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The Breakers, Rhode Island: Inside The Mansion


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Rosa Umana


History of The Breakers

The Breakers is a historic mansion located in Newport, Rhode Island. It was built in the late 19th century for the Vanderbilt family, one of America’s wealthiest and most influential families at the time. The mansion was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and construction was completed in 1895.


The creation of The Breakers was a result of the Vanderbilt family’s desire to establish a summer residence that would reflect their wealth and social standing. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, commissioned Hunt to design the mansion in the Beaux-Arts architectural style, which was popular during the Gilded Age.


The Breakers gets its name from the location where it was built. The mansion sits atop a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, providing breathtaking panoramic views. The site was previously occupied by another mansion, but Cornelius Vanderbilt II had it demolished to make way for his grand vision.


Construction of The Breakers began in 1893 and employed a large number of skilled craftsmen and artisans. The exterior of the mansion is made of limestone, giving it a striking and regal appearance. The interior boasts intricate woodwork, marble finishes, and elaborate detailing, showcasing the opulence and luxury that the Vanderbilt family enjoyed.


During its heyday, The Breakers served as the Vanderbilt family’s summer retreat, where they hosted lavish parties and entertained elite guests from around the world. The mansion featured extravagant ballrooms, ornate dining rooms, and luxurious guest suites, all designed to impress and awe its visitors.


Despite its grandeur, The Breakers faced an uncertain future during the 20th century. Changes in the social and economic landscape led to the decline of Newport as a summer resort destination. In 1948, Cornelius Vanderbilt III, the son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, bequeathed The Breakers to the Preservation Society of Newport County, ensuring its preservation for future generations.


Today, The Breakers stands as a testament to the Gilded Age and the opulence that defined the era. It is open to the public as a museum, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the grandeur of this iconic mansion. The meticulously maintained interiors, stunning gardens, and breathtaking ocean views continue to captivate all who visit.


Architecture of The Breakers

The Breakers is renowned for its magnificent architecture, showcasing the grandeur and elegance of the Gilded Age. Designed by the esteemed architect Richard Morris Hunt, the mansion exemplifies the Beaux-Arts style, characterized by its grand scale, opulent details, and symmetrical design.


One of the most striking features of The Breakers is its limestone exterior, which adds to its regal appearance. The mansion spans an impressive 125,339 square feet, making it one of the largest and most extravagant summer residences of its time.


The mansion’s main entrance features a grand portico with Corinthian columns supporting a pediment adorned with intricate carvings. This imposing entrance sets the tone for the opulent interiors that await within.


As visitors step inside The Breakers, they are greeted by a breathtaking central hall that spans three stories. The hall is adorned with ornate sculptures, intricate plasterwork, and a stunning grand staircase, making it a true centerpiece of the mansion.


The Breakers boasts an array of lavish rooms, each meticulously designed to impress and entertain. The library, with its rich mahogany paneling and coffered ceilings, exudes sophistication and intellectualism. The grand ballroom showcases intricate plasterwork, crystal chandeliers, and a ceiling painted with scenes from Greek mythology.


One of the standout architectural features of The Breakers is the Great Hall, which resembles the central courtyard of a Renaissance palazzo. It is adorned with elegant columns, marble floors, and statues that line the hallways.


In addition to its architectural splendor, The Breakers seamlessly incorporates elements of French, Italian, and English design throughout its interiors. The Vanderbilt family amassed a collection of European art and furnishings, which were incorporated into the mansion’s decor, further enhancing its rich and luxurious ambiance.


Furthermore, The Breakers features extensive use of natural light, incorporating large windows and glass enclosures that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. This deliberate design choice allows visitors to appreciate the stunning ocean views and the lush gardens that envelope the mansion.


Richard Morris Hunt’s architectural masterpiece, The Breakers, continues to captivate visitors with its grandeur and timeless beauty. Its extraordinary design elements and meticulous attention to detail make it a true representation of the opulence and splendor of the Gilded Age.


Interior Design of The Breakers

The interior design of The Breakers is a true reflection of the Vanderbilt family’s unparalleled wealth and impeccable taste. From the moment visitors step inside, they are transported into a world of opulence and luxury.


One of the most striking aspects of The Breakers’ interior design is the meticulous attention to detail. Every room has been carefully crafted to showcase exquisite craftsmanship and artistic expression. The mansion features a harmonious blend of different design styles, ranging from French and Italian influences to elements of the Renaissance and neoclassical periods.


