Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Frederic March and Henry Sleeper
High on my list of places that I wish to visit is Beauport, the Gloucester, Massachusetts house of Henry Davis Sleeper. Built by Sleeper in the early twentieth century, Beauport was decorated in myriad historical styles and furnished with an array of objects, both of which attest to Sleeper's flair for decorating (he was one of this country's earliest professional decorators) and his passion for collecting. Even if you're not overly familiar with Beauport, you have likely seen photos of two of its more famous rooms: the China Trade Room and the Octagon Room.
This post, however, isn't really about Beauport, but rather Sleeper's work as an interior designer. Sleeper's clients included Isabella Stewart Gardner and Henry Francis du Pont, who enlisted Sleeper's guidance in decorating both his Long Island house, Chestertown, and his more famous residence, Winterthur. But what I find to be curious was the fact that this New England decorator also worked for Hollywood actors, including Joan Crawford and Frederic March (pictured above.)
I recently discovered photos of March's Sleeper-designed Beverly Hills house in a 1936 issue of House Beautiful. According to my research, Sleeper decorated the house in 1934, the same year in which he (Sleeper) died. (I don't know if he died before or after completion of the March house.) The House Beautiful article shows three photos of the home's exterior, which was described as French Provincial with whitewashed brick walls and blue doors, but just a scant three photos of the home's interior, namely, the dining room and a playroom.
The dining room, which you can see below, was furbished with a hunting-and-fishing-motif Zuber paper and "woodwork and damask curtains a soft azure blue-green." Don't you wish that we could see that dining room in color? The playroom is charming, though a bit unusual, in that it "reproduces a kitchen in an old Normandy house- fine copper and brass on the hearth, brown toile curtains, yellow quilting on the chairs and sofa." Though not pictured in the article, the living room was described as having been decorated "after an 18th Century salon, with laurel green paneled walls, lots of books, a piano in one corner, secretary in another, 18th Century furniture in deep yellow brocade and a dark brown chintz on the couch."
According to the Beauport website, Sleeper described his early design focus as "Norman and English Country Houses- 17th and 18th century American Interiors." Later, however, that focus shifted slightly to "English and French Interiors- 17th and 18th century American Paneling." Sleeper was obviously well-versed in a range of historical styles, and I think that range is quite evident in the March house.
An interesting footnote to this story is that March's house, which was designed by architect Wallace Neff in 1934, had several subsequent prominent owners, including Shirley and Flobelle Burden (the parents of Carter Burden, who grew up in this house,) Wallis Annenberg, and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston. Pitt supposedly removed some of the home's original paneling, which really doesn't surprise me at all.