Touring: The Breakers

We have lived in New England for eight years now, and this entire time I have wanted to visit the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, but it's just never happened. But for the last year, Colette and I have been frequently talking about going, and Monday we finally made it happen! Suffice to say, we were not disappointed. We toured three of them, and I'll take you through them one by one. The first one we visited, and my favorite of the three, was The Breakers.

The Breakers was commissioned to be built (c. 1893) by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, chairman and president of the New York Central Railroad. It was the grandest of the "cottages" built for the summering elite in Newport. It has 70 rooms and is an Italian Renaissance-style palazzo.

palazzo - def.: a palatial building, an impressive public
building or private residence

Colette at the grand entrance gates to The Breakers.

I forgot to get a picture of the front of The Breakers, but this is the porte-cochere through which you would arrive in your carriage (and later your car) and enter the house.

porte cochere - def.: a covered entrance large enough for vehicles
to pass through, typically opening into a courtyard

After passing through a vestibule, and up a flight of stairs, you arrive in the grand entrance hall. Here's a view of part of it from the second story that I took later. It was still in a state of set-up from a concert that had been recently held in it. Dances would've been held in this room.

Our eyes were immediately drawn upward to the ornate ceiling. The Vanderbilt family symbol was the acorn. I loved finding references to it throughout the house, as I also use that here and there in our home, owing to the many oak trees on our property. Dolphins and clam shells also appear in design motifs throughout The Breakers to pay homage to the ocean just outside the windows.

We passed the grand staircase with the exquisite stained glass skylight. The stairs have very shallow risers (maybe just 2-3") to allow for ease of walking for women in skirts with long trains.

Going through doors to see where they lead...

Next stop was the butler's pantry. Be still my heart! I do love a good pantry, and this one takes the cake! Two stories high, large sink, dumb waiter, enormous work tables, a picnic basket, china, and crystal! The audio tour informed us that the family only spent a few weeks in this home every year. When they were not there, the china and crystal stayed with the house, but the silver always traveled with them. And when they were there, it was locked in a safe every night. Carson's job to count it and lock it away, no doubt.

A view of the dumb waiter.

From the butler's pantry, we went into the dining room, which just took our breath away with its opulence. Again, our eyes were first drawn upward to the elaborate ceiling.

And then we admired the furniture and the curtains and the immense size of the room.

The home was built at a time when houses were just beginning to move from candlelight to gas lighting, and so the elaborate crystal chandeliers were built for the latest technology, with little pull chains that could start the flow of gas to the fixture. 

From there we moved on to the billiard room, where men would've retired for a bit after a formal dinner. Apparently, I had no interest in the pool table itself, since I didn't take a picture of it. However, I found this room almost made me breath an audible sigh of relief at its simplicity. Although beautiful in every respect, its simpler lines had a calming affect upon me that I wasn't quite expecting. Isn't it beautiful with its soothing colors and smooth surfaces of marble and velvet?

From the side of the billiard room, you could look out at the loggia. And then we exited the room and walked past it, taking in this view of the loggia, the lawn, and the ocean beyond. 

loggia - def.: a gallery or room with one or more open sides, especially one that forms
part of a house and has one side open to the garden

We then entered the beautiful and feminine morning room. Its walls are a combination of carved wood and platinum plated painted panels. Just stunning.

Furniture and chandelier details from the music room.

From the music room we entered into the library.

A detail of one wall panel in the library. They are constructed of walnut panels and gold-embossed leather overlaid with carvings.

We then proceeded upstairs to view the bedrooms, bathrooms, dressing rooms, and closets. The upstairs interior decoration was done by a different designer, and they are considerably plainer than the downstairs rooms. Once again, I found myself breathing a bit of a sigh of relief...and again, to my surprise. 

Mr. Vanderbilt's bathroom had a large marble bathtub with four valves. Why? Two for hot and cold water. And two for hot and cold salt water pumped from the ocean, as bathing in salt water was considered very beneficial for your health in those times.

Mrs. Vanderbilt's closet intrigued me. As there's nothing to give it scale, it's hard to tell from this photo, but the rods are a tremendous distance from the floor. I surmised that this was to allow skirt trains to hang without dragging, but the docent of whom I inquired did not know the answer to my question. Seems reasonable to me.

My favorite bedroom on the second floor.

Above the first floor loggia, is the second floor loggia which the family used as an informal living room. The day we chose to go was stiflingly hot (84 degrees and incredibly humid, even at the coast), and these old homes have no air conditioning, so we were very happy to step outside and enjoy a bit of a breeze. I can imagine that even in thinner summer dresses, those layers of petticoats and a corset kept a lady very warm in those days, and retreating to this shaded place must've been a treat.

From there, we descended the stairs to the kitchen. I think today, we have have a difficult time imagining living in such opulence, but there's something about a kitchen that we can all relate too...even one on a scale like this. Isn't it spectacular? High ceiling to help vent the heat, marble counters, a copper pot of every imaginable size! 

Then we exited and walked around to the back of the house to view the lawn, patios, ocean, and admire the rear view of the house.

Incredible tour! Definitely time for a little lunch, and then on to the next house. I'll be back with a tour of The Elms next.

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