Showing posts with label Rhode Island. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rhode Island. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Breakers: A Magnificent "Summer Getaway" by the Sea in Rhode Island

When it comes to "summer getaways" most of us are happy to retire to a 500-square-foot hotel room, but that certainly wasn't the case with the Gilded Age's rich and famous like the Vanderbilts.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to view how the other half lived with a trip to "The Breakers," a luxurious mansion by the sea built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1893.

Today tourists can do the same thanks to the Newport Rhode Island Preservation Society, which purchased the property from the Vanderbilt heirs in 1972. Thousands of people visit the property each year to witness the splendor of a mansion built by a railroad magnate during the Gilded Age.

Exquisite Rooms

Visitors to the property can download an app called "Newport Mansions" for a self-guided tour providing details of each room, a few of which I'll cover here. The tour opens with a view of the Great Hall below, which was inspired by the open-air courtyards of Italy.

The Great Hall inspired by the open-air courtyards of Italy.

Imagine being a child and being permitted to ride your tricycles around the great hall, as the Vanderbilt children often did. It's also said that they slid down the staircase on serving trays. I'd make a bet that most of the 40 servants weren't particularly happy about that.

Beautiful ceilings throughout.

A lighted fountain beneath the Great Hall stairway.

The staircase, fountain and walkways were inspired by the Great Opera House in Paris. Richard Morris Hunt, regarded as one of the best architects back in the day, was responsible for much of the beauty of The Breakers.
The Dining Room where the Vanderbilts entertained.

The Vanderbilts entertained guests in a sprawling dining room, some of whom were members of an "exclusive group" known as The 400 led by Carolyn Schermerhorn Astor. The opulence includes twin chandeliers and 12 wall sconces made with Baccarat crystal. The columns in the room are comprised of alabaster and the ornamentation doesn't end there. On the ceiling is a painting of the goddess Aurora pulled by a team of white horses. 

The Vanderbilt's "summer house" also was equipped with something that was very new back then: electricity. Every light fixture in the dining room was a hybrid of sorts-- fitted for both gas and electric. 

This beautiful ceiling tile depicts a sea theme.

The morning room seen below on the first floor was designed by a Paris decorator. The wall panels in the corner depict Greek goddesses of learning and the arts and were thought to have been decorated with silver leaf. Preservationists with X-ray machines eventually learned that the "silver leaf" was actually platinum.

The Morning Room.

The Music Room.

The Vanderbilts were musical people. Mr. Vanderbilt played the piano and Mrs. Vanderbilt played the violin. Members of the family would often get together to play their respective instruments in this room, which was also used for celebrations, like weddings and debutante balls. 

Mr. Vanderbilt's Room

Upstairs guests can visit the rooms where the Vanderbilts retired for the evening. Below you'll see one of 20 bathrooms in the house.

One of 20 bathrooms throughout the mansion.

What I found interesting is that this particular sink contained four taps, two of which dispensed running salt water, which was considered good for one's health at the time. The marble tub here was so thick that it needed to be filled and drained several times to bath in comfortably.

Mrs. Vanderbilt's Bedroom.

Mrs. Vanderbilt's bedroom and office is seen above. Beside her bed were buttons for her to summon servants. Daily she would review a "carriage book," which was a type of reservation system where guests and members of the family would schedule their mode of transportation for that day so that servants could bring the vehicles to the property at the pre-ordained time.

The Vanderbilts were said to have used their stone and tile porch, which is the outside loggia, as an "open air living room," providing a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Outside Loggia.

This striking house, used by the Vanderbilts for seven years, was fireproof--constructed of brick, steel and stone. I guess the Vanderbilts knew how to get things done because it was constructed and decorated in a short two years. Good luck getting something like this completed in two years in today's society.

This is just one house on the Newport Mansions tour. Additional mansions include The Elms, The Marble House, Rosecliff, and Chateau-sur-Mer. To learn about these and more, visit the Preservation Society of Newport County at About Us | Newport Mansions.