A Rare Look Inside the Vanderbilt Heirs' Family Mansion
In January, Town & Country questioned whether the Vanderbilt heirs who occupied the third-floor apartment of the Breakers were being forced out because they publicly opposed the plan for a welcome center on the grounds. As of March 30, the two great-children of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the man who built the Gilded Age mansion in 1893, vacated the apartment.
Today, a former employee of the Preservation Society of Newport County—who has worked on the Breakers archives for the past seven years—posted a series of photos showing what the apartment looks like today. Below, a rare glimpse at the former family apartment courtesy of Jason Bouchard.
The Breakers - Third Floor Newport RI The central gallery is elevated above the two-story Great Hall below. There are three connecting guest rooms (No. 11, 12, & 13) off this hall, which were used from 1949-2017 as family bedrooms and later, storage. Three skylights in the floor of the attic provide filtered sunlight into this inner space, while three exterior skylights rest on top of the roof. In 2002, a $2m restoration endeavor replaced the complex roof at The Breakers. While the skylights were being repaired on the roof, the attic skylights were boxed up, causing intense heat on the third floor (little air circulation). The heat was oppressive enough that it caused the paint to peel off the walls in the gallery. Fortunately, the insurance company covered repairs to the walls. Plaster was repaired and the walls were repainted. A paint color was chosen that matched the original 1895 color. #thebreakersarchives @thebreakersarchives
The Breakers - Third Floor Newport RI A grouping of the guest rooms accessed from the raised central gallery. Rooms No. 11-13 are adjacent to one another, and connected, with an en suite bathroom off No. 11. These rooms were originally guest rooms in 1895, and from 1949-2017 were used as family bedrooms and later, storage. Two rooms (12-13) have blue carpeting from England, and tacked in brass fittings set within the floor. Furnishings are original, but some furniture was recovered by the Szapary’s at their own expense. Two original beds were kept in storage and returned to their rooms in 2017 when the family vacated the third floor. Recently, the wall fabrics have started to tear. Some fabrics are better than others, but sun damage is a prevalent problem. #thebreakersarchives @thebreakersarchives
The Breakers - Third Floor Newport RI Bedroom No. 18. This room located on the west/entrance side was a guest room in 1895, but later used as a dining room by the Szechenyi and Szapary families from 1949-2017. The metal furniture was once on the lower loggia, on the main level, in the 1930s, but was relocated to the third floor after the family moved upstairs when tours began in 1948. Recently, water marks have formed on the linen wall fabrics. Once a dark rust red, the fabrics have been victim to sun bleaching. The added water leaks have caused issues with the underlying stucco and have created mold and mildew problems. In some areas, the underlying stucco has crumbled. The leaks are caused from chimneys that are not properly sealed. The furniture pictured remains in The Breakers, gifted to the Preservation Society of Newport County, by members of the Szechenyi and Szapary families. #thebreakersarchives @thebreakersarchives
The Breakers - Third Floor Newport RI Bedroom No. 16; one time bedroom of Cornelius Vanderbilt III from 1895-96. Neily married Grace Wilson in 1896, which caused a bit of a rift between he and his father. Neily went on to engineer over 30 patents aimed at enhancing locomotives. He was also the engineering master behind August Belmont Jr.’s Interborough Transit Co., NYC’s first subways. He was a brigadier general during WWI and was involved in the National Guard until his retirement in 1935. He died aboard his yacht, anchored off Miami Harbor, in March 1942. The wall fabrics were originally dark royal blue, as seen in the second photo - some blue remains having been hidden under wall portraits. The Szapary’s used this room as a guest room, and have maintained the furnishings- all gifted to the Preservation Society of Newport by members of their family. The intricate fabric border and gimp have been tediously maintained by the Szapary’s, fringe waxed and fabric dusted. Like other rooms with fabric, occasional leaks have caused the underlying stucco to crumble. A distressing issue came up this last winter 2017-18, as heat was restricted to the third floor and the cold caused icing to form inside the windows. The condensation inside froze on the glass, creating puddles inside every room with balcony doors once warmed to room temperature. The issue has since been rectified, but was a surprise for sure. The area rug, retailed by W&J Sloane and acquired by Ogden Codman for The Breakers in 1895, is original to the room and had been kept in protective storage in the cedar closet for many years. #thebreakersarchives @thebreakersarchives
The Breakers - Third Floor Newport RI Trunk Room; In the summer of 2016, we emptied an attic storage room and relocated items down to the third floor. Many trunks, some Louis Vuitton and others, Goyard. Unbeknownst to us, the trunks were filled with period clothing, dating to as early as the 1890s. We have been working with a wonderful textile conservator from the FIT, now at URI/RISD to document the pieces. Many of the items have been loaned to the Newport Historical Society for an upcoming exhibit. The Trunk Room is located in the north wing, used by the household staff. It is bound by hallways and interior closets, with no exterior windows. Richard Morris Hunt, the architect of The Breakers, added an interior glass ceiling, with an upper skylight on the roof that provides filtered sunlight to brighten the trunk room. Windows within the trunk room allow light to shine into interior hallways that had no exterior light. It is a very thoughtful design. #thebreakersarchives @thebreakersarchives
The Breakers - Third Floor Newport RI The Living Room; originally planned as a bedroom, but changed into a sitting room during the building of The Breakers 1893-95, this vast room overlooks the Atlantic. The original wall fabrics by Prelle had faded and buckled when the Szapary’s replaced it at their own (great) expense. It is a very close match, selected by an expert in Ogden Codman Jr. interiors. The upholstered chairs and sofas were added to the main floor Morning Room in the 1930s by Countess Szechenyi for comfort. When the family moved to the third floor in 1949, they were relocated to the living room. The Szapary’s had the furniture recovered with custom slips. This room was always a gathering room for guests - with the table topped with personal effects, porcelain, books, and various antique trinkets. The bookcases lined with photographs, and the walls adorned with family portraits. All have been removed. The furniture left behind - pictured here - was gifted to the Preservation Society of Newport County by members of the family, with the exception of the Steinway upright, which is on loan. #thebreakersarchives @thebreakersarchives
The Breakers - Third Floor Newport RI Bedroom No. 14; Originally used by Reginald Vanderbilt from 1895 to about 1903, this room features exotic walnut paneling and a shared balcony overlooking the parterre gardens. This room has aged the best, as the woodwork has been maintained by the Szapary’s. The white bed was relocated from another bedroom. Like the other bedrooms, the Szapary’s furnished new mattresses from Ben’s - a local furniture store in Newport - and provided amenities for their guests. The window treatments are original - once royal blue - and the curtains have been removed for protection. The area rug, retailed by W&J Sloane, is original to the room and was in protective storage in the cedar closet until 2017, when it was returned by the Szapary’s. #thebreakersarchives @thebreakersarchives
The Breakers - Third Floor Newport RI Staff Rooms; rooms for service takes up over a third of The Breakers 70 total rooms. On the 3rd floor, are 15 bedrooms and another 15 on the 3-1/2 floor, all for domestic staff. The upper echelon staff were housed on the third floor, while lower class staff - and staff of guests - were housed upstairs. They were separated, women and men. Each room contains original Berkey & Gay oak furniture and an iron bed. When the Szapary’s were in residence, a select number of staff rooms were used for guests - it was always a treat to stay in former staff rooms. Recently, the Szapary’s had the floors carefully refinished, and window blinds replaced by a local vendor - all at a great expense. Of special note; the cleaning task list given by the late Countess Szapary. She was very particular on how to clean the apartment. #thebreakersarchives @thebreakersarchives
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.