Beauport, The Sleeper-McCann House: Seaside Mansion of America’s First Professional Interior Designer

After what seems like eternity, I was finally able to visit Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House! It is one of only a handful of historic homes that are currently open for tours at Historic New England, and I was so happy to see it on the list! This was an amazing one to get back into the groove – and I hope you enjoy my post about it!

Historical Highlights

  • Henry Davis Sleeper, a Boston native, was born in 1878 to a family who dabbled in real estate and clothing, and even helped to start Boston University.  Sleeper would become one of the first professional interior designers in America, and Beauport would be his showpiece used to highlight his design aesthetic for potential clients but of course also for private entertaining and relaxing.
  • The rocky shoreline of Gloucester’s Eastern Point was home to many wealthy Bostonians, and was introduced to Sleeper by his good friend, Piatt Andrew in the spring of 1906. Piatt Andrew owned a gorgeous home there which he named Red Roof, and you can still see today a small section of the original roof which is  – of course – red, from the back patio at Beauport. Sleeper fell in love with Eastern Point and fit right into the social scene, purchasing the plot of land in 1907, and started construction that same year.
  • One of my favorite things about touring historic homes is finding the connection between the families who built them and lived in them.
    • Henry Davis Sleeper was a collector, and that included salvaging architectural elements from historic homes in the area to use at Beauport. One of his favorite people to go on the ‘hunt’ for these items with was none other than Isabella Gardner Stewart, who was a rabid collector herself (read about my visit to her museum here!). There are so many pieces – mantels, stoves, windows – throughout Beauport which were removed from historic homes in New England, including elements from the house his mother grew up in. Henry & Isabella even coordinated with Emily Tyson, who had just restored the Hamilton House (one of my all-time favorites!) for ideas. A group I would have jumped at the chance to hang out with, for sure!
    • Henry Davis Sleeper was also friendly with the quirky John Hays Hammond Jr., who was a famous inventor and built the Hammond Castle just across the Gloucester Harbor in 1929. Hammond was a practical joker, and as the inventor of the remote control, was known to send over remote control boats to freak out Sleeper in the middle of the night. It was great to already know the story of the Hammond Castle – it’s a fascinating place that you can read about here!
  • Throughout the years, Sleeper continued to add onto the original structure and of course redecorate, finding inspiration in objects or significant events in his life. He partnered with Gloucester architect Halfdan M. Hanson for all home renovations.
  • While Sleeper was obviously very interested in interior design and architecture, he spent time in France after World War I, returning to serve as the Director of Museums for the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England.
  • In 1921 he officially opened his interior design business in downtown Boston on Boylston Street, bringing more attention to his beloved Beauport. He was featured in House Beautiful and Country Life in the 1920s, huge home décor publications for their time. He worked for many clients in Boston, but also made his way west and decorated homes for some of Hollywood’s elite. By 1930, Beauport was a well-known destination, seeing visitors everyday who simply wanted to tour Sleeper’s masterpiece. Sleeper sadly passed away in Boston of leukemia in September of 1934.
  • Sleeper was openly gay and never had children, so after his passing Beauport was left to his brother, however he was unable to financially support the now 45-room seaside home. It was sold in October 1935 to Charles & Helena McCann. Helena was part of the art collection world and was devoted to preserving Beauport, as she was well aware of the historic importance of such a home. There is only one room she made any alterations to, The China Room. The remaining rooms are all just as Henry Davis Sleeper designed & lived in.
  • The McCann’s only lived in the house for a short time, as Helena passed in 1938, and her children transferred the ownership of the home to Historic New England in 1942, who still own it today!

Favorite Spots

Octagon Room

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This is one of the most interesting rooms I’ve ever seen. Each of Sleeper’s rooms had a color scheme, which was easy to pick out by the collections that each room housed. This room was red and purple, as you can see from the décor. The dark paneling that looks black would have been a very deep purple when first painted – which would have been incredible! You also see a lot of the number eight in this room, in its hexagonal shape, the number of lamps used in the room, and more!

Golden Step Dining Room

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Name after the giant ship model in this room The Golden Step room is one of five (FIVE!) dining rooms in the home – and while this is the only one I saw, I can’t imagine the others having a better view of the harbor. I love the eclectic design here – a bit nautical, a bit jazzy 1920’s – but the view is really what it is all about. The entire giant middle panel of the window actually ‘falls’ down to allow for al-fresco dining, and must make for an unreal dining experience on Eastern Point.

Central Hall

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If first impressions are everything, Sleeper easily won me over here. This backlit amber glassware display is breathtaking – pictures don’t do it any justice. There is even a diagram that shows the placement of each piece so that the display always remains as Sleeper intended.

Strawberry Hill Bedroom

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There is something about a dark bedroom with a sea view that does it for me – I feel like it makes the view that much more impactful. However, one look up to the vaulted ceilings with its lacquered wallpaper and incredible chandelier will have you momentarily forgetting about the crashing waves. This bedroom was originally for Henry Davis Sleeper’s mother and is simply gorgeous.

Master’s Maritime Room

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I loved the light, unfinished wood in this room and all the architectural details. The windows, the door frames,  the closets – it’s a great example of how Sleeper pulled all these items from different houses and blended them together in the most beautiful way possible. Sleeper used this room as a place to show off all his nautical themed décor pieces.

Eye-Spy

  • Just like the amber glass display in the Central Hall, there are similar glass displays throughout the home – and no matter the color they are all simply beautiful.
  • There are over 20 likeness of George Washington throughout the home – see if you can find them all!
  • I loved the four little animal statues out back on the patio – I wish I knew the stories behind them!

Visiting Tips

  • We are obviously living in some wild times, and this was the first mini-road trip that I have taken since February – and Historic New England did a really good job at making me feel safe. You needed to have a tour booked in advance, the groups were limited and very small in size, plenty of room allowed for safe social distancing, masks required and hand sanitizer was offered in multiple areas. Well done!
  • Trust your GPS on this one, even though it doesn’t seem right. The road to get onto Eastern Point is right next to a beach, and there’s a guard shack that you stop at before continuing – it looks private. Just let the lovely man in the guard shack know where you’re going, and he’ll send you on your way no problem! There is also a dedicated parking lot right across the street from Beauport, which is awesome because it’s a windy skinny road (full of other huge, gorgeous houses to peek at too!).
  • Typically I would have made a full day of my trip up there – but with the state of the world and a time crunch I had that day, I made a quick visit. But, Gloucester is gorgeous and I know there are so many awesome restaurants right on the water – so, plan a day and stay a while!

Top Photos

Below are some of my favorite shots of Beauport but I’ll be sharing more on our Facebook & Instagram pages! Enjoy!

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Laurie says:

    I always enjoy your posts!
    Laurie
    Roseland Cottage

    Like

  2. Jeannie Lonergan says:

    Have visited several times and would love to see it again. Fascinating property

    Like

  3. jarednolan says:

    Nice! Thanks for sharing. Very helpful to me.

    Like

    1. Candice says:

      So glad you enjoyed the post! If you can visit I highly recommend it. Simply gorgeous place!

      Liked by 1 person

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