For my last post on the spectacular Elms Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, I wanted to highlight something I rarely feature on this page, a garden. When the mansion was completed by 1901, architect Horace Trumbauer and his firm went to work to produce plans for a natural landscape with a large lily pond at the far edge of the property. After 1907, the Berwind’s and high-society shifted and landscape ideals were influenced by newer theories in American landscape architecture, which sought influence from historical European gardens. Trumbauer reworked The Elms’ garden to reflect this new emphasis on reviving classical European garden design alongside landscape architects Ernest W. Bowditch and Jacques Greber advising on the parterre design in the sunken garden. A grand allée on the scale of 18th century French palace gardens extends across an expansive lawn toward two formal marble pavilions situated along a minor cross axis above a sunken garden. The marble pavillions appear to have been designed by Trumbauer and are inspired by 18th-century French garden pavilions. The grand context for the gardens is a park-like collection of specimen beech, elms, maples, linden and other large canopy trees. Many of the large trees have since succumbed to disease, but the formal Italian sunken garden remains one of the finest in the United States.
The Elms Mansion
The Elms – Stable and Garage // 1911
By 1911, the Berwind’s wooden stable at their summer home, The Elms, was deemed inadequate and the couple’s new automobiles needed an appropriate structure to protect them from the elements. Edward Berwind purchased a large estate from Ms. Ida Powell Johnson, abutting his sprawling property and razed it to have a new stable and garage structure built there. The two structures are modeled after the Louveciennes Pavillon de Goury in France, built originally for Madame du Barry. Above the garage space lived the stable keepers and gardeners. As the space shifted from stable to garage, it is said that the head coachman, in order to keep his job, became the family driver, but he could never learn to back up, so a large turntable had to be installed in the garage. The complex originally held space for ten carriages, stalls for six horses and room for eight automobiles, as well as harness repairs, laundry rooms and living quarters. The Beaux Arts style building employs the best of French architecture, including a mansard roof, corbels, and raised central pavillion.
The Elms – Pantry and Kitchen
We always see the ornate and entertaining spaces of house museums, but it is always amazing to see the “back of the house” which kept everything running. The two-story pantry and basement kitchen in The Elms are a rare look into the life of servants that worked in these mansions. These types of spaces were designed in a way to allow for servants to tend to the owners and guests, but neve The pantry spans floors one and two and would serve the owners and guests for smaller items and meals. The space features floor-to-ceiling oak cabinets to store china and other items. The basement kitchen is lined with white enamel tile for cleaning.
The Elms – Mr. Berwind’s Bedroom and Bathroom
Mr. Berwind drew the short straw and occupied the smaller of the two bedrooms in the Elms mansion as his wife Sarah Torrey Berwind, got the larger corner room. I was shocked to see just how small the bedroom was for one of the richest men in the country, even if it was just a summer residence that they occupied for a couple months of the year! Mr. Berwind did have a small bedroom, but he spared no expense to furnish it well. The fireplace in his bedroom is of ox-blood marble with gilt bronze mounts. The walls are covered in red silk and the carpet is a late 19th-century Khorassan. His private attached bathroom contains a sink of translucent white onyx.
The Elms – Mrs. Berwind’s Bedroom // 1899
On the second floor of The Elms mansion in Newport, you will find two separate bedrooms for the owners Edward and Sarah Berwind, a husband and wife of high society. The larger of the two bedrooms was for Mrs. Berwind as you know what they say, “happy wife, happy life”. Mrs. Berwind’s bedroom has cream-colored woodwork covered with custom-woven celadon green damask with borders of coordinated green, gold, and cream material. She had an adjoining bathroom and her chambers had access to her husband’s chamber along with a shared fireplace.
The Elms – Sitting Room // 1899
The formal Sitting Room at the Elms in Newport, Rhode Island is one of the many statement-rooms found in the Gilded Age mansion. This room is located directly above the Ballroom and is the first space seen when ascending the main staircase onto the second floor. The sitting room was used by the Berwind Family and their guests as a gathering and socializing space, a little less formal than the ballroom downstairs for more elegant events. The Preservation Society of Newport County has done an amazing job at restoring the building and purchasing furniture and fixtures that were sold off when much of the inside of the property was sold off at auction in the 1960s. The Preservation Society restored the red silk walls fabric in the 1980s, bringing the space back to its original grandeur. I cannot think of a better place to just “sit”.
