The Naples Room

This room, part of the original 1685 house, has undergone repeated remodeling. Henry Hooper (owner 1716-1733) or Cornelius Waldo (owner 1733-1758) redecorated it in the Georgian style, in vogue at the time. The room’s First Period features were covered with casings and the window openings were made symmetrical to give them a more formal appearance. These alterations changed the room from a simple to high style, suitable for a wealthy physician or country gentleman.

Probably around 1717 the plain board paneling at the fireplace wall was updated by applying a grid system of thin boards to resemble expensive Georgian raised wall paneling without incurring the cost. This faux paneling is believed to be unique in New England.

Judge Joseph Lee modernized the room by plastering over the faux paneling and installing figured wallpaper throughout. Samples of this paper have been recovered and date to between 1760 and 1780. Lee also probably took advantage of new techniques and reduced the size of the fireplace, allowing it to throw more heat into the room instead of up the chimney.

The wallpaper, printed by Joseph Dufour et Cie in Paris in the early 1820s, depicts the Bay of Naples. It was the height of style when it was printed.

In 1916 owner Austin White hired architect Joseph Everett Chandler to update the room in the then fashionable Colonial Revival style. Chandler’s alterations were restrained; he added a molding and “fine old Dutch tiles” to the fireplace surround.

The Cambridge Historical Society installed a movable panel to enable visitors to see the fire place wall’s earlier treatment. Once again visible are the ghost lines of the circa 1717-1742 faux paneling, formerly hidden by the wallpaper.

A Mystery

A central unanswered question about this room is who installed the wallpaper and when? It was printed between 1820 and 1825. Benjamin Carpenter purchased the house in 1814 and married Deborah Carpenter in 1823. They were married only two months before he died and Deborah moved into her father, Thomas Lee’s house. The wallpaper was first mentioned by the Nichols family, who moved into the house in 1850 and found the wall paper. Was it installed by Deborah Carpenter, who lived in the house such a short time, or by a tenant who left it behind?