Photos of the Sparkling Breakers Mansion in Newport at Christmas
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We’ve learned from experience that some places on Earth just know how to show up for Christmas and winter holiday season. Like New York City. London. Paris. And Newport, Rhode Island. We visited recently to see the historic Gilded Age mansions decorated in their holiday best. If you can’t make it there yourself, have a virtual Christmas holiday tour with our best photos of the Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island while decorated with lights and trees, inside and out. It’s a simple, traditional and beautiful way to experience the holidays this year.
Majestic mansions are part of the lure of Newport, Rhode Island
There are many good reasons to escape to Newport for a long weekend – the charming town, the beaches, the sailing, the food and drink. Even the shopping is better than you might expect. But for some, it’s all about the mansions.
Newport is renowned for its numerous 19th and early 20th century summer “cottages,” which were built by many of the country’s wealthiest families, and represent some of the finest examples of residential architecture of the era.
It’s amusing (or maybe infuriating?) that these grand homes weren’t even the primary residences of their owners. Most were occupied only for the summer, after which the families would return to palatial residences in New York or Boston.
Still, if you can put your opinions about capitalism, class and privilege aside for an hour or so, there’s a lot of fun to be had visiting these majestic homes. Imagining the parties, the frocks, the flowers and the swanky cocktails is a lovely daydream. Architecture aficionados will find lots to see and learn about. And the people-watching is first rate.
Are you in? Then come along, dear reader.
if you tour one Newport mansion, make it The Breakers
If you can only visit one of these historic and iconic mansions when you’re in town, make it The Breakers.
It’s a spectacular experience any time of year, and even more so at the Christmas holiday season. The grandeur and beauty of the house alight with holiday lights will provide a visceral sense of life during the Gilded Age that would be hard to achieve any other way.
The Breakers is a four-story mansion built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife Alice as a summer home. Located on 14 acres on Ochre Point Avenue, the cliff-side site provides a stunning view of the coastline. Because of its rich history and architectural importance, the house is designated a National Historic Landmark.
Chairman and President of the New York Central Railroad system, Cornelius Vanderbilt II was the grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built the family’s fortune first in steamships and later in the railroad business.
The Breakers is by far the most opulent of Newport’s mansions, intentionally designed to stand as a marker of the Vanderbilt family’s superior social and financial status.
Historians note that Vanderbilt’s younger brother William and his wife Alva built Marble House on nearby Bellevue Avenue – it reigned supreme as the best home in Newport until the Breakers was built. Nothing like sibling rivalry to get a good real estate competition going.
In 1893, Richard Morris Hunt won the commission to build a new villa on the site of a mansion that was destroyed by fire in the previous year. It’s worth noting that just as this project began, Vanderbilt II was finishing an expansion of his Fifth Avenue mansion, which made it the largest private home in New York City’s history.
Photos of the Luxurious Breakers Mansion in Newport
The imposing façade of The Breakers is made of brick faced with Indiana limestone. Because of the effort of 2,000 workers who toiled in both day and night shifts, the 70-room, 125,000 square foot Italian Renaissance- style palazzo took only 2 years to complete.
For the nighttime “Sparkling Lights” display, the façade is awash in a rainbow of festive colors. Santa is – of course – stationed squarely in front of the portico, happily taking photos with the guests.
The Public Rooms
The Breakers mansion is modeled after the 16th-century palaces and villas of Genoa and the surrounding region. Those homes celebrated the architecture of ancient Rome, and that spirit permeates the Breakers, too.
Inside, you’ll find period furnishings, gold filigree, carved wood, marble, platinum walls, a bubbling fountain and numerous paintings. The net effect is like being teleported to Italy – never a bad thing, if you ask us.
The Great Hall
The opulence and grandeur of life among the wealthy in the Gilded Age is on full display in the Great Hall, the first area that visitors see as they enter the villa.
There are loggias on the first and second floors, defined by marble arches. The public rooms are symmetrically arrayed around the Great Hall.
Because the Breakers is open to the public year-round, concerts are held in the spectacular Great Hall during the annual summer Newport Music Festival and during the holiday season.
The Breakfast Room, Dining Room, Billiards Room and the Music Room
Wander through the rooms adjacent to the Great Hall on the first floor, and you’ll get a sense of the social events the Vanderbilt family hosted during the Roaring 20’s and beyond.
The home’s first floor also houses an extensive library and a billiards room.
The Music Room completes the circuit of the Great Hall and the public entertaining spaces at the mansion.
There’s a magnificent outdoor terrace on the first floor with a spectacular view of the ocean below the cliffs.
The Family Quarters
Famed Boston architect and designer Ogden Codman, Jr. decorated the family quarters on the second and third floors of the villa. Each bedroom on the second floor features a unique Christmas tree, with whimsical ornaments that communicate the spirit of the various occupants.
the Countess’s bedroom
The first room on the tour is a dreamy child’s room, with a tree filled with ribbons and gingerbread figures. And of course, stockings for Santa on the mantle.
Mr. Vanderbilt’s bedroom
The bedroom occupied by Cornelius Vanderbilt is decked out for the Christmas holiday with a tree that could only belong here. It’s topped by a top hat. And features trains as a nod to one of the sources of Vanderbilt’s wealth.
A pink paradise
In an adjacent room, the vibe is feminine and refined, with floral brocade linens and wallpaper. The tree is electric pink, adorned with ornaments made of feathers and other sparkly things.
the guest bedroom
The designated bedroom for visitors is hushed and serene. The tree in this room nods to the forest and the verdant landscape surrounding the mansion.
Mrs. Vanderbilt’s room
If you ask us, Mrs. V definitely claimed the loveliest and most gracious space for herself.
We like to imagine her peeping over the railing to see who’s arrived for the splashy event in the Great Hall.
The upper floors of the mansion are closed to the public. Interestingly, until 2018, the great-grandchildren of the original owners of The Breakers lived on the third floor.
The Kitchen and Butler’s Pantry
Having lost the previous house on the property to fire, Vanderbilt and his architect took numerous precautions to guard against a repeat of that outcome.
For example, they decided to build the kitchen in a separate space with a bit of distance from the main house. If you love copper pots (and we do), this is a space in which to linger and marvel.
Note the surfing starfish on one of the trees in the kitchen. Elementary school-age children were invited to decorate each tree with a maritime theme. Surf’s up!!!
The Gardens and Grounds
After touring the mansion itself, lots of people explore the surrounding gardens and the expansive front lawn.
The Historic Preservation Society is currently in the midst of a 5-year restoration project of the original elements of the grounds at the Breakers. But there’s still plenty of lovely green space to explore.
Photos of the Luxurious Breakers Mansion in Newport
That’s our virtual tour with photos of the luxurious Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, including the house and gardens. What do you think? Ready for a visit back in time to the Gilded Age?
The Breakers is open daily at 10 a.m., with last admission at 4 p.m. The house and grounds close at 5 p.m. except on nights when the Sparkling Lights exhibit is on display.