There is a house, and there is House. The good endures, inspires curiosity, and instills a stamp of revived creativity in anyone who visits. But the historic home, and the tour that accompanies it, isn’t a monolith. Some are genuine treasures that have never been lost, and others are masterpieces from special sources. Some have been demolished, rebuilt from scratch and rebuilt from old records. Whether preserved through love or money, or both, these boxes of American design jewels endure through the ages, and designers never tire of looking through their inspirational gold mines. Here, the designer shares their favorite historic homes across the US — with a special emphasis on the East coast.
Beauport (built 1907), or Sleeper-McCann House, was the home of Henry Davis Sleeper in Cape Ann’s Gloucester. With tony clients like Joan Crawford, Sleeper was a prolific decorator in the early days of professional design, but his own home in Eastern Point is where his instincts for color, maximalism, and architectural salvage really run wild. “He certainly knows the quality,” says AD100 designer David Netto, “but he doesn’t do the styles for his clients, his approach is more academic. Beauport is like a movie set.
A unique blend of Shingle, Queen Anne, Colonial and European revival styles, this home spans over 14,000 square feet, comprising more than 40 rooms, concealed staircases, Chinese and Spode porcelain, Spanish and Portuguese glazes, American glass, hooked rugs, endless prints, and a collector’s level of detail that would make Tony Duquette proud. When Helena Woolworth McCann (Frank Woolworth’s daughter) bought the house, she left it largely untouched and lives on to the memory of the Sleeper’s many parties and eccentric household guests.
As Netto explains, “These were bohemian homes built by artistic people, which were then coveted by the rich. Rich people always want more order, but there’s this banana house and he wants it. I find that very interesting. The Nooks and Crannies tour guides visitors through every hidden inch. “I love secrets,” said Netto. “And this house is a secret.”
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
The Deering family of agricultural descent is no stranger to developing stately properties in Florida, including the stately Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (built between 1914–22) in Coconut Grove. The villa is surrounded by subtropical forest and the Bay of Biscayne, and is, as Miami designer Juan Poggi of Poggi Design puts it, a true interpretation of Mediterranean architecture, with Aubusson tapestries, gold leaf moldings, silk damask walls, and chandeliers in crystal, porcelain, or wood carving. “James Deering had to be a very sophisticated person to work in all of these spaces with such clear knowledge of what he and his team were trying to achieve,” said Poggi. “It was a very sophisticated home for Florida in the early 20th century. I’ve explored it carefully a few times, as it’s a bunch of details and not a simple place to explain. It’s the closest thing we have around here to a European museum.”