NEWPORT — Missed your chance to see the Newport Mansions all decorated for Christmas? Worry not, the mansions will remain open through Jan. 1 so you still have time to tour several of the magnificent buildings — perhaps for an after-Christmas treat.
The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House are each decorated with trees, ornaments, fresh flowers, and evergreens, designed to invoke the spirit of Christmas.
Andrea Carneiro, the communications manager for the Preservation Society of Newport County, the organization that owns the mansions, said dozens of volunteers — led by Curator of Historic Landscapes Jim Donahue and Gardens & Grounds Director Jeff Curtis — spend up to a month creating the magic of Christmas at the Newport Mansions.
Volunteers assist with putting up trees, hanging ornaments, making garlands and wreaths, and decorating fireplace mantels, Carneiro said.
The decorations in each house — and in individual rooms — are tailored to match the historic decor, she explained. Throughout the three houses, there are a total of 30 decorated Christmas trees of all sizes, plus thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers, evergreens and wreaths.
“The windows in each mansion are lit with individual white candles,” she added.
New this year, on display in the kitchen of each mansion will be a large gingerbread model of the house, each created by a local pastry chef. Also new this year, in the butler's pantry of The Breakers, a 9-foot Christmas tree will be decorated with ornaments made by fourth-grade students at Newport's Pell Elementary School.
The traditional 15-foot-tall red poinsettia tree will once again be on view in the Great Hall of The Breakers. Made up of up to 150 individual plants, the poinsettia tree is a “perennial visitor favorite,” added Carneiro.
On the second floor loggia, model train reproductions of the Vanderbilt family's New York Central Railroad will run through a vintage landscape, overseen by volunteers from the Little Rhody Division of the National Model Railroad Association.
At The Elms, a winter wonderland theme in the ballroom will feature period sleighs and lanterns, mannequins wearing vintage clothing, trees and a topiary horse. There will also be a “selfie” photo spot where visitors can take their own photos surrounded by a gilded frame, she said. A collection of vintage toys will also be on display, she said.
Marble House will feature two new Christmas trees on its first floor, in the gold ballroom and the library, as well as a large fresh-cut tree outside the front door, decorated with white lights to complement the white candles in the windows.
Among the three houses there will be 24 decorated mantelpieces, each with its own theme. At Marble House, regional garden clubs will decorate the fireplace mantels in the second floor rooms in a competitive challenge. Each club will be given a subsidy for materials, and their creations will be judged by certified flower show judges.
Rosecliff, which was closed in November and early December to accommodate rehearsals and performances of the Island Moving Company's annual production of the “Newport Nutcracker,” has reopened for tours, including the exhibition “Pierre Cardin: 70 Years of Innovation” in the second-floor gallery.
The Newport Mansions Stores will be bustling with activities for the holiday season, Carneiro said, noting that preservation society members receive 25 percent off all purchases at The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House and the downtown Newport store at Bannister’s Wharf, as well as online at www.NewportStyle.net.
The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad. Its interiors include rich marbles and gilded rooms, a 50-foot high Great Hall, mosaic tile floors and ceilings, and open-air terraces with magnificent ocean views.
The Elms is an elegant French-style chateau built in 1901 for Philadelphia coal magnate Edward J. Berwind. It serves as a backdrop for monumental artworks, including wall-sized 18th-century Venetian paintings and Chinese lacquer panels. The Elms is situated on a 10-acre park with an elaborate sunken garden.
Marble House was the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt. Built and furnished at a reported cost of $11 million, it was the most lavish house in America when it opened in 1892. It became a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt’s climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the “Votes for Women”campaign.
The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island is a nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscapes and decorative arts. Its 11 historic properties — seven of them National Historic Landmarks — span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development.