4. Marble House in Newport

Marble House in Newport Rhode Island by Richard Morris Hunt
Photo courtesy of the Preservation Society of Newport County

The Vanderbilts had such a strong relationship with Richard Morris Hunt that they not only commissioned him to design mansions all over New York but also a pair of estates in Newport, Rhode Island. William K. Vanderbilt—grandson of the Commodore—hired Hunt to design Marble House, which he gave to his wife Alva Vanderbilt as a 39th birthday present. She hosted lavish parties there, becoming a leading hostess in Newport society.

Hunt modeled Marble House on the Parthenon in Athens and Le Petit Trianon at Versailles, with Corinthian columns, gilded moldings, ceiling frescoes, chandeliers, stained glass windows, and $7 million worth of marble. The total cost of the opulent mansion was reported to be $11 million (roughly $317 million today).

The interiors are modeled on an eclectic mix of European buildings. The Grand Salon, which was used as a ballroom and reception room, was designed in the Louis XIV style, with green silk velvet upholstery, gilt panels depicting scenes from classical mythology, and an 18th-century French ceiling painting. The Gothic Room, which displayed Alva’s collection of Medieval and Renaissance decorative objects, was designed in the Gothic Revival style. The library was done in the Rococo style, and the dining room features a replica of a fireplace at Versailles. Alva’s bedroom was decorated in the Louis XIV style, with an 18th-century ceiling painting of Athena.