The gilded age was a short snippet in time, from 1870 to 1900-ish, when the boom of American business rebounded after the civil war. Gilded age mansions of Newport are a physical archive of architecture and craftsmanship from the decadence of those times.
Newport, Rhode Island, a significant seaport in the colonial era, became the preeminent location for grand summer ‘cottages’ of captains of industry and sorted well-to-do. Optimism, creativity and economic growth was rampant. The rewards of capitalist efforts fueled a building boom which in turn employed thousands. Today these historic Newport Mansions are one of America’s prime summer tourist destinations.
I invite you to take a look at some jaw-dropping samples from inside the gilded mansions of Newport, with a different set of eyes. Look at a phenomenon of creativity, dedication to style, the human manipulation of materials.
Today we decorate and build in an entirely different manner, however when you look at these summer homes and realize no power tools were involved, no computer drawing or modeling programs, every inch of these were made at the hand of people.
Skilled artisans took emence pride in their work, had the patience and fortitude to create things we can barely envision today. Can you imagine asking a contractor to fabricate a room of hand carved walls and a ceiling full of intricate details, in proper scale and completed in months… without hearing excuses or the word can’t? Ha!
Notice the detail, the precise matching from one item to another, look at how the scale is appropriate to the rooms. Tall ceiling require big molding, today we are great at screwing this up. Back then, while the owners had the money to have anything they wanted, they often studied great architecture before building their home, not make the rules up as they went along.
If you love houses, architecture, building, history and have an appreciation for the hand crafted, these gilded mansions are a must-see. (I’ve been three times, and always marvel at a fresh look.) The Preservation Society of Newport County has nine mansions open for tours, some self-guided some not. Doris Duke’s Newport Preservation Foundation has her home, Rough Point, open for tours.
This is the first of a four part summer series on the Gilded Mansions of Newport. Next week we’ll look at The Faces Of Newport’s Gilded Mansions, which has nothing to do with actual people.