Two Kitchens and Two Eras of Entertaining

Historic home featured on Beacon Hill Village Kitchen Tour

It is not surprising that plenty of space was allocated to the preparation of food and drink in the grand townhouses built in the early 1800s by Harrison Gray Otis, a lawyer, politician and developer, who helped transform Beacon Hill’s South Slope from undeveloped pasture land into the grandest residential area in Boston.

Entertaining was a passion of his wife, Sally Foster Otis, who, it is said, was a lively, joyous woman known for her beauty and wit. She loved attending parties and, along with her husband, hosting prominent Bostonians and visitors in their home. Perhaps her passion influenced Otis to ensure that ample space for entertaining was included in the homes he personally built for others.

In one Beacon Hill townhouse, for example, Otis devoted the entire first two floors to the kitchen, dining room and other accouterments associated with fine dining so that the hostess might serve guests from a butler’s pantry off a first-floor formal dining room.

That kitchen, built in 1823, and a second contemporary one added more than 100 years later in the home are among the several unique kitchens being featured on Beacon Hill Village’s sixth annual Creative Kitchens Tour on Saturday, April 6.

The original kitchen is located on the garden level of the meticulously preserved townhouse, built on commission to Otis and architect Charles Bulfinch by Edmund Blanchard for his daughter Sarah’s dowry. It was purchased on Valentine’s Day in 1823, a day marked by the elaborately scrolled wrought andirons still situated on the hearth. A typical early American kitchen, it is similar in design and layout to the kitchen Paul Revere added to his home in the 1790s.

Those on the Tour can easily imagine dinner guests arriving at Sarah’s home in a horse drawn carriage, being welcomed at the portico by her and her husband, and seated around a 12 feet long mahogany table in the spacious, formal dining room.

Beneath them on the garden level would be a bustling of activity in the kitchen, wine cellar, food pantries, washroom, wood storage room, as well as in the adjacent garden with its three service entrances from a private passageway.

The home’s second and now primary kitchen reflects the grandeur of the town house. It was put in place in 1930-33 in conjunction with a major upgrading of the house’s heating and plumbing systems which allowed “swelling” of the long north wall of the house’s panhandle footprint to the rear, and relocation of the principal kitchen from the garden level to the first floor. Some fifty years later, adjustments to this envelop were begun by architect Peter Schubert, who transformed the space over a period of years, introducing among other features remarkable curved custom-made cabinetry and windows, and a breakfast room with Federal period paneling and a window seat for those wishing to linger.

Today’s homeowner said she enjoys carrying on the tradition of hosting dinner parties in the dining room just as Sarah Blanchard did nearly two centuries ago. “This house, its kitchens on two levels and formal dining room were and remain truly made for entertaining,” she said.

During the Creative Kitchens Tour, the mahogany table, with its 12 Beidermeier chairs, handcrafted of crotch mahogany in approximately the year the townhouse was first occupied, will be set as it would have been in 1930 by Lori Hedtler, owner of Devonia Antiques.

Tickets for the Tour, which takes place from 1 – 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, are $50 in advance, available online at www.beaconhillvillage.org or by calling 617-723-9713, and $60 on the day of the Tour. They may also be purchased at the Hampshire House at 84 Beacon St. and the Hingham Institution for Savings at 80 Charles St.

A pre-Tour Heart and Hearth luncheon will be held at the Hampshire House from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. The guest speaker is architect Frank McGuire, who will speak about History, Histrionics and Hysteria on Beacon Hill: Renovations on Beacon Hill. The cost is $135, which includes the Tour ticket. Advanced registration required.

A complimentary cocktail reception will be held at the Hampshire House from 3 to 5 p.m. Proceeds from the Tour and Luncheon will benefit Beacon Hill Village.

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