Design & Décor, Holiday, Seasonal, The Newport Diary, Winter

A Gilded Age Christmas, Part 2

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As I begin this post, I realize that there’s a fact about Christmas in the Gilded Age of which many are probably not aware…the Vanderbilts, and others in their “set,” were only in Newport in the summer (and only for 4-6 weeks, if that).They chose to spend the holidays in New York. But fortunately for us, the Preservation Society of Newport County, the steward of this treasured American house museum, sees to it that The Breakers is dressed to the nines for us to enjoy.

Here are some of my favorite Christmas scenes at The Breakers (with notes about how some of these rooms were used in the series, “The Gilded Age”). Of course, I must start with the live poinsettia tree in the Great Hall of The Breakers (feature image) which greets you as you enter this grand building. As a gardener, I marvel at the mechanics of this 15 foot presentation, which includes taking down each plant and watering it every morning. And the secret that makes this look so fab and bountiful? The individual pots are arranged on sloped shelves, with the top of the poinsettia facing directly forward as opposed to standing straight up.

Taking its cues from this magnificently simple holiday statement, the rest of the Great Hall’s interiors are Christmas red, from the stairwell’s carpet on the left to the vignette of trees, poinsettias, and greenery grouped around the large fireplace on the right.

Photo Credit: Vibrant Optics for Private Newport

While many of Newport’s mansions, both the house museums as well as private homes, included ballrooms, The Breakers does not. This Great Hall serves both as an entry hall and an entertaining space. I can attest to that having attended many dinner dances within its walls…and concerts, given its superb acoustics. But at the end of the second season in the “The Gilded Age” series, the Music Room at The Breakers served as the site of a memorably grand ball at Mrs. Russell’s New York mansion, and the evening that signalled her first triumph over Mrs. Astor.

The Music Room’s tree ornaments are covered in musical instruments, representing a theme inspired by the room, another signature of many of the trees at The Breakers.

Photo Credit: Michelle Pugliese for Private Newport

The Music Room also has a fireplace, giving us one more opportunity for holiday decorating inspiration. I enjoy comparing the selections from year to year…

And the mantels same finial ornaments are also to be seen as an accent hanging from the light sconces on the columns.

In keeping with its grandeur, every room at The Breakers has a fireplace, including the majortiy of the bedrooms. The large dining room is no exception, with its high, high ceiling. This year the fireplace has a special focus on whimsy which injects a human scale to an otherwise overwhelming space…

an almost lifesize Santa fronting the fireplace’s deep and high proportions.

I’ll close with another room at The Breakers that was also to be seen on the “The Gilded Age,” Mr Russell’s billiard room. What more appropriate selection than the actual Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s own room in his home, The Breakers. In this year’s image you can see the December sun glistening off the ocean,

while the mantel in an earlier year had a very forest-y feel…but both represent a masculine tone as befitting a billiard room.

Don’t forget, this great mansion (The Breakers,) and its landscape, becomes an outdoor magical wonderland at night, with its grounds and paths awash in thousands of festive lights. Consider a visit during the holidays!

If you enjoy this article, please share it!

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

14 thoughts on “A Gilded Age Christmas, Part 2

  1. The magic of Christmas so beautifully presented. Your commentary is equally as illuminating. Thank you for sharing this festival post with those of us who are not able to see it person. Wishing you a safe and fun filled holiday season.

  2. Again, I find myself at a loss for words! I tend to choose a favorite photo – the masculine fireplace is it, stunning!

    1. Aaahh, the masculine fireplace…unfortunately I didn’t have the space to include the pool table! xB

  3. SOME DAY!!! We’ve “done” the Newport Mansion tours years ago…however…”THIS!!!” Your photos are…STUNNING!! (Where can I find 500 poinsettia…shelves you say…) franki

    1. Oh Franki, you MUST see this in person during the holidays…someday.
      That tree is quite the project; I’m glad I can run around the corner and enjoy it. xB




    TOM G.

Comments are closed.