Architecture

Architecture

Built in 1897 for a wealthy merchant by architects Little and Brown, the HER House at 191 Bay State Road has an incredible architectural history.

The common rooms were designed and decorated to reflect specific historical periods. Highlights include a French sitting room, oval paneled Elizabethan dining room with 14K gold accents, and a foyer designed as a Roman Atrium, complete with skylight, Roman frescoes and marble columns. Today, it remains decorated with antiques and strives to maintain unique features while providing a modern, comfortable residence for 24 women. Truly, this house is a hidden architectural gem of Boston.

French Room

French Room

Elizabethan Dining Room

Elizabethan Dining Room

Roman Foyer

Roman Foyer

Harriet E. Richards Cooperative House: Its Architectural History

By Mary Cunha, HER Aluma, Class of 1986
(The following history was originally included in the 60th anniversary Redbook in 2008)

The Brownstone at 191 Bay State Rod has been occupied by the HER Cooperative since 1940. Prior to this, the Coop was housed at 328 Bay State Road, the site of the present BU Law School. The original owner of the house was James Means, Esq., and the house was built in 1897 by Little and Brown – architects – and the contracting firm of Connery Wentworth.

The total cost of building this house was $36,508.26! The various parts of the house were contracted out as follows (with costs):

Labour Contractor Cost
Masonry Connery & Wentworth $13,658.26
Carpentry Mitchell & Sutherland 14,871.30
Plumbing Pierce & Cox 2,190.48
Heating Morrow & Wilkinson 888.00
Electric Work Lord Electric Co. 385.00
Gas Piping John McLouglin 77.00
Painting Jos. Modlich 514.75
Balustrade on Roof M.H. Gulesian 240.00
Sashes in Bay Phipps & Co. 198.00
Fireplaces McClure 1,315.47
Cost of Construction 34,338.26
Iron marquise over entrance J. Williams 285.00
Furnishings 214.80
Furniture 1,670.20
Total Cost of House 36,508.26

Today, the exterior of the house remains basically unchanged from its original construction as confirmed by photos printed in architectural journals of the time. However, the original drawings of the interior reveal differences in the function and construction of some rooms. Originally, the basement housed the kitchen, pantry, wine closet, baby carriage closet, laundry room, clothes drying room and boiler room. The dining room, butler’s pantry, atrium, and drawing room were located on the first floor. On the second floor, the Master’s Chamber was in the front of the house and the Library and an alcove were located in the rear. On the third floor, a nursery, night nursery and bathroom were located in the front of the house and toward the rear of the house were two chambers, a bathroom and a dressing room. The billiard room and servants’ chambers were on the fourth floor. The elevator was in the original plan for the building.

Images of the exterior of the house were printed in The American Architect and Building News (November 1, 1902, #1401). This periodical can be found at the Boston Athenaeum. The ink and linen drawings of the house are at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.

Permission from Boston University was obtained to reprint the following article published in 1985, copyrighted, by the Trustees of BU, titled “Buildings and Builders” (Scholarly Publications, Boston, 1985, p. 129-131).

This is one of the earlier homes on Bay State Road, built before any stylistic patterns were established for the street. The building’s distinctive brickwork (the quoined-stone effect is achieved by recessing every sixth brick string course), and its symmetrical three-bay window exterior give it an air of stolid dignity. The heavy Georgian balustrade above the ground floor doorway, and the belt course of GREEK RUNNING KEY [sic] pattern, provide a clue to the classical motifs employed within; the magnificent French style grille and wrought-iron arched gateway herald one of the unique and striking interior spaces in the City of Boston.

Inside, a small entry hall lined with green marble and brass-studded leather doors envelops the visitor. One mounts a half-flight of stairs, turns, and suddenly emerges into a great two-story Roman atrium. The room is suffused with light, and presents to the startled eye the illusion of an open courtyard. Garden trellises – hand painted on the FRESCOED walls – rise from the green marble dado to surround a large fountain, now removed. The Greek key pattern of the exterior facade reappears in the border of the mosaic floor, along the stair banister, and under the SOFFIT [sic] of the great balcony. The Classical-style BALUSTRADE [sic] encircling the atrium echoes the exterior balcony.

Light fills the central atrium through interior windows looking out from the adjacent sitting room. This exquisite room is a textbook example of the delicate French eighteenth-century-style favored at the time by such influential tastemakers as Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman. (Codman noted that the style was able to create in a busy city an atmosphere of contemplation.”) The room still remains its original gold and white decor, along with many original furnishings.

The second-floor vestibule, lined with fluted columns, leads into the paneled library, now converted to student living space. Here, a bay window, whose upper leaded sash frames a stained-glass coat of arms, offers a splendid view of the Charles River.

(Editor’s note, 2008: The original article included two pictures; one an aerial view of the HER Cooperative from the opposite side of Bay State Road, the second a picture of the atrium from the steps to the French Room. Caption under first photo: Townhouse/Little & Browne, 1897; 1940, Harriet Richards House first cooperative dormitory in the United States. Caption under second photo: The Atrium, 191 Bay State Road.)