An Eye for Beauty
75 Eastern Point Boulevard, Gloucester, Massachusetts
A man with a vision. The artistic mind cannot help but see beauty in the world around him, and beauty can take many different forms and from many different eras. Artistic people can easily become collectors. They see beauty and appreciate the works of beauty in the world around them, regardless of the era from which they originate. Henry Sleeper was an artistic mind and thus had an eclectic collection. He was quite a celebrated interior designer, and one of the first interior designers in America. He saw the beauty in crafts and began collecting items to use as displays for his clients. With skill, he displayed and lived with the collections of antiques in his summer home just outside Boston.
In 1907 the 29-year-old Henry Sleeper began building what would become the backdrop for his collection – an arts-and crafts styled home that evolved to over 40 rooms necessary to hold it all. His desire to appropriately display his collections and showcase his love of different styles and eras meant he was always adding on to his house, leaving his neighbors a bit concerned that he would encroach onto their property if he added yet another room to his house. One neighbor went so far as to erect a ten-foot brick wall on the property line so Henry Sleeper would know when to stop building. Henry managed to extend his house to within one inch of that brick wall. Henry was creative in designing his house, buying up pieces of houses being torn down elsewhere and incorporating them into his design. Stepping inside is like stepping into a time warp, with each room a new time threshold. Bedrooms are designed with appropriately antique green paint to showcase the colonial period antiques, large-scaled floral wallpapers decorate another bedroom, specially made twin canopy beds are angled to fit under the sloping eaves in the top floor bedroom.
When he needed a place to retire for the evening after hosting another fabulous party, Mr. Sleeper could relax in front of the George Washington shaped wood burning fireplace – the odd humor of watching our founding father all aglow is an unusual choice of furnishings you might find at this most unusual house. One room looks as if it was transported in time directly from a 16th century pub. His breakfast room with diamond paned windows overlooking the Gloucester Bay is a favorite – who wouldn’t enjoy their morning coffee in a beautiful room simulating a captain’s quarters on a fine ship and featuring a room-wide window taking advantage of that view?
The elegance of the Chinese wallpapered sitting room is 1920s elegance on steroids, yet the room is cohesive and perfectly blends together in a comfortable way that makes you want to sit down with an elegant cocktail in hand while listening to an old phonograph creaking out an early jazz instrumental. The octagon room is an eight sided library with blue wood paneled walls and an octagon shaped reading table. In another room, he artfully displayed his collection of colored glass by holding them up to the light from which they shine. Showcasing them in color groups, he turned even a simple brown glass jug into a piece of art.
His collections did not have to be of expensive items – he managed to turn his artistic eye to the simple and make them fabulous. Someone who loves that elegant Chinese decorated glamorous room could not possibly be the same man who collected hand hooked rugs and primitive brown earthenware plates! But when you have an artistic eye, there is beauty everywhere, and sometimes something about it steals your heart and you must collect more. Henry Sleeper was a collector who may have inspired the term “eclectic” by turning his summer home into one of the most fascinating homes you will ever visit.
Following his early death from leukemia in 1934, his estate could have easily been dismantled, collections sold off to the highest bidder, interior repainted, walls knocked down and modernized, but thankfully the new owners chose to leave the house intact, complete with Henry’s collections. The terraced gardens, once home to fabulous parties, were maintained to retain their lovely view over Gloucester Harbor, and are a treasure in and of themselves. The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and they do occasionally open up the gardens for bring-your-own picnics, where you can enjoy a taste of the elegant summer parties once held at this amazing home.