By Gail Doby, ASID
CVO and Co-Founder of Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting
Step back into the Gilded Age and relive a time when design was all about opulence and ostentation. Nestled along Newport, Rhode Island’s scenic coast are some the nation’s most magnificent mansions, built for the country’s nouveau ultra-riche around the turn of the 20th century. Leading architects such as Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architects such as William Law Olmstead drew on European models like Versailles and Italian palazzos to fashion elegant multimillion dollar “summer cottages” for the Vanderbilts and other leading captains of industry.
Thanks to the efforts of the Preservation Society of Newport County, the homes have been well-maintained and are open to the public for tours and events. Topping the list is the massive, 70-room Vanderbilt mansion, the Breakers. Built in the 1890s under the direction of Hunt, who employed an international team of craftsmen and artisans, the design was inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin, and richly furnished in part by Allard and Sons of Paris.
For another Vanderbilt gem, Marble House, Hunt looked to the Petit Trianon at Versailles as his model. One the first examples of “Beaux Arts” architecture and envisioned as a “temple to the arts,” the lavish interiors include carved and gilt wood panel walls and ceilings with painted scenes from classical mythology, a grand staircase of yellow Sienna marble, stained glass windows along the east and south walls, and reputedly a half million cubit feet of American, Italian and African marble. Later a cliffside Chinese teahouse was added to the property.
Baroque and Baroque revival, Gothic revival, High Victorian, and Old English are among the other styles on display among the town’s eleven notable mansions. Altogether a feast for designers, many of the homes retain family collections of fine art, porcelain, tapestries, and glassware, as well as handcrafted furniture. You’ll find more information about the mansions and tours on the Preservation Society of Newport County’s Newport Mansions website.
The mansions are just one of many attractions you’ll find in Newport, the site of this year’s Genius Exchange.