The grand central hall, with its soaring ceilings and regal staircase, sets the tone for the rest of the mansion. Intricate plasterwork, gilded details, and marble finishes create an atmosphere of grandeur and sophistication.


The library, a haven for the Vanderbilt family’s extensive book collection, is an intimate space adorned with rich mahogany paneling, coffered ceilings, and plush furnishings. Elaborate bookcases filled with literary treasures line the walls, creating a refined ambiance for intellectual pursuits.


The dining rooms at The Breakers are a testament to the family’s love for extravagant entertaining. The Morning Room, used for more intimate gatherings, features delicate wallpaper adorned with birds and flora, while the larger Banquet Room boasts intricately carved woodwork, crystal chandeliers, and extraordinary frescoes that depict mythological scenes.


The bedrooms and guest suites at The Breakers are equally lavish, boasting ornate wallpaper, luxurious drapery, and marble fireplaces. Each room provides a unique glimpse into the personal style and preferences of the Vanderbilt family, with no expense spared to create an indulgent and comfortable retreat for both family members and esteemed guests.


Throughout the mansion, visitors will find an impressive collection of European art and furnishings, carefully curated by the Vanderbilt family. Paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects from renowned artists adorn the walls and halls, adding to the overall aesthetic beauty of the mansion.


Another notable feature of the interior design at The Breakers is the strategic use of natural light. Large windows, glass enclosures, and strategically placed mirrors allow sunlight to filter into the rooms, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere while highlighting the exquisite architectural details.


Ultimately, the interior design of The Breakers showcases the Vanderbilt family’s desire to create an environment that exuded the utmost elegance and sophistication. The combination of opulent furnishings, exquisite artwork, and meticulous attention to detail results in an extraordinary sensory experience that transports visitors back to a bygone era of luxury and refinement.


Gardens and Grounds of The Breakers

Surrounding The Breakers is a meticulously manicured landscape that adds to the grandeur and beauty of the mansion. The gardens and grounds of The Breakers were designed to complement the architectural masterpiece and provide a serene and enchanting outdoor retreat for the Vanderbilt family and their guests.


The gardens at The Breakers are a harmonious blend of formal and informal landscaping styles. As visitors approach the mansion, they are greeted by lush lawns, vibrant flower beds, and precisely trimmed hedges that create a sense of order and elegance.


One of the key features of the garden is the iconic Chinese Tea House, a charming pavilion situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the Tea House offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic and served as a tranquil space for the Vanderbilt family to relax and enjoy the coastal scenery.


The landscape of The Breakers also boasts winding paths, hidden alcoves, and secluded corners that invite visitors to explore and discover hidden gems within the grounds. Numerous statues, fountains, and ornamental urns are strategically placed throughout the gardens, creating focal points that enhance the overall aesthetic appeal.


The Rose Garden is another notable feature of the grounds, showcasing a stunning collection of vibrant and fragrant roses. The meticulously arranged beds, accompanied by trellises and pergolas adorned with climbing roses, create a romantic and picturesque setting.


Additionally, The Breakers features a sprawling lawn that was once used for outdoor games and social gatherings. The expansive green space is perfect for picnicking, lounging, or simply enjoying the panoramic views of the ocean.


Furthermore, the gardens of The Breakers are home to a variety of plant species, including exotic trees, shrubs, and flowers. The landscape design combines both native and non-native species to create a diverse and visually appealing environment.


The gardens and grounds of The Breakers have undergone extensive restoration and maintenance over the years, ensuring that visitors today can experience the same beauty and elegance that the Vanderbilt family enjoyed over a century ago.


Exploring the gardens and grounds of The Breakers provides visitors with a tranquil escape from the bustling interior of the mansion. The meticulously designed landscape, with its captivating flora and stunning vistas, serves as a perfect complement to the architectural splendor of The Breakers, creating an unforgettable sensory experience.


Notable Features of The Breakers

The Breakers is renowned for its abundance of notable features that make it a truly exceptional landmark. From its opulent interiors to its stunning ocean views, the mansion offers visitors a wealth of captivating elements to explore and admire.


