Hi friends, welcome back to my Newport, Rhode Island series. After viewing The Breakers, we then went to The Marble House owned by William Vanderbilt. William was the grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt and brother to Cornelius II who owned The Breakers. William was one of the benefactors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Metropolitan Opera House. He had Marble House built for his wife Alva’s 39th birthday and she agreed to it’s commission only if it was solely in her name. Alva’s family lost all their money in the Civil War, fled to Paris, and came back with nothing. She was a social climber and this home was her way of proving herself in society and regaining her family’s status.
It’s hard to tell from the outside, but there are actually four levels to the house. The basement features the kitchen and the fourth floor was for the 36 servants required to maintain the 50-room “cottage”. I loved all the hydrangeas on the property, they were a nice contrast of color with the white mansion.
This home was inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles and designed by Richard Morris Hunt. He also designed The Breakers, Biltmore, Chateau-sur-Mer (future post), Ochre Court, the base of the Statue of Liberty, and the entrance wing to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Marble House cost $11 million to build back in the late 1800s and it’s estimated in today’s prices to cost $330 million. $7 million of the budget was spent on 500,000 cubic feet of marble. When Marble House was opened, it was the most lavish house in America.
The dining room walls are lined with rose-colored marble from Algeria. The children Consuelo, William K. Jr., and Harold always had meals in this room and the chairs were so heavy they needed help getting closer to the table. Each chair, inspired by Louis XIV, weighed 75 pounds and the end ones closer to 100 pounds. The room was designed around the painting of Louis XVI and during the French Revolution the painting was cut out of the frame and sold.
The morning room/library.
The Marble Hallway that was only used eight weeks a year.
The Gothic Room was essentially a private museum and Alva purchased the whole collection at once from Emile Gavet. She considered herself equal with European royalty and wanted an art collection to prove it. The room was designed in Paris specifically to present the collection and then shipped over in crates and put back together. This room was also designed so the stained glass wasn’t visible from the outside and interrupting the exterior aesthetic. This was where Consuelo, the Vanderbilt’s daughter, accepted the marriage proposal from the English Duke of Marlborough. I can imagine a lot more romantic places in the house than this room… Alva picked him out so her daughter could be a Duchess and The Duke received $10 million to save his family’s home. Unfortunately for Consuelo she was secretly engaged to someone else, but her mother threatened to shoot her fiancée, so she married the Duke. The Duke was also in love with someone else, so this was merely a business arrangement for both parties.
The Grand Salon is covered in 22-carat gold and was the main room where the Vanderbilts entertained. In 1895 they hosted a ball for the Duke of Marlborough and Consuelo with over 300 guests. The party went on until 5am because the house was fitted with electric lights, a rarity in these times.
The Mezzanine where guests would drop off their coat and freshen up from their dusty horse and carriage rides.
The front doors cost $50,000 back in the day and they weigh one and a half tons each.
The dizzying staff staircase up to the third floor.
Conseulo’s bedroom was designed very masculinely by Alva much to the chagrin of her daughter. Consuelo often felt that her mother was trying to live vicariously through her and not let her live life how she wanted. After 26 years of marriage to the Duke, they got an annulment with Alva testifying that she had forced the marriage. Consuelo did find true love with French aviator and industrialist Jacques Balson for her happy ever after.
The next room displays all of Harold Vanderbilt’s trophies. He was a three-time winner of the Americas Cup, an international sailing competition. This room was originally Alva and Consuelo’s dressing rooms and was then converted into a master suite by the subsequent owners.
Alva’s room looks like something straight out of Versailles.
William Vanderbilt’s room, slightly more modest.
This was the only guest room in the whole house. I was surprised they didn’t have more, but they built this home as a family home and most of their guests had their own homes in Newport or stayed at a hotel so it wasn’t needed.
The massive kitchen where the head chef was paid $10,000 or the equivalent of $350,000 in today’s money. Alva was a tough boss, so it was not an easy, cushy job.
William and Alva divorced in 1895 and she subsequently married Henry Belcourt and moved to Belcourt Mansion down the road. After he died, she became heavily involved in woman’s suffrage and used the teahouse at Marble House to host women’s suffrage rallies. In 1919 she closed the home when she moved to France to be closer to Consuelo. In 1932 she sold it to Frederick H. Prince who took great care of the home and preserved it well. In 1963 the Preservation Society purchased the home and the Prince family donated almost all of the original furniture. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
I hope you enjoyed following along our tour through Marble House! It’s hard to believe how luxurious this summer “cottage” is. Stay tuned for more 🙂
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