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The Golden Step
Walking through the rooms of many house museums, a visitor is instilled with a weighty sense of history. At Beauport, the Gloucester, Massachusetts, home of early-20th-century designer Henry Davis Sleeper, that feeling is tempered with a good dose of whimsy.
Sleeper -- a decorator, collector, and skilled recycler -- used old-fashioned Yankee thrift and a big imagination to create a home unlike any other. He was such a genius at mixing themes, accents, and colors that touring the rooms is not just a learning experience but pure sensory delight.
This nautical dining room was named for a ship model (not shown) and overlooks Gloucester Harbor. One of the diamond-paned windows lowers, opening the room to the sea. Carvings and green Wedgwood and majolica continue the maritime palette.
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In this passageway, a pilaster-framed case contains copies of the "North American Review," held open to display natural science illustrations; it is also decorated with patriotic figures for a birth-of-the-nation theme.
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Leading into the North Gallery, this doorway is an example of recycling; it was probably saved from a house in Newport, Rhode Island.
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The Chapel Chamber
Many rooms in the house have two names, and this one is also known as the Paul Revere Room. It has a peaked ceiling and once contained Sleeper's 23-piece collection of silver made by Paul Revere. He donated the collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1925.
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The Stair Hall
Also called the Central Hall, this area features some of the home's recurring themes; a cast-iron stove in the figure of George Washington clues the visitor in to Sleeper's affinity for celebrating historical items in unusual ways. The case to the stove's left is filled with books, pottery, and other artifacts, all in precise color study.
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These rondelles are early pressed-glass cup plates, as is the entire top arch.
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The Mariner's Desk
A pine schoolmaster's desk in this cozy space gets good light from the window alongside it.
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The Belfry Chamber
To accentuate this room's gables and odd planes, Sleeper cut up French scenic wallpaper and turned it into a lush landscape. The paper, traditionally found in dining rooms of the time, distracts from what otherwise appears to be a cramped sleeping space.
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On an early-19th-century toile curtain, a cluster of framed works includes bird pictures made from real feathers, mica-flecked quillwork, and cut-paper silhouettes. These silhouettes are just a small sampling of the more than 100 in the house, representing one of Sleeper's deeper collections -- and one he truly loved.
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In this causeway, leading from the Octagon Room to the Golden Step Room, Sleeper and his architect ingeniously took advantage of triangulated space. On display is a rich mix of amethyst glass, giant bound books, and tiger-maple furniture.
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The Octagon Room
After Sleeper returned from serving as the director of the Paris headquarters of the American Field Service, he added this room -- also called the Souvenir de France -- in 1920-21. Perhaps it is here that Sleeper's genius at mixing color and texture is most apparent: Red French toile, volumes bound in gilded red morocco leather, and louvered red shutters are dramatic against aubergine walls.