Newport, Rhode Island – Marble House Tour

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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34 thoughts on “Newport, Rhode Island – Marble House Tour

    1. Thank you! It’s the comfiest dress, I have 5 colors ha! The hydrangeas and marble are such a pretty contrast.

  1. It is clear why they call it Marble House. The house looks pretty small by Vanderbilt standards. As a primary residence, I’m surprised it met Alva’s demanding standard for status. The Tea House is quite a contrast. Alva deserves credit for her part in the movement for women’s suffrage.

    1. This was just their summer home and they lived in a Chateau on Fifth Avenue most of the time. The Tea House is quite a contrast with the rest of Newport. I agree, she did a lot for women’s suffrage.

  2. Ostentatious is more than just a word here Lyssy. It was a lifestyle. A crazy place and 36 servants. Wow! So getting flowers or chocolates for your birthday now will no longer cut it. 😊Thanks for sharing. Allan

    1. Ostentatious indeed! This wasn’t even a 40th birthday present, 39. He set the standards pretty high 🙂

  3. If I were given a choice of the Newport mansions (can you imagine?), I’d go with the Breakers so far, and eventually one of the others you might have toured over either one. Marble House does not appeal to me at all, unless you tell me 500,000 square feet of marble is a lot warmer than it looks. Outside of the bedrooms Marble House feels like living in a museum. I’m also not a fan of the super formal exterior (other than those hydrangeas). It makes me wonder, if the more modern mansions you passed by on the Cliff Walk were around at the same time Marble House was built, would I still find them as appealing as I do today? Maybe we really are products of our environments.

    1. That would be pretty crazy to get to pick one to have! I guess the one good thing about all the marble I would guess it keeps the house cool in the summer. They may have had electricity, but I don’t think they had a/c yet. It does feel like a museum and very formal to live in, but I guess that was life back then. They would probably faint seeing the clothes we wear these days. That’s true we are products of our environment.

  4. The hydrangeas are gorgeous and so photogenic making a contrast to the white exterior of the Marble House. Interesting story about Alva and Consuelo. Alva’s contribution to the suffragist movement is her saving grace.

    1. The color of the flowers makes a pretty contrast for sure. Poor Consuelo, I’m glad she got her happy ending and Alva redeemed herself in the end.

    1. The hydrangeas are my favorite. Such a luxurious birthday present and not even for a milestone year!

  5. Oh my! First of all, hydrangeas are my absolute favorite flower. Secondly, it’s just hard to believe the wealth those people had. I am going to have to Google more about Consuelo because here story is fascinating. Can you imagine having to marry someone as a business arrangement? As a romance writer wannabe, I love that she finally got her happily ever after even though it took almost half of her life to get it. Can’t wait to see the next one, Lyssy!

    1. Hydrangeas are so beautiful! Consuelo was considered the most famous “Dollar Princess” who married into the royal family in exchange for some of their families wealth. I cannot imagine having to marry someone as a business arrangement, I suppose that’s the benefit of being a regular person ha! I’m glad she got her happy ending too!

    1. I’ve never seen so much marble before either! You’re right, definitely lives up to its name!

  6. Wow, I still can’t believe people actually live(d) in such places! The rooms definitely look like they belong in a museum, and this display of wealth is also incredible! The Gothic Room in particular caught my attention, and while I would not want to live in this palace, I love the idea of rooms decorated differently!

    1. It is so hard to believe! They really are like living in a museum, I can’t imagine the kids living in this place. It is cool to have different themed rooms!

  7. It is so hard to believe! They really are like living in a museum, I can’t imagine the kids living in this place. It is cool to have different themed rooms!

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