Henry Davis Sleeper was already a knowledgeable antique collector and prominent interior designer when he started Beauport in 1907. He designed it as a weekend retreat– a small country cottage on the rocks of Eastern Point. Over the next 27 years, the house evolved into a fantasy of over 40 beautiful and grandiose interiors filled with his collections of American and European objects. He was meticulous in his designs and all rooms at the house were arranged with specific attention to composition of color, texture, and light. Whole sections of paneling and timbers taken from demolished houses in the New England area were installed in various arrangements and new fabrications were commissioned to match–this created beautiful rooms such as the Green Dining Room, South Gallery, and Cogswell Hall.
Sleeper’s talents and reputation for interior decoration and acquisition of valued antiques spread far and his flair for color caught the eye of writers from the beginning. The house was featured extensively in publications, starting in 1916 with a fulsome article in “The House Beautiful,” followed throughout the 1920s up to the present day by numerous others in newspapers and magazines. Nancy McClelland, one of the first advocates for the professionalization of interior decorators, states in her 1926 book, “The Practical Book of Decorative Wall Treatments,” “Henry D. Sleeper… says that he has found at least seven different colors of paint which occur frequently in old dwellings, and which he has reproduced in this wonderful house in Gloucester. Among them are a golden brown, pumpkin-yellow, and sage green.”
Following a subsequent owner (Mr. & Mrs. Charles E. F. McCann), the house was almost unchanged in composition and color when it was bequeathed to Historic New England in 1942. Today, as part of the ongoing conservation work at the house, Historic New England is performing historic paint analysis in approximately 5 rooms to determine the original color and vibrancy of the Sleeper paint palette. This will provide more information on the history of historic paints in New England as well as create a paint chronology for touch ups and repairs at the house. More information to follow.