Newport, Rhode Island – The Breakers

Hi friends, welcome back to my Newport, Rhode Island series! On our second full day we had another leisurely morning and grabbed coffee from Drift Café. We picked up our car and drove about ten minutes to The Breakers mansion for our first tour of the famous Gilded Age mansions. You can purchase tickets for one house, three, or five. If you plan on seeing more than three, I recommend you purchase a one-year membership to the Preservation Society which is about $30 cheaper than the five houses, plus it’s tax deductible! The Preservation Society created a free app that has a guided tour of each of the main houses so I also recommend bringing headphones and downloading the app ahead of time so you can get the most from the homes. The tours were great and I’ve summarized a lot of facts from the them in these next few posts.

At 138,300 square feet, The Breakers is the largest house in the collection and was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1893 after the previous house burned down. He was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt and succeeded his father, William Henry Vanderbilt as chairman and president at New York Central Railroad, the family empire. When Cornelius II died in 1899, it’s estimated he was worth the equivalent of $2.3 billion dollars.

This waterfront mansion sits on 13 acres and has 70 rooms, of which 48 are bedrooms. It was designed based on the Italian Renaissance Villas and took two years to build. It also has electricity and gas lighting throughout, a luxury for the time.

This 50-foot-tall grand entrance was very polarizing, people either felt it was vulgar or thought it was stunning. (It was set up for an event while we were there)

The staircase design was inspired by the Opera House in Paris and clearly wowed guests.

The dining room is adorned with Baccarat crystal chandeliers and wall sconces. Like the foyer, this room has a 50-foot-tall ceiling and was used to entertain the elite Newport residents. No detail was overlooked and it reminded me of some of the rooms in Versailles.

The chandelier in the billiard room is made of wrought iron and bronze making it so heavy they had to attach it to a structural beam. The floor is made of little pieces of marble that were hand set, and the walls are marble slabs imported from Switzerland. The acorns throughout the décor and floor were a symbol of the Vanderbilt family and represent strength and long life. This room might look familiar to you if you’ve watched “The Gilded Age” on HBO, they filmed a scene here and used the actual billiard table but with a felt covering to protect the table. We haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on our list.

The Morning Room’s wall panels are made from platinum, one of the most expensive metals in the world.

The Music Room hosted debutante balls and Cornelius II’s daughter Gertrude’s wedding. It’s hard to believe but this room was designed in a workshop in France, taken apart, and then shipped to Newport.

This stately Library was designed around a 500-year-old fireplace imported from a French Chateau.

We then headed upstairs and admired the view from the balcony. It’s hard to comprehend having all this luxury for just a summer home they only spent about eight weeks at a year.

Cornelius Vanderbilt’s bedroom.

This bathtub was carved from one slab of marble and designed based on a Roman coffin. It is so thick it had to be filled and drained a few times before it was warm enough to bathe in.

Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom and office. It was a tough job running a house this size and hosting lavish parties.

This room belonged to Gertrude, the Vanderbilt’s oldest daughter. She married Harry Payne Whitney, became a sculptor, and founded the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC. I have yet to visit, but it’s on my list.

It was an overcast day, but the views from the Upper Loggia sure were beautiful!

Upstairs are two more floors with 33 servant bedrooms.

The Grand Staircase was designed with stairs two inches shorter than normal so ladies in their big dresses could make their debut easier. The bottom of the stairs features a picture of Mrs. Vanderbilt. The left is a picture of Cornelius Vanderbilt the First.

A kitchen large enough to feed all the important guests. The kitchen is in a sperate area of the house to prevent any fires destroying the rest of the house again.

The butler’s pantry. You had to take a dumbwaiter to get up to the second level and all the silver was locked up in a safe each night. This is the last official room of the tour and we exited through the gift shop, but not before picking out an ornament (the membership gets you 10% off in the gift shop, it’s a gift that keeps on giving).

Last stop here was the massive backyard that hosted many epic parties.

