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Overdue renovations give State House splendor

Marrying its 1798 heritage with modern necessities, workers restore governor’s offices

The executive office now looks like it did when it opened. Improvements were also made to the lieutenant governor’s office, constituent services, and what will be an emergency response room.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The Bulfinch green paint on the walls is the same as it was in 1798, as are the white ribbon-pattern moldings.

The curved, wooden desk that seats at least 10 is a little newer, from at least the 1890s.

And the stairs between the third and fourth floor were cut from a single tree in the 1800s.

Welcome to the newly renovated — and restored — governor’s suite in one of the country’s oldest state houses, which no longer has cracked walls, drafty windows, and aging heating, cooling, and plumbing systems.

These were not run-of-the-mill upgrades and repairs in a 216-year-old building that is considered among the nation’s historic landmarks. Governor Deval Patrick’s staff called this a “museum-quality” restoration, with some modern touches.


“It was a complete historical renovation; it wasn’t just a restoration,” said Richard Petersen, senior construction manager with the state’s division of capital asset management and maintenance. “We actually went in, and we did a lot of research to find out what the colors were, what the textures were, what the floor was, and what not.”

The newly-renovated executive office now looks like it did in 1798.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The executive office now looks like it did in 1798, Petersen said.

It cost $11.3 million to renovate and restore these 19,000 square feet of the State House, including the lieutenant governor’s office, constituent services on the second floor, and what will soon be an emergency response room on the fourth floor.

The executive offices now have temperature control, wireless Internet capability, sprinklers, blast-resistant storm windows, security cameras, including some with facial recognition, and sensors that can detect if a room is occupied.

The original price tag of the yearlong project was $9 million, but work crews encountered unforeseen circumstances when they began pulling back carpets and opening up walls.

“One of the main surprises was the way the building was built,” Petersen said.


A 19th-century curved wooden desk rescued from a farmhouse in Lancaster centers the governor’s council chamber.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The walls, he said, are terracotta and concrete with plaster over them, making it extremely difficult to upgrade the electrical system.

And much of the infrastructure had not been improved in a century, said Shirin Karanfiloglu, lead architect of the renovation, standing in the revamped reception area.

“It hasn’t been touched in a long time, more than a hundred years,” she said, adding that there had been small-scale renovations over the years but nothing comprehensive. “To preserve our treasures, we had to do this.”

The same attention to detail is planned for the Senate and House chambers.

The renovations to the governor’s office become apparent as soon as you walk into the reception area, which was returned to its original dimensions.

“Previously, this space was chopped up with two offices that blocked the view to the beautiful gardens and the parks,” Karanfiloglu said.

The governor’s suite is one of the oldest parts of the State House, and the original hardwood floors were covered with wall-to-wall carpeting, which had the benefit of covering holes in the floor.

“We were lucky people didn’t stand in one place for too long,” Petersen said, in a room that still smelled of fresh paint.

Renovations were aimed at restoring historical integrity and increasing functionality.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

And the same problems were revealed when carpeting was pulled up in the governor’s council chamber. The holes were patched with pieces of the reception-area floor. So now, the 2-inch-thick oak floor is a patchwork, all of it original from 1798.

The walls in the governor’s office, which Patrick has reoccupied, are painted in the original Bulfinch green instead of the light blue that was there when the restoration began. Discovering the original paint color required using microscopes to see through layer upon layer of paint, said Andrea Gilmore, of the Building Conservation Associates, a consulting firm.


Accenting the green walls are white bead and reel, ribbon-pattern moldings — also original — and gold adornments, including a star burst symbolizing Massachusetts’ status as one of the original 13 colonies.

Next door, in the governor’s council chamber, there is a 19th-century curved wooden desk rescued from a farmhouse in Lancaster.

It was restored and returned to the State House.

Gilmore called the finished product “a museum quality restoration.”

Still, a few finishing touches remain. The drapes and blinds must be hung in the governor's office. Constituent services on the second floor is still under construction. And the state-of-the-art situation room that will mimic the emergency management bunker in Framingham still needs furniture — and gizmos.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.