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.

The two photos above show the March dining room.

The old Norman kitchen-inspired playroom.


  1. Jennifer, yes I do wish that we could see this fabulous dining room by Sleeper in color! You always bring such interesting background to your features which I appreciate!

    The Arts by Karena

  2. Anonymous2:32 PM

    A visit to Beauport is really worth a visit, preferably in the summer, if you are in the Boston area. It is a beautiful home which looks out over Gloucester harbor. The house itself really "rambles" from one room to another, one decorating style to another, and you could easily get totally lost. Thankfully, all tours are guided. My favorite room was the casual dinning room with painted green furniture overlooking the water. The other homes (estates) on Eastern Point are a "drive-by" must see as well.

  3. never heard of Sleeper + would love to tour Beauport.

  4. Scott1:55 PM

    Hi Jennifer,

    I enjoyed reading this post to learn more about the color scheme and other details of the March house since I never saw the H&G article. The house was featured around 1990 in one of Architectural Digest's issues on homes of old Hollywood stars, but with scant information about the decoration. I recall coming across a 1930s article, possibly in California Arts & Architecture or in Architect & Engineer, about the residence. I don't remember all the details, but I think that story stated that Sleeper decorated the March house (or maybe just the dining room) in conjunction with Cannell & Chaffin, a high-end Los Angeles furniture and interior design business. I believe Mrs. March was very involved in the decoration as well. Perhaps Cannell & Chaffin took over when Sleeper died. I don't have the article handy, unfortunately. I think one of the books on the architect Wallace Neff has the citation for this article in case you or your readers want to find it. The AD story did not credit any decorator. I had been curious if Frances Elkins might have worked for the Marches (she loved French provincial furniture and scenic wallpaper, of course) until I found the architectural journal story crediting Sleeper and Cannell & Chaffin. As you may recall, I am writing a new book on Elkins. Mr. March's name is spelled "Fredric March," FYI. Cheers, Scott

  5. I hope you do get to see Beauport - it's wonderful. The March house has a little of the same flavor!

  6. Scott6:04 PM

    Hi Jennifer,

    I found and photocopied the Oct. 1934 California Arts & Architecture article about the March house (pages 15 to 17). On page 17 it states, "Henry Davis Sleeper and Cannell and Chaffin, Interior Decorators." The feature, with two exterior and five interior images. has a nice photo of the living room with the description mentioning details including the sofas "upholstered in brown chintz with a white, green and copper pattern." About the dining room (they show the same photo as the 1936 HB, showing the dining table toward the window), CAA states that the room "is in blended shades of green with dark walnut furniture. Carpet of grey-green, curtains of silver blue-green and chairs covered in emerald green. The scenic paper, 'The Grand Chase' is carried out in soft, natural tones enlivened by the bright hues of scarlet hunting jackets. Accessories are mostly silver or crystal." There is a photo of the playroom which is the same photo used in HB but much wider so you can see more of the room on the left and right (HB cropped the image quite a bit). The playroom is described as is the projection room (not shown). And there is an image of Mrs. March's bedroom "with walls of rich chocolate brown and white mouldings. The curtains are chintz with white flowers and green leaves on a light brown background to harmonize with the silver green rug." The entrance hall is also pictured and described.


    [I can e-mail you scans of the photocopies. I am at]