The Elms – Dining Room // 1899
The Dining Room of the Elms Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, is represents the Gilded Age in all the best ways. The room sits just off the ballroom and like all of the other rooms in the summer residence of the Berwinds, it was designed by famed interior designer Jules Allard. The dining room was specifically to display a collection of early18th-century Venetian paintings purchased by Mr. Berwind from the Ca’ Corner estate in Venice (the Berwinds were avid collectors of 18th century French and Venetian paintings). The iconic coffered ceiling is not of wood, but of molded plaster, grained and painted to imitate oak. Each coffer is decorated with the winged lion of Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice. Pour custom-made crystal chandeliers hang in the four corners of the room. At the end of the room is a stunning green marble, agate and onyx fireplace that is framed by a ceiling-high pediment supported by carved Ionic columns. Could you see yourself entertaining in this dining room?
The Elms – Library // 1899
Merry Christmas from Buildings of New England!
To celebrate, I wanted to feature the library aka the “red room” in the Elms Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. The library is lined with high wainscoting and walls of inlaid walnut hung with red damask/fabric. The center table, fireplace mantel, and inlaid bookcases were all designed by Jules Allard, and the table in particular displays the exaggerated proportions and classical ornament typical of 16th-century French design. The mantel piece consists of white carved stone with the upper part of richly carved walnut. The room is one of the coziest in the Elms, one of the more refined and “homey” of the Newport Mansions open for tours. From this library, owner Edward Julius Berwind, would keep up with his growing businesses while away for summers in Newport.
The Elms – Ballroom // 1899
The Louis XV style Ballroom of the Elms Mansion in Newport sits just off the Stair and Gallery halls at the core of the building. This room was the scene of lavish parties, including the 1901 housewarming party hosted by the Berwinds to announce the formal opening of The Elms to Newport’s summer society. The large, 50’x45′ ballroom was designed by French designer Jules Allard crafted the Louis XV style paneling with plaster shell and floral ornament. The white relief decorations on the doors, paneling, and cornice are continued in an elaborate ceiling frieze and center medallion of winged cherubs. As a stark contrast from other Gilded Age mansions in Newport, the ballroom has very minimal gold gilding, besides the mirror frames on the wall. The muted cream and white colored walls with ornament show the sophistication and grandeur of the design, not gold.
The Elms // 1899
One of my favorite things to do each holiday season is to explore Newport and the mansions all gussied up with lights, ornaments and holiday cheer. This year, I visited The Elms, one of my absolute favorite buildings in Newport, which is a house museum! Stay tuned for some room features, similar to my series last year on The Breakers mansion.
The Elms was commissioned in 1898 by coal baron Edward Julius Berwind (1848–1936) and his wife Sarah Torrey Berwind (1856-1922) as a summer cottage where the couple could escape the woes of city life for a few weeks of every year. Edward was “new money” (his parents were middle-class German immigrants); and by the 1890s, he was hailed as “one of the 58 men who rule America”, making him one of Newport’s most important summer residents. To live up to his new status, he hired Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, who took inspiration from the 18th century Château d’Asnières in France. The site on the iconic Bellevue Avenue is not directly on the water, so Trumbauer sought to enhance the siting of the mansion by elaborate landscaping (more on that later). The house was built to be fireproof, after the complete loss of the original Breakers mansion in 1892 and is clad with Indiana limestone. The couple held many lavish parties in the Elms until 1922, when Mrs. Berwind died. Mr. Berwind invited his youngest sister, Julia, to become his hostess at his New York and Newport houses. Mr. Berwind died in 1936 and Julia continued to summer at The Elms until her death in 1961. Childless, Julia Berwind willed the estate to a nephew, who did not want it and fruitlessly tried to pass The Elms to someone else in the family. Finally the family auctioned off the contents of the estate and sold the property to a developer who wanted to tear it down. In 1962, just weeks before its date with the wrecking ball, The Elms was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County for $116,000. It remains one of the most visited house museums in the nation to this day.