November 13, 2017
To our surprise, we found more unusual wallpaper in the sitting room at the Akin House. While it hasn’t been closely examined, nor photographed to the best effect, this recent discovery begs many questions about the origins of the practice of applying wallpaper in an area that is seldom seen. The fact that it was found in a cupboard would indicate perhaps another room or the existence of an open and larger storage area at one time. This particular cupboard is on the left side of the fireplace, abutting the stairs to the second story. The remarkable artistry of this decor was never noticed by those of us who worked on the preservation of the house for over a decade.
Photos of the wallpaper taken from the depths of interior of the cupboard.
We again consulted with Sally Zimmerman, Senior Preservation Services Manager of Historic New England (HNE).
She noted that it was not the first time she has seen wallpaper in a place under the stairs and hidden. She added that it could have been used as a liner, albeit a decorative one, for the cupboard, or possibly for some other space, if there was a different floor plan. “That was the case at [an]other place, in Maine, where it was found in an area under stairs and in a closet which might have opened into another space at one time. We never nailed down that other cupboard and its paper so maybe just a mystery!”
We also looked at American Decorative Wall Painting–1700-1850, the New England Edition by Nina Fletcher Littler, published in 1989 by E. P. Dutton. We found a similar decorative feature on a staircase
While this rendition is free-hand hand-painted in brown on a gray background, as the caption indicates, it is striking in its resemblance to our wallpapered stairs.
About the Dutton House
According to the Shelburne Museum website, the Dutton House portrays the home of an 1820s New England entrepreneur and his family. The house was built by Salmon Dutton in Cavendish, Vermont in 1782 and served as both as family residence and—at various times in its history—a tavern, an inn, and office space for several different enterprises. Dutton House was moved to the [Shelburne] Museum in 1950 when a road-widening project threatened the structure. It was the first dwelling relocated to the grounds. Check out the slide show of the Dutton House.
Back to the Akin House
Several years ago, the late architectural historian, Anne W. “Pete” Baker speculated that it was possible that the staircase was not original. In any case, we have yet to find the original. But this discovery opens up some new possibilities about the origins of this wallpaper, hidden in plain sight in the cupboard. This finding creates another research project.