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Description of the Mansion

Vanderbilt Mansion was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead, and White in 1896—98 in an Italian Renaissance style then popular with that firm. The mansion has about 50 rooms on 4 levels, including servants' quarters and utility features like the kitchen and laundry. The entire construction of concrete and steel, faced with cut stone, is fireproof—except for the interior paneled walls and the furnishings.


Main Entrance Vestibule. This is a small, high-ceilinged room that leads from the imposing front portico of the mansion to the reception hall. It is without distinctive furnishings except for a pair of large Mediterranean green-glazed pottery jars.

Reception Hall. Green and white marble imported from Italy is used with arresting effect for cornices and pilasters in this elliptically shaped room. Above the massive fireplace, which came from an Italian palace, is a Flemish tapestry bearing the insignia of the famous Italian Medici family of Renaissance times. In the center of the room is a French table with a porphyry top; upon it is a French clock with a matching porphyry base. Around the walls are high-backed Italian throne chairs. Two French Renaissance cabinets, in tooled walnut, stand at either side of the doorway. A pair of busts, male and female, are of Carrara marble. Many of these pieces are hundreds of years old.

Study. Woodwork is Santo Domingo mahogany. Plates on the wall are Chinese, and a painting by the French artist, Lesrel, hangs over the desk. Above the fireplace, early Italian and Spanish flintlock pistols are grouped about an old Flemish clock. A hand-carved Renaissance panel forms the back of the desk chair. In the bookcase are about 400 volumes, mostly fiction and travel. Included among these are the college textbooks that Frederick Vanderbilt used at Yale. From this room Vanderbilt conducted his estate affairs, such as tree culture and the operation of the greenhouses, gardens, and his 350-acre dairy and stock farm across the highway.

Library and family living room
Library and family living room.

Library. This room reflects the work of decorator Georges A. Glaenzer of New York City. Hand-carved wood on the walls was done by Swiss artists brought to this country for that purpose. A vaulted section of the ceiling is molded plaster, made to simulate carved wood. The carved mantel of the fireplace is said to have come from a European church. A porcelain clock-and-candelabra set on the mantel was a gift from Mrs. Vanderbilt's mother. Guns on the wall opposite the fireplace are antique Swiss wheel locks. More than 900 volumes on history, literature, natural science, and other subjects fill the bookcases in this room. This library was the family living room. Here the Vanderbilts and their intimate friends gathered for tea in the afternoon. Mrs. Vanderbilt used the table in this room to write letters to her friends. Frederick Vanderbilt's favorite chair stands near a large window overlooking the grounds.

South Foyer. On one of the venerable Italian dower chests in this room is a model of Vanderbilt's yacht, Warrior. On the other chest is a small bronze group depicting a Russian winter scene. Above the chests are two 16th-century Brussels tapestries showing incidents in the Trojan War. By the chests are a pair of Venetian torcheres and two small bronze chateau cannon.

Drawing room
Drawing room, northwest corner.

Drawing Room. Furniture in this room is predominantly French, except for two Italian refectory tables and a number of Chinese lamps. Two of these lamps have silk shades with hand-painted designs copied from the bases; this touch of luxury is repeated in other rooms, notably in Frederick Vanderbilt's bedroom. The grand piano, an American Steinway, was decorated in Paris in gold-leaf with the medallions of noted composers, it was originally used in the home of Vanderbilt's father in New York City. Seventeenth-century Florentine tapestries on the end walls bear the coat of arms of the Medici family. Two 16th-century Brussels tapestries with more scenes from the Trojan War flank the doorway. Wall paneling is Circassian walnut. Twin fireplaces are Italian marble. As it now appears, this room represents the design of architect Whitney Warren, who redecorated the room in 1906. The original ceiling mural by H. Siddon Mowbray was removed at that time.

French doors open to a porch from which a path led to the Italian gardens. Formal entertaining in this room might include tea, after-dinner coffee, games of whist, and, on special occasions, a spring or autumn dance.

Gold room
Gold room or French salon.

Gold Room. This French salon was designed by Georges A. Glaenzer after an 18th-century French drawing room. An inlaid tulipwood desk is Louis XV. A standing clock, made by Paul Sormani is a copy of one in the Louvre. One of the inset wall panels contains an Aubusson tapestry; two other panels (one above the marble fireplace) contain large mirrors which, reflecting in one another, provide a striking repetition of mirrors to infinity. As is evident from its gilded appearance, goldleaf was not spared in the room's decoration. Here guests would gather for sherry before dinner.

North Foyer. In this room is a large Florentine storage chest of hand-carved wood, decorated with goldleaf and lacquer. Above the chest is a 17th-century Brussels tapestry. On the opposite wall is an 18th-century Aubusson tapestry. Overhead is a Venetian lantern matching the one in the south foyer. In one corner is a large Chinese bowl with blue-dragon design against a white background; it rests on a Chinese teakwood stand.

Dining room
Dining room.

Dining Room. This room is 30 by 50 feet. Its floor is covered by a huge Oriental (Ispahan) rug which measures 20 by 40 feet and is more than 300 years old. Furniture is a reproduction of Louis XIV period. The large dining table could be extended to seat 30 people. A smaller table at the east end of the room was used by the Vanderbilts when dining alone or with a few intimate friends. At such meals, Frederick Vanderbilt always sat on the south side of the table with Mrs. Vanderbilt opposite him on the north side. Across the room from the doorway are two 18th-century planetaria, made in London—instruments used for the study of the sun and planets. On the walls on either side of the door are a pair of French 17th-century tapestries, believed to be of Beauvais manufacture. Florentine chairs around the walls and two carved Renaissance mantels all emphasize the spaciousness of the room. Hand-painted and gilt panels decorate the ceiling. Two marble columns of the Ionic order flank the doorway, matching those in the drawing room. All original marble work in the mansion was done by Robert C. Fisher and Company, of New York City, then one of the largest importers of marble in the world.

The hostess made it a point to blend the color of the flowers, the cloth, and the china. If yellow flowers were being used, the lace cloth would have a yellow undercover, the service would be gold-plated, and the china would be white with a gold stripe.

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Last Modified: Mon, Mar 4 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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