Architecture Luxury Real Estate

Tiffany Ayer Mansion: Historic Landmark Home in Boston, Massachusetts

A long-time National Historic Landmark will be meticulously transformed into a grand one-off residence on a boulevard in Boston, Massachusetts, considered to be one of the finest streets in North America

Boston has always been home to disruptors and innovators. It’s this kind of unconventional thinker who will be drawn to the Tiffany Ayer Mansion,” says Greta Gustafson, Director at LandVest, Inc. | Christie’s International Real Estate, of the historic landmark.

As the sole surviving home designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, complete with the only Tiffany-designed exterior in situ, the Ayer Mansion can confidently claim that most overused of adjectives—unique. Built between 1899 and 1902, the historic landmark was groundbreaking, intriguing, and decidedly different. A statement piece of architecture, it was at odds with its neighbors—just as the family that commissioned it wanted.

The way Tiffany captured light, and his use of space and color, are spectacular. It’s a special place that would be truly appreciated by a lover of the arts—Greta Gustafson

And so it remains: a remarkable piece of architecture poised for a new chapter in its story. Decades of preservation work have, thankfully, kept the integrity of its initial premise, despite it not being a family home since the day the original owners sold. A return to the use it was designed for would be a fitting progression.

Commissioned by the Ayer family, led by businessman and art collector patriarch Frederick, to reflect their individuality and also to celebrate their extensive collection of exotic furniture collected on tours of the Near East and North Africa, the house succeeds because of its delicate balance of serene simplicity and opulent decoration.

Two images, one looking up through the staircase to a light and roof window; impressive entrance hall with sweeping steps
Left: A “glass jewel” lamp, suspended five stories up combines with gold foil-backed columns (see right) to create the sense of the sun rising. Right: A striking marble staircase adorned with mosaics leads the way to a beautifully decorated proscenium arch.

The building is introduced by a theatrical entrance hall like no other—the second Mrs. Ayer had been an actress and reportedly liked to give readings from this spot, which has fantastic acoustics for performances. A marble semicircular staircase with glass-mosaic risers leads to a proscenium arch on the stair landing featuring a glass-mosaic trompe l’oeil of a Greek temple. The columns are made of semi-transparent glass backed by gold foil, giving the appearance of a rising sun when light is reflected on the area.

The light comes via an ingenious oval void that stretches up five flights, all the way to the roof, in which an original, complex “glass jewel” lamp hangs. This hallway was also once home to a seven-foot (2.1 m) stuffed jaguar, which may well have teetered on the fireplace mantel.

A Truly Special Place 

And so, the tone is set. Naturally, there’s bold use of opalescent glass and shimmering mosaics throughout—the motifs so closely associated with Tiffany—but there’s so much more. Vast copper-clad double doors, bow-front windows with stained-glass panels, and a “sky parlor” on the fifth floor that Mr. Ayer (once the richest man in the region) used as his smoking room, are some of the many highlights.

“The way Tiffany captured light, and his use of space and color, are spectacular,” Gustafson notes. “It’s a special place that would be truly appreciated by a lover of the arts. Room for every need, ease of access, and spectacular spaces are paired with the prime location that puts you in the heart of Boston with so many amenities at your door.”

Two images: the building from the outside and a close up of the ornate fireplace
Left: The Ayer Mansion’s exteriors, the sole surviving home by Louis Comfort Tiffany, stand out from the neighboring houses, as was the intention of the family who commissioned it. Right: Tiffany’s signature designs are showcased throughout the home.

Views from the roof span the full sweep of the Charles River basin and the Emerald Necklace chain of parks to the glittering towers of downtown and Back Bay. The location certainly suits the ambition of this mansion. Back Bay has long been one of Boston’s most sought-after neighborhoods, especially along Commonwealth Avenue.

“The Commonwealth Avenue Mall, a ‘grand allée of shade trees,’ was inspired by Parisian boulevards,” says Gustafson. “Winston Churchill even called it ‘the grandest boulevard in North America.’ From the Ayer Mansion’s location along the avenue, you’re just steps from Boston’s most renowned institutions, including the Boston Symphony, Fenway Park baseball stadium, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and shopping and dining along Newbury Street.”

Never-Ending Story

The owners, Jean Abouhamad, president of Sea-Dar and Charles Reed, president of CNW Capital Partners, have put together a top-flight team to make what has long been a public National Historic Landmark into a family home. They have retained David Hacin, founding principal and creative director of award-winning Hacin + Associates, to provide a new vision for the property. Sea-Dar Construction, a firm deeply experienced in bespoke work on landmark properties, is ready to assist the new owners.

Two images showing the empty lounge and how it could look when restored
Original handcrafted details from the present incarnation of the home (left) are both preserved and enhanced in the reimagined room design (right).

“Louis Comfort Tiffany’s beautiful designs, combined with Hacin + Associates’ concepts and Sea-Dar’s expertise, provide a perfect jumping-off point to create a spectacular next chapter for the Tiffany Ayer Mansion,” Gustafson concludes.

Sensuous, sweeping curves and Tiffany’s signature ellipses repeat throughout, from entrance to roof. Its elevated main entertaining space is just as Tiffany would have specified—a wonder to behold, but also a liveable area perfect for hosting gatherings.

An opportunity to reside within a historic landmark featuring museum-quality architecture with a distinctly Byzantine flavor is tempting indeed. “The history of the property is part of it, but the character of the home is what really makes it special,” says Hacin. “It struck me immediately as both modern and rooted in the construct of the Back Bay at the same time. And that is really unique.”

Importantly, while working on the home with architect A.J. Manning, Tiffany could free his imagination to run wild. In other houses, where he was brought in to decorate spaces, he was more constrained by architecture that wasn’t part of his plan. The icing on this sublime cake is the craftsmanship of every handmade element—wherever your eye rests, it will alight on an exquisite detail devised by the man who declared his life mission to be “the pursuit of beauty.”