up to the grain, whether it was his father’s or folk architecture styles. He left his time traveling as a young man shaping his business here: his travels to Japan and India in the five-story house are mirrored in the front door’s Turtleback tile, and bold color patterns and patterns throughout the mosaic tile he made. His love of Greek and ancient Rome also plays a role in the design, as is evident in the staircase of the Great Hall, while his background in lamp-making has translated into the creative glasswork found throughout the house, whether painted or stained-glass details.
When the family sold the building after Ayer’s death, it was converted into an office space, providing a far cry from the gray cubicles that workers get today. In 2005, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. More recently, it was used as a residence for women for a religious group, although the space was occasionally opened for museum tours prior to COVID. If you reach for one when you show them, you’ll see the cavernous space, which includes five floors (each with no less than 2,700 square feet), 23 bedrooms, and five fireplaces, plus views of the Citgo sign and other Boston landmarks. With a little updating, the home can be transformed into a more modern space with room for rooms like a home office and a spa, according to the sellers. But we can all hope that anyone who descends home afterward keeps their totally unique design… including those magical stairs.
For more information, visit tiffanyayermansion.com.
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