Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between rounding up historically significant houses on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
There are few periods of history that conjure more romantic notions of architecture than the Gilded Age, that stretch of time from the late 19th- to the early-20th century notorious for its extravagance in almost every corner of life, but especially the home.
The term "Gilded Age" was actually coined by author Mark Twain in his 1873 novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, which satirized post-Civil War life and called out its materialistic obsessions. The most well-known symbols of this opulent era might be the grand mansions—summer homes often referred to as "cottages"—built by prominent families of the day. These estates ranged in architectural style (Colonial Revival, Shingle Style, Queen Anne, and Romanesque to name a few) but were most often built in Newport, Long Island, and the Berkshires.
While some were eventually transformed into museums (like the famous Vanderbilt home The Breakers), others continued their lives as private homes, going through all the phases of a normal home: restoration, remodelling, and yes, selling. From a sprawling estate in the Hamptons to a cliffside mansion in Newport, these are some of the grandest Gilded Age mansions up for grabs right now.
Wild Moor; Newport, Rhode Island (9 bedroom, 6 bathroom, $6.5 million)
An imposing stone mansion, Wild Moor was built in 1887 by renowned New York firm McKim, Mead, & White. The firm, which was behind projects like the Boston Public Library and New York City’s Washington Square Arch, is known for its elegant use of woodwork—and this house is no exception. Just look at the foyer: there is no surface that has not been covered with wood paneling.
The carving is especially delicate on the bannister of the winding staircase, illuminated by an oversized double-hung window. What’s wonderful about this home, though, is that it has been expertly renovated—so while the luminescent green tile surrounding the fireplace in the library may be closing in on 130 years old, the kitchen is thoroughly modern.
And while the 7,440-square-foot mansion, which was originally named Berry Hill, may not have the ocean views Newport is known for, its 11-acre plot of land more closely resembles a park. That may be no coincidence: Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, served as the landscape architect for Wild Moor.
Ocