Bonding With Clients Over Historical Finishes

Dillaway Thomas House Doorway renovation 183 Roxbury Street, Roxbury Crossing, MA . Bonding with clients over historical finishes

Wallpaper therapy isn’t easy

It was a typical onsite job meeting, representatives from the builders, owners, and designers crowded around folding tables discussing agenda items at the Dillaway Thomas House while construction went on around them. Next on the agenda was a milestone in the design-build process, to review finishes and historical wallpaper submittals by the builder, Campbell Construction Group of Peabody. While the sheet rocker on a platform behind us cut out recessed ceiling spots with his spiral saw, Steve Athanas from Campbell Construction unfolded the reproduction wallpaper samples, varieties of Circle Ornament and Boston Floral Stripe from Adelphi Wallcoverings and Coleman Bower from J. R. Burrows and Co.

Our finishes and furnishings consultant Janice Hobson pointed us in the right direction for the project, but it was John Burrows who helped us focus on wallpapers and carpets indigenous to Boston. Many historic buildings have benefited from his expertise, including the President Taft National Historic Site, the Vermont State Capitol, the General Grant House and well over 120 historic locations in more than 30 states. Now all our efforts were put to the test as we unfolded the submittals and placed them up on the wall adjacent to the existing molding colors.

Our first decision was easy; everyone from Content Design Collaborative and the Department of Conservation and Recreation loved the arts and crafts inspired Coleman Bower located in the northwest parlor that would include stories from 20th century Roxbury. Richly textured, it demonstrates the enduring quality of arts and crafts style.  We debated the merits of the Rose color, shown above, compared to Butterscotch, but the Butterscotch colorway was similar to the existing woodwork color, so it was selected in the interests of unity.

The next pattern decision would prove to be more difficult; here early 19th century sensibilities ran counter to contemporary ideas of balance and proportion. Our initial design called for a blue foliate named Circle Ornament placed in the east parlor with its baby blue moulding color. It is known in the exhibit as the Dillaway Room because the interpretive focus is on the period of occupation for the last two-thirds of the 19th century by the Dillaway family. This style looked smart on the design elevation, but the actual sample did not elicit much enthusiasm. The pattern was stark and the color temperature off. We reviewed all the colorways, each of us took a turn displaying the sample, first designer Ed Malouf, then Jessica Rowcroft of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and finally construction supervisor Steven Athanas held up the winning pattern. A more subdued version of Circle Ornament was selected.

Historic stairwells and back corridors were often completed in an ashlar pattern for ease of repair. These busy passages were often damaged and soiled and by gluing a rectangle over the damaged area, this wallpaper is easily repaired. But this style struck us all as very jarring; instead, we selected the Boston Floral Stripe a modest pattern suited for a secondary space in print scale and style. We selected the blue colorway that looked great adjacent to the blue moulding. It only took the designer switching off with the assistant project manager to reach this consensus (where was the masking tape?).

Back to the irksome Circle Ornament. With our new wallpaper selection, the baby blue moulding appeared too harsh.  Back to the sample books to find a new blue or will another color altogether. Will the result be a contemporary tone on tone that Mrs. Dillaway would have found dull or the electric color combinations that pleased our Victorian ancestors in their dimly lit sitting rooms?

The two early reproduction wallpapers selected and the “difficult” blue moulding

Exhibit Makes Way For The Future

How Exhibit Spaces Can Change Roles

Watch this video to see how an exhibit designed to move can transform a gallery. The challenge was to create an interactive exhibit and a changeable gallery suitable for community events. Our solution was to make this substantial installation easily moveable so that a small staff can quickly relocate the cases and graphics.  The curved walls pivot on theater quality caster wheels that lock and level in place, securely hidden from the public.

Exhibits educate visitors about the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England for the Department of Conservation and Recreation at Fall River Heritage State Park

Curved exhibit walls showcase the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England

Our client, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, had the vision to educate visitors about the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England and a to provide a community gallery and meeting space. Visitors can explore artifacts and a variety of interactives and minutes later a community event can be held where the public can create their own history.

Interactive exhibits educate visitors about the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England for the Department of Conservation and Recreation at Fall River Heritage State ParkInteractive exhibits engage visitors with the content

Ed Malouf and Carol Lieb at Content Design Collaborative create flexible spaces. Moveable exhibits give you the ability to host events at your museum within minutes. Let’s talk about how we can help make the best use of your space.

Interpreting historic content to educate visitors about the history of Fall River which was one of the most prosperous mill towns of New England for the Department of Conservation and Recreation at Fall River Heritage State Park

Artifacts cases are secure and move quickly with the exhibit walls to transform the gallery

Special thanks to our actors:  Scott Kamp, Liz Chapin, and Bezzie

Exhibit Design: Ed Malouf and Carol Lieb, Content Design,


Exhibiting 18th-century “Tupperware”

Developing themes around piggins, boxes, and buckets at the new Hingham Heritage Museum

In the old colonial days, just what did you do with your leftover porridge? Or kept your beans, barley, and groats? Or laundered your clothes or cured your meat? In 1700 almost 30 coopers worked in Hingham, 245 years before Tupperware was invented. They provided for the needs of domestic storage, washing, and transport by the art of white coopering. Buckets, tubs and round boxes of all shapes and sizes were accompanied by piggins and pails as functional components of the 17th and 18th century home or shop. Many of these buckets are now prized possessions in private collections or the catalogs of fine arts auctioneers. Imagine what the residents of colonial Hingham would say to see their old buckets and churns on sale today for what their house was worth in early 18th century dollars!

Hingham’s fame is a combination of geography, market demand and a concentration of skilled coopers. Anticipating war in 1774 native son General Benjamin Lincoln as a commissary to the Colonial militia’s Committee of Supplies, he called upon his townsmen to manufacture 15,000 canteens for the local militia. This firmly established Hingham as the small box and bucket center of the new nation. Packet boats filled with boxes, buckets, and tubs made their way to Boston to be sold and then transported further up and down the coast and even to Europe in larger vessels. In the late 18th century the manufacture light woodenware became so industrialized that craftsmen like Cotton Hersey, part of the Hersey bucket-making dynasty, focused exclusively on toys and “small-ware.” For decades the Hingham craftsmen excelled in this market, William S. Tower and Co. were awarded a prize for his toys at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris, but by the late 1920s few builders of fine wooden toys remained.

An overview of  Boxes, Buckets, and Toys: The Craftsmen of Hingham

The Hingham Heritage Museum, scheduled to open in April, is placing their collection on display for their inaugural exhibit, Boxes Buckets and Toys: The Craftsmen of Hingham. Together with staff and volunteers at the Museum, we developed themes addressing the variety of buckets, mass production, and the transition from utilitarian woodenware to decorative buckets and miniatures. We set the stage for visitors to imagine colonial life—candlelit and surrounded by woodenware, by commissioning a mural giving visitors a birds-eye view of Hingham in the early 1800s, when the center of Hingham was a mill pond. The full breadth of the Society’s collection will be displayed, from the smallest pillbox to the innovative dumbetty, a locally invented precursor to the modern washing machine. Visitors will be able to grasp several Hingham Buckets of their own at the What type of Bucket is This interactive exhibit or assemble a layered puzzle of Hingham piecing together the links of contemporary place names with the craftsmen of Hingham’s past. The most flamboyant artifact on display is the 47,000-piece fancy bucket and tray built around 1865 by Samuel Tower. It is a centerpiece of the artifacts devoted to Hingham’s transition from wooden ware to wooden toys and miniatures.

Upper left: Edward Malouf of Content•Design presents to the staff and volunteers of the Hingham Historical Society, lower left, the sketch design for a mural showing Hingham in the early 1700s

The exhibit is located in the elegant, newly restored ballroom of the Old Derby Academy, built in 1818 for the expansion of one of the first co-educational schools in America. A new wing of the building includes a visible storage gallery and research area. Our other task was to design an exhibit furniture system that the Museum will use to create changing exhibits in the Ballroom Gallery from year to year. Plus, the exhibit needed to be demountable to accommodate private functions, especially during the wedding season. Our solution is a three-part system—exhibit walls, cases, and rolling platforms for artifacts and interactives with easily changeable vinyl graphic murals and panels. We have arranged for a representative from the company Mila-wall to set up three interlocking panels so the Museum staff can familiarize themselves with the system. When the exhibit opens this spring it will bear witness to the innovation, industry, and creativity of Hingham’s craftsmen.

