Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Our Vacation : Newport

In a place where million dollar mansions meet the waters edge, the stony shores of the Atlantic forcing cool, effervescent sea breeze into the very deepest crevice of your soul; Newport, Rhode Island was perhaps the most beautiful place Scott and I have vacationed thus far. Of course, to get to Newport, you must cross the Newport Bridge:

But once you're there the majestic brick and mortar meet your every architecture loving need.

Here, the backside of the Vanderbilt Mansion, The Breakers. The "summer cottage" has more than 65,000 square feet of living space, including two full floors of servant suites atop the already massive 3 story family home. 70-rooms, all finished with the most expensive and brilliantly gilded touches you can imagine. A true testament to the "gilded" age.

Getting a better idea of the massiveness of this estate? I hope so. The home was constructed in the late 1890's and cost the Vanderbilt's a mere $5 million to construct. (That's more than $180 million dollars today!) 30 foot gates surround the more than 13-acres abutting the ocean, and the gardens surrounding The Breakers (so aptly named due to the water breaking upon the rocks of the Atlantic) are magnificent, too.

This was my favorite view of the mansion taken from the east side of the estate. Here you can see the elaborate details of the stone masons, and take in the beautiful sweeping angles of the pergola and veranda.

Interior shots of the mansions are forbidden, but thanks to Google I was able to source a view shots of the interior:

Here, the mansions kitchen is the size of my entire home - 1700 square feet. Equipped with enough space to cook meals for 500, and the staff to attend to such a feast, the kitchen of The Breakers was a stunning combination of all things culinary, and it nearly sent Scott (Casa de la Vanderdogan's chef) into a coma! Can you blame him? Look at that pot rack, those windows, the island and its marble top. Magnificent.

The library, a rich and masculine space with finishes from all over the world. The fireplace mantle was sourced from a French chateau.

The grand front hall of The Breakers. Unfortunately, the grand stair is closed to the public. Designers imported marble from Italy and Africa, and many woods and mosaics from around the globe. One room, (a photo I'm unable to find) was assembled in France and then shipped to Newport, and reassembled in the Mansion by the French Interior Designer, Jules Allard. (A favorite choice of the Newport elite.)

And yet another shot of the pergola and veranda, this time with a view of the shaped garden beds that adjoin that wing of the mansion.

And a photo taken from the back of the property at the water beyond, "breaking" upon the rocks.

And for one last, hopefully large impression, the satellite view of the grounds and home. Yes, it's that big, and made almost completely of stone. This property once belonged to Pierre Lorillard, an American tobacco tycoon, but the original "cottage" that sat here burned completely to the ground in 1892; so when Cornelius (love that name) Vanderbilt had a summer home constructed in its place, he insisted it be fire-proof, and I suppose 120 years later, he did a pretty good job.

Our next stop on the tour: Rosecliff, the summer home of Nevada Silver Ore heiress, Theresa Oelrichs.

The home is much smaller than The Breakers, at around 20,000 sq. ft, and was built to model the Grand Trianon of Versailles, by the architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White. MMW designed many of Buffalo's Delaware Ave. mansions, so I was familiar with their work. But Rosecliff was much more than I expected. The exterior of this home is clad in white terracotta tiles over brick. Would you have guessed?

The home has been used in many feature films, including True Lies (the tango scene between Jamie Lee Curtis and Ah-nuld) and most recently, 27 Dresses.

However, what I loved the most was this view of the water beyond through the pillars of the grand pergola to the right wing of the Mansion. Perfection.

Here, the grand staircase of the mansion. This house was built in the late 1890's, and the family moved in July 1900. Can you imagine moving into this?

And the ballroom (home to that infamous tango) is the largest of all the Newport Mansions, 80' long, 40' wide, and 20' tall. The french doors to either side look out into the ocean and the terrace garden, giving it a real indoor/outdoor feel of the Grand Trianon.

Of course, the view of all the Ocean lining Mansions is spectacular, but this one in particular has a great view of the neighboring estate. Here, the teahouse on the waters edge is fashioned in true Eastern styles. What's even more interesting, is that this teahouse, and home belonged to William Vanderbilt, brother to the owner of The Breakers.

An upclose shot of the teahouse on the property of Marble House. Isn't it wonderfully designed? This house was built in the late 1880's, (before his brother built the MASSIVE Breakers - seeing any sibling rivalry here?) and was given to William's wife Alva, as her 39th Birthday present. What a gift huh? Apparently not good enough though, as she subsequently divorced him causing quite an uproar for the time!

The grand facade of Marble House. Now, Marble House really set the trend among the new stage of homes that would be built in Newport. Before, Newport was a modest town, of pirate loving locals. Yes, pirates! You see, pirates weren't allowed at many of the other ports of entry in the states, but Newport welcomed them with open arms. Why? Because they had money, AND they wanted to spend it. So even though Newport had a wealth prior to the gilded age, it consisted mostly of modest wooden structures until the social hierarchy moved in and started to build these opulent stone palaces.

