Design & Décor, Entertaining, Holiday, Living with Style, Seasonal, The Newport Diary, Winter

A Gilded Age Christmas , Part 1

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It is glorious in Newport any time of the year, but especially at Christmas! And with all the attention “The Gilded Age” series has garnered I thought I’d begin my posts a bit earlier than past years…you won’t be disappointed, I hope (wink, wink).

This week I’m featuring Marble House, the Newport cottage just down the street. Not only is this a gorgeous example of the decorating talents of the Preservation Society of Newport County, stewards of this mansion, but it is also the former home of Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the 9th Duke of Marlborough…and moved to a much larger home in England at Blenheim Palace. Newport has been a great source of inspration for Mr. Fellowes! As you scroll through these images, let me refresh your memory a bit on the fascinating, real life tale of this, one of the many heiresses in the Gilded Age era to be married off to English and European nobility.

Photo Credit: Michelle Pugliese for Private Newport

Consuelo was the great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who established the family’s fortune in steamships and the New York Central Railroad. And her uncle was Cornelius II, who built The Breakers. Both of her brothers, William K. Jr., a prominent figure in pioneering the sport of auto racing in America, and Harold, one of the finest yachtsmen of his era who successfully defended the America’s Cup three times, established their credentials early on. 

But it was Consuelo who was chosen to firmly establish the family’s social credentials by securing an English aristocratic title. Her mother, Alva, was nothing if not persistent on the subject, rumor having it that she went so far as to lock her daughter in her room until she capitulated to an arranged marriage with the 9th Duke of Marlborough. The nuptials took place in 1895, after her dowry had been settled upon (worth almost $100 million in today’s money).

Photo Credit: Michelle Pugliese for Private Newport
Photo Credit: Michelle Pugliese for Private Newport

Consuelo’s was the most prominent and storied example during the Gilded Age of enterprising social ambition on the part of newly wealthy parents. Among the many American heiresses married off to British aristocracy, Consuelo’s title carried the highest ranking of these “Dollar Princesses,” but proved to be a loveless marriage common during this period. Nonetheless, she reigned as the Duchess of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace, noteworthy as the only non-royal palace in Britain. After ten years and two heirs, she and the Duke separated and were eventually divorced.

Marble House was built between 1888 and 1892 for William K. and Alva Vanderbilt and designed by leading architect of the day, Richard Morris Hunt. This “Temple to the Arts”, as described by Alva, was a social and architectural landmark that set the pace for Newport’s subsequent transformation from a quiet summer colony of wooden houses to the legendary resort of opulent stone palaces.

Among its many attributes is the 500,000 cubic feet of marble that provided the home’s moniker. Stunningly elegant throughout the year, it is breathtaking when dressed for Christmas. All images attest to this point, but the “small” ballroom (below) is my favorite, deliciously making sense of the saying that “more is never enough.”

Photo Credit: Michelle Pugliese for Private Newport

And this is just the beginning…stay tuned for many more yummy images and intriguing stories as I celebrate a Gilded Age Christmas, Newport-style.

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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".

16 thoughts on “A Gilded Age Christmas , Part 1

  1. “Yeppers”…I could live there!!! I am fascinated with the….craftsman!!! Who can do this??!! Stunning!! franki

    1. Yes, Franki, craftsmen form another era…and gloriously maitianed by the PSNC. xB

  2. The first images – the staircase, the tree, the wreath – oh my! There are no words, thank you Bettie for sharing such beauty – it did not disappoint!

    1. Thank you, Tyna, I never cease to be awed by Marble House, everytime I visit. xB

  3. Over the top ? Be still my heart…. exquisite in original design and
    current detailing for Christmas…. A beautifully wrapped gift for the

    1. Yes, Mary, lots of good ideas to be found for creating your Christmas 2023. xB

  4. Why does this hurt my heart to view? The abundance and depth of the beauty is overwhelming! But in thee best possible way!

    1. Many “pinch m”e moments when viewing Marble House any time of the year…but especially during the Holidays. xB

  5. Marble House always takes my breath away, but the decorations for Christmas are so very stunning, but SO TASTEFUL. Thank you for sharing your marvelous photographic skills and writing with us all.

    1. Aaaah Ruthie, hope you have a chance to see it with your own eyes some day! xB

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