Work and Culture, Interactive Museum Memories

Woonsocket Works a new exhibit under development at the Museum of Work & CultureExhibit sketch using the Blackstone River as a metaphor, visitors learn through interactive exhibits about how the mills changed the historical landscape

Anne Conway, the director of the Museum of Work and Culture,  is the driving force behind “Woonsocket Works” a new exhibit that will give visitors the opportunity to learn through interactive experiences about the hundreds of mills in the city during the region’s industrial heyday, shaping the city and the lives and culture of its people. During her 20 years with the museum, she has enhanced the original exhibit plan with additions that connect the institution with the community around it.

The Mill Memory Bank is an interactive database that tells the stories of the workers from the Blackstone Valley

“The Mill Memory Bank” is an interactive database that tells the stories of the workers from the Blackstone Valley. Continuously updated by Museum staff as individuals make their contributions, either on-line or in person, these records become an important part of the collection. On the large gallery screen a dynamic display of the visitor’s entry will also appear (see above).  Read here how families and friends gather to watch as their history becomes a part of the museum. Now we are developing a touch screen interface that will allow users to interact with history on their terms, searching the database and watching interviews with mill workers and owners.

Accessibility Testing Mill Memory BankEd Malouf of Content Design works with Jill Domenici and Bruce Spero of Trivium Interactive to test user accessibility

The next phase of “Woonsocket Works” will develop the exhibit space with graphics and a multi-touch table experience bringing the history of this corner of the  Blackstone Valley to life with interactive maps and the cultural stories that have shaped the vibrant community of Woonsocket. This variety of experiences will address the needs of all types of museum visitors, including the streaker, the stroller, and the studier. With the completed “Woonsocket Works” gallery there will be exhibits organized to respond to all three.

“We can’t talk about the mills without talking about the workers,” Conway said. “That’s what the Museum of Work and Culture is about. It’s about people.”

Why is there a lighthouse on top of a mountain?


The War Memorial on top of Mount Greylock

It is not a lighthouse, it is a beacon.

What is the difference? It is all a matter of context; a lighthouse is specifically designed to guide ocean-going vessels away from treacherous shores and help in pinpointing their location. A beacon is more general, “a fire or light that is set up in high position.” However, when the beacon atop Mount Greylock was built in 1931 it was the golden age of aviation, well before IFR and GPS. Pilots depended on landmarks they could see on the ground while flying their Ford Trimotor passenger planes. This is not to take away from the symbolic meaning of the beacon, the light is a memorial for all men and women who gave their lives in war.
Today the new LED based lighting system shines at 1.9 million lumens, four times the strength of the previous light system. The tower has been refinished for the third time in its history, now with a new silicone grout system that holds great promise for keeping out the water that has plagued the structure for most of its 86 years. The inner chamber was restored as well. It is an ethereal space with a gold-leafed conical ceiling and quotations inscribed along the perimeter wall. If you are game you can climb the internal spiral staircase 50 feet above to view points of interest in New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire as well as Massachusetts. This vantage point also orients you to your immediate surroundings, Bascom Lodge and the Overlook.

But most visitors choose not to, or are unable to, climb the stairs, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, in keeping with its mission of making all of its sites accessible, selected Content•Design to develop a way in which the tower experience could be made accessible. In our previous blog we discuss how we approached the a alternative experience development. Below is a description of the installed exhibits.

Tower interpretive panel

The Monument tower interpretation panel recently installed atop Mount Greylock.

The Bronze panel informs the visitor what is inside the inner chamber, dimensional elements reveal the interior of the tower, especially the inner chamber and spiral staircase. These are in extreme relief and provide a tactile experience. Other elements such as the eagle above the door and the US Army medallion in the chamber floor are depicted. The three-0foot wide panel is set on a Barrie, VT granite block that is a match for the other granite elements on site.

On the newly refurbished parapet that surrounds the Mounument, a wayside reproduces the views in each cardinal direction. The images not only show the distant landmarks but also places near the tower, a challenge to the designers since no single image from each direction taken by the photo drone would provide the view a visitor would see.


Greylock North View Wayside Panel
The new wayside interpretive panel looking north

The North view is a good example of how limited a visitors view can be from the parapet, the panel image allows visitors to look over the trees in front. We deliberately chose to keep the waysides simple. No other stories although Greylock is the source of so many good stories, true and fanciful. That is left to the visitor center eight miles below, here we keep the visitor focused on the view and identifying landmarks. Note the use of stainless steel posts for durability in the boreal conditions. The phenolic panel is supplied by Fossil Industries .

The granite was supplied by Barrie Granite in Vermont, and the bronze panel cast by Matthews International . Both were installed by Berkshire Monumental Works  of North Adams.