The dining room of Marble House. Each chair supposedly weighs 70 pounds, with the arm chairs weighing around 100! They are made from bronze, coated in gold.

And the gold ballroom. These pictures just do not do justice to the sparkle of these rooms, the glitter of the chandeliers, and the dazzle of the finishes.
Of course, Newport runs on Newport time, and not Artie time, so we finished up the first day of our trip with Marble House. The next day we started at Kingscote:

Looks small, right? Well, it is certainly smaller than some of the other mansions of Newport society, and for good reason. This house was built in 1839, before the Vanderbilts came in and built their massive estates. George Jones, a plantation owner built Kingscote in 1839 as a "summer retreat" from the hot and humid summers of plantation life. But, with the Civil War forcing many of the southern owners of Newport manors back down south, Jones sold the home to William King, a Chinese trade merchant. King's nephew David inherited the house in the 1870's, and he hired McKim, Mead, and White to expand the house.

If you lived in Newport at the turn of the century, you had to keep up with the Jones', or in their case - the Vanderbilts.

One of MMW's additions - the dining room. Cork tiles laid in a herringbone pattern cover the insets of the coffered ceiling and the walls above the elaborate wooden molding. Intricately detailed floors made from several rare woods form a harlequin pattern, and a screen designed by White, folds completely out of the way if need be - and hearkens back to the Chinese trade merchant history of the house.
By far, Kingscote was the most interesting, and easily toured home of the trip. I suppose it's much smaller square footage attributed to its livable feel - but it could have also been the Gothic Revival architecture - a style rarely seen with such meticulous care paid to its survival. It was the favorite on my list, until we met the porch of the Isaac Bell house:

Here, the serpent/dragons welcome friends and warn off intruders. Built in the early 1880's this house is also known (mostly to locals) as Edna Villa, because of the engraved gate pillars Bell had engraved Edna Villa for his wife and daughter, both named Edna.

Scott, posing in front of the Bell House, in his madras. How cute is he? Bell was a cotton broker and investor, and brother to the publisher of the New York Herald. Bell had McKim, Mead, and White construct the shingle sided structure, and MMW took the opportunity to introduce architectural styles they'd seen after taking a recent tour of the world. The columns of the porches are sized differently, and sculpted to look like bamboo. The roofline of the left tower was meant to mimic windmills of Holland. There were 5 different types of shingle installation. The house was a lesson in architecture that almost lacked being preserved.

Edna Villa is now owned by the Newport Preservation Society, thankfully, after being turned into apartments, then a nursing home. The Bell house is currently undergoing a ton of restoration work - still, it quickly became our favorite of the trip. But the trip isn't over. (I know, quite a long post!) We finished up our tour with The Elms, estate of Edward Berwind, coal baron.

I'm starting the photo tour in the garden, and at the garage. Yes, this is the garage - or carriage house. And the view beyond:

Fountains, gardens, garden houses, and grounds. Green, green, green, marble, marble, marble, and more beauty than the eye can behold. Directly across:

The Elms, built in 1901, and copied (almost impeccably) from the lines of Château d'Asnières in France. Now, Berwind and his wife were among royalty here in Newport, and with good reason. Berwind ran what fueled the Vanderbilt's railroad industry - coal.

The front entry, beautifully scaped. Berwind's wife spent 20 summers in the home, before passing away in 1922. At that time, Berwind asked his sister to be "lady of the manor" and she continued the Newport tradition - including maintaining a staff of more than 40 until 1961. When Julia died, so did the "old" Newport.

The Grand Staircase of the Elms. What's most remarkable however, is the history after Julia Berwind died. The house fell into disrepair, and was marked for demolition. A nephew who didn't want the estate, held an auction and sold everything in the house - then scheduled the wrecking ball, so a 1960's developer could put in a subdivision! With a lot of fight the Newport Preservation Society saved the mansion from demolition - but sadly, hasn't recovered any of the contents from the auction.

There are many many many mansions in Newport, most not open to public viewing, like these stone beauties:

Some have been made into Condo's (like the one above) others still lay in the hands of wealthy heirs of the old Newport Society - still using the homes as summer estates, respite from the hustle and bustle of NYC or Boston. Thankfully though, mostly, the foundation of the Newport past still sits, clearly visable, and tourable through the good work of the Newport Preservation Society. With so much history at our fingertips - it's nice to see a portion of it patiently maintained for our generation, and many more.


  1. just beautiful - now I don't ever have to go - you've taken me there. thank you!!!!

  2. Thanks for the tour. A way of life that I can hardly imagine. Your pictures are magnificent! Thanks so much. Hopefully, someday I may get there as well. I love touring old houses -- BIG and small!

  3. Artie--I love these pictures! I have always wanted to visit this part of the country and now see that it is a must. Can you belief the opulence? The pots on the rack alone cost a small fortune (yes, Scott and I would be drooling over the same thing)! Wonder if the wife got the tea house in the divorce settlement? :) That tree is priceless. Great post and thanks for sharing it.