One of the most notable features of The Breakers is its architectural grandeur. Designed in the Beaux-Arts style by Richard Morris Hunt, the mansion’s limestone exterior, Corinthian columns, and intricate carvings showcase the elegance and sophistication of the Gilded Age.


The central hall of The Breakers is a standout feature, with its soaring ceilings, grand staircase, and elaborate detailing. It serves as a dramatic entryway, setting the stage for the luxurious and meticulously designed rooms that await within.


The intricately designed interiors are another highlight of The Breakers. From the richly paneled library to the ballrooms adorned with plasterwork and frescoes, each room is a testament to the Vanderbilt family’s exquisite taste and opulence.


The Gardens and grounds surrounding The Breakers are also noteworthy. The Chinese Tea House, situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean, provides a picturesque retreat with breathtaking views. The Rose Garden, with its vibrant blooms and fragrant scents, adds a touch of romance to the expansive landscape.


In addition, The Breakers is home to an impressive collection of European art and furnishings. Paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects enhance the aesthetic beauty of the mansion and offer a glimpse into the family’s refined tastes and appreciation for the arts.


The panoramic ocean views from The Breakers are unparalleled. The mansion sits atop a cliff, providing visitors with magnificent vistas of the Atlantic Ocean. The strategic placement of large windows and glass enclosures ensures that visitors can enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery throughout their visit.


Another notable feature of The Breakers is its historical significance. As one of the most iconic symbols of the Gilded Age, the mansion offers a glimpse into the extravagant lifestyle of the Vanderbilt family and the social and economic landscape of the time.


The Breakers stands as a testament to the preservation efforts of the Preservation Society of Newport County, which has meticulously maintained the mansion and opened it to the public as a museum. The dedication to preserving the historical and architectural integrity of The Breakers ensures that future generations can appreciate its grandeur and beauty.


Overall, The Breakers is unique and exceptional in its combination of architectural splendor, opulent interiors, breathtaking views, and historical significance. It continues to captivate visitors from around the world, offering a glimpse into a bygone era of unmatched luxury and refinement.


Visiting The Breakers

Visiting The Breakers is a remarkable opportunity to step back in time and experience the grandeur of the Gilded Age. As one of the most iconic landmarks in Newport, Rhode Island, The Breakers offers visitors a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Vanderbilt family and the architectural magnificence of the era.


When planning a visit to The Breakers, it is recommended to allocate a sufficient amount of time to fully explore the mansion and its grounds. The self-guided audio tour, available in multiple languages, provides fascinating insights into the history, architecture, and daily life at The Breakers.


As you approach the mansion, the impressive limestone exterior and grand portico set the tone for the breathtaking experience that awaits inside. Once you enter the mansion, you will be greeted by the awe-inspiring central hall, which serves as the starting point for your journey through the opulent rooms and luxurious spaces.


The self-guided tour allows you to explore at your own pace, providing detailed information about each room, its significance, and the notable features to observe. From the grand ballroom with its intricate plasterwork to the ornate dining rooms adorned with exquisite artwork, every room offers a unique glimpse into the Vanderbilt family’s lavish lifestyle.


Throughout the mansion, you will have the opportunity to admire the carefully preserved original furnishings, stunning chandeliers, and remarkable craftsmanship that make The Breakers an architectural masterpiece. The European art collection, displayed throughout the mansion, adds an extra layer of elegance and beauty to the experience.


After exploring the interiors, be sure to venture outside and immerse yourself in the stunning gardens and grounds that surround The Breakers. Take a moment to soak in the panoramic ocean views from the Chinese Tea House or stroll through the enchanting Rose Garden.


To enhance your visit, consider attending one of the special events or exhibitions hosted at The Breakers throughout the year. From lectures and concerts to seasonal festivals, these events offer a unique perspective on the history and culture of the Gilded Age.


Before you leave, make sure to stop by the museum shop, where you can find a wide array of souvenirs, books, and unique gifts inspired by The Breakers and the Gilded Age. The shop is a perfect place to find a memento to remember your visit by.


Visiting The Breakers is an experience that transports you to a time of luxury and splendor. Whether you are a history enthusiast, an architecture lover, or simply curious about the Vanderbilt family’s extravagant lifestyle, a visit to The Breakers is sure to leave you with lasting memories and a deeper appreciation for the rich heritage of Rhode Island and the Gilded Age.