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To decorate his summer retreat, Morse contracted with Gustave Herter, a German-trained cabinetmaker and interior designer who immigrated to New York City in 1848. Herter Brothers, which he founded, was to become the most influential design firm in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. Victoria Mansion is the
Herter commission that survives intact. Its remarkably complete interiors feature spectacular furniture, gas lighting fixtures, carpets, stained glass, silver, glassware, and porcelain. The painted
(fool-the-eye) wall and ceiling decorations executed by Giuseppe Guidicini are among the glories of the house. Richly gilded surfaces, intricate plasterwork, enormous mirrors, and sumptuous fabrics combined to create lavish spaces of a palatial scale. The quality and preservation of its interiors make Victoria Mansion an unparalleled and widely admired example of pre-Civil War grandeur.
Dining Room looking southwest. The chestnut paneled walls, marble mantel, furnishings, and gas fixtures are all original to the room. The French porcelain, cut glass stemware, and Tiffany-retailed silver were ordered by the Morses when the house was built.
In 1860, the Mansion was also among the most modern homes in Maine. Morse's experience in the hotel trade led him to incorporate all the latest conveniences, including hot and cold running water, gas lighting, central heating, and a bell system to summon servants.
(left) Turkish Smoking Room, Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) photo, 1935. (right) Turkish Smoking Room today. Photograph by J. David Bohl.
While the painted decoration of the Mansion is largely intact, portions of it are
still dimmed by the soot and dirt of decades. An ongoing conservation program is revealing the fresh colors once again. In 2007-2009 the Turkish Room was completely cleaned and restored to its original splendor. Its unique Islamic-inspired wall and ceiling paintings were meticulously conserved and the original upholstery and window treatments were replicated exactly. Restoration efforts are currently focused on the second floor Bathroom and Water Closet, an extremely rare survival of mid-nineteenth century sanitary technology wrapped in ornately painted walls and ceilings in the Pompeian style.
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