  4. There is nothing like the Breakers of Newport. It's always been my favorite "summer cottage" (they called it). It always amuses me that they had a choice of sea water or plain water to bathe in. Gotta love those Vanderbilt's!

    Excellent post on the mansions Artie. I hope you had a wonderful time in Newport. Ironically I was there just 2 weeks ago.

  5. This is a magnificent post, Artie. Oh, my....I just can't even begin to imagine the money these people had...living like this. It just so blows my mind!
    All the mansions are beautiful..thanks so so much for taking such great photos to share with us.
    xo bj

  6. My husband and I toured many of the homes you featured. I remembered the guide telling us of the Vanderbilt daughter having to wear a back brace to keep her posture. Poor little rich girl. My favorite memory was when my DH and I danced in the ballroom of one of the mansions to the music of the tour cassette.

  7. Even though the pictures are great they never show the "feel" how huge these places are. I used to walk past most of these mansions on my way to high school every day! I lived in a tenament house abt 2 blocks away. My great grandfather was a chauffeur for one of the Vanderbilt families.

  8. I simply adore visiting Newport! The Cliff Walk is one of the most wonderful places on earth. And of course, the houses!! I remember we stayed last time at Castle Hill Inn, which was right on the coast and worthy of a Christie novel. Oooh, you've made me want to go back!!

  9. One place I would love to visit one day. Gorgous photos-my fav is the library with the gorgeous fringed furniture. Where's my glass of wine! "James! Get the door and bring me an appetizer!" A girl can dream, right?

  10. I am in architecture heaven thanks to your post! I also like Scott's shorts.

    Some day I hope to get over there and see those "vacay" homes for myself.

  11. We used to live there,when hubs was in the Navy(poor side of town,you can be assured),in the early 70's.
    Actually,we loved living there.It was so much fun and so much to do(you could walk everywhere),even if you didn't have money.
    Did you do CliffWalk?Go to the piers?Eat?If so,where?See Trinity Church?
    So many questions.....so little space....

  12. LOL. I'm like the other poster and liked Scott's pants too - VERY Newport. It's been a few years since I've done the mansions tour. Breakers absolutely drops your mouth open. Isn't that the one with the water fountain inside? I believe Elms is the one that I liked the best. Glad you had a grea time! Old colonial Newport has great old houses as well on all the side streets. Take care and waiting to see your Brimfield finds!
    G in CT

  13. Hello there! I've just returned from a five day trip to the Midwest. I taped Design Star but haven't seen it yet so I can't imagine how Antonio won!

    Loved your Newport post and the wonderful photos. Graham Berwind of the BERWINDS *yes* is an old friend. I worked with him in Minneapolis ... we actually began work on the same day in July 1982. In the late 80's we found a wonderful hotel (19 rooms)in Palm Springs which he purchased. I was set to move out and market it for him. As it turned out the owner of the company we both worked for made me an offer I could not refuse and I backed out of the plan. He did find someone to take the position and kept the hotel he named Antares for several years before selling it and moving East to join the Berwind Corporation. He is in Philadelphia now and I haven't talked to him in ages. But he is one of the funniest, most dear men I have known. He is a great philanthropist and opens his mansion for all sorts of fund raising events. I also toured The Elms years ago .........

  14. Twin, what an amazing trip - these are gorgeous! I'm sure you were in heaven. I would have been! Thanks for virtually taking me along! ... I want a mansion (not my mcmini) on a rocky shore!

    I love the changes to your blog, too. The background color is dreamy.

    xoxoxoxox Isa

  15. Wonderful post, Artie!

    I've been catching up with you, this morning and had so much fun!

    I haven't been by in awhile. Then I lost my list...it completely disappeared. I've gone around this week trying to find my old friends! I came by to get your link, so I can get you back on my list!!!

  16. There are so many great places to see in Paris like Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower. Just to walk around is already an experience. Sipping a cup of coffee while cruising the Seine is one of the few things you can do to savor your trip. Of course no one should ever miss to visit the art galleries of world renowned painters.
    The Truth About Paris

  17. What a gift to this lover of architecture, interior design, and landscaping. Thanks for your care to find photos of interiors you couldn't photograph. Your exterior photos reveal an artistic eye. I haven't been to Newport and today you make me yearn to go to experience it. Fieldstone/Pam

  18. RT - Can you believe I just spent my vacation in newport as well? I was at my husband's family's house. We had a sailboat ride by all the bay, a trip to Watch Hill to let the kids ride the carousel, my husband waned the nostalic tales...we passed in the night!

  19. Wow thats Very Cool Like this Picture LOL!


  20. Artie, oh thank you for the tour. I have always wanted to visit this area and tour these estates, amazing. Just the architecture and details thrills me. I tour historic homes etc. when ever I can or when I travel. Is part of the history of that area.

  21. That place is really a great place to spend especially during holiday vacations. Actually, there are millions of vacationers or foreigners visit the place every year. And even more visitors coming each year.The place is really neat and beautiful place, I definitely will check it out. Love it, it makes you feel calm and when you feel boring just packed your things and go for a vacation in there.

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