Countess Széchenyi, youngest daughter of Cornelius II, inherited the house and in 1948 she allowed the Preservation Society of Newport County to give tours of the bottom floor in exchange for covering the operating expenses. The Preservation Society officially purchased the house in 1972, and it became a National Historic Landmark in 1994. As part of the purchase agreement, Countess Széchenyi lived in the house until she died in 1998 and her heirs lived here until 2018. The Preservation society planned to build a modern welcome center/ticket area in front of the house that the family strongly opposed. A fight about it went all the way to the Supreme Court, but the Preservation society ultimately won out and the city approved zoning for it. The Preservation society said the family had to leave the third floor living quarters because the plumbing and electrical weren’t fit for living and were a risk to the preservation of the house, but some think it was payback for them not being on board with the new addition. The Gilded Age may be over, but the drama certainly isn’t! I hope you enjoyed this tour of The Breakers! We loved touring, even though this house is definitely not in our tastes. I always enjoy seeing how the upper class lived and all the opulence they were accustomed to. I have lots more coming so stay tuned 🙂

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37 thoughts on “Newport, Rhode Island – The Breakers

  1. Amazing how the 1% lived. Many would say we are just jealous and I am sure the Vanderbilts also did a lot of social good with their money, but they loved ostentation. Great tour. Thanks for taking us there Lyssy. Allan

    1. It sure is amazing how they decided to spend their money! It was fun to tour and imagine what life was like.

    1. The ticket booth is in the front, right behind the gate and is built to look like the house so I don’t think it’s the eye sore the family anticipated. If I knew it was such a hot topic I would’ve gotten a better pic. I tend to do my research after trips and learn so much

  2. It always amazes me that these were “summer cottages”– they’re nothing like our family cottage! LOL. We’ve toured the Breakers a few times and even got to see it all decorated at Christmas (though of course the family would never have done that since they didn’t spend any time at the property that time of year).

    1. Ha right! My summer cottage was like 1/100th the size of this. I would love to see it decorated for Christmas, but you’re right not very historical! I’ve got to see the Biltmore still.

  3. It is a very beautiful house, decorated with the best, or the most expensive, that could be done. If we can’t live in such places, it’s good to be able to visit them and learn about the tastes they exhibit. I’ve only seen The Breakers from the outside. Thank you for the great tour.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the tour! It was so fun to walk through and admire all the luxurious space and decor.

  4. I’m glad you mentioned the servants’ rooms because I couldn’t figure out why you’d need 40+ bedrooms in a summer house! We visited Newport not so long ago and even though we didn’t tour the house, still managed a nice walking tour of the property (and Visitor’s Center) for free. Looks like the tour of the interior was well worth the cost of the ticket. Some of the rooms (some…) are tastefully done, if not over the top. I like the Morning Room in particular. It’d be even better if they’d opted for not-so-formal furniture.

    1. Hard to imagine employing so many people for a summer home! It is definitely worth the price of admission, there’s so much to see inside. The morning room is nice, it just needs a big flatscreen tv and comfy sectional couch. They have plenty of room for entertaining which is what everyone on House Hunters is looking for 🙂

  5. Oh wow – IMAGINE having this as your summer house, I mean honestly it’s insane isn’t it. it looks interesting to explore and it’s great they’ve opened these houses up, I bet they look amazing decked out for Christmas each year.

    1. Right!! I would love to see it decorated for Christmas one day. They also have an even bigger home in North Carolina that is on my list.

  6. We visited the Breakers during December a few years ago and it was beautifully decorated for the holidays. They even created a Christmas tree of poinsettias. It’s a very opulent mansion. I especially love the staircase design.

    1. That’s awesome, I’d love to see it decorated for Christmas one year. So much room to decorate! The staircase is so beautiful.

  7. Amazing tour, Lyssy, your photos are fantastic. That marble bathtub you described and photographed, fascinating as it is, is just the pinnacle of impracticality and wastefulness. I think that opening these places to the public is really the best thing to do.

    1. So much impracticality and wastefulness for sure! I agree it is best to have them for tour because they are definitely fascinating. Quite a few of these places were demolished because upkeep was so expensive.

  8. I love that with these historic buildings that are so well preserved and taken care of, it literally feels like you are walking back in time! Thank you for sharing these beautiful photos too!

  9. Oh my god, this is crazy! Not only the mansion is huge from outside, but the inside really looks like one of those king’s palaces you can visit (it reminded me of Sintra in Portugal, Versailles in Paris, and the tsars’ palaces in Russia)!! It’s crazy to think that people lived there, and even crazier if they only went there a few weeks each year? How was their regular home if this is their summer residence?? 😂 Anyway, this was a great and really interesting post! Looking forward to the others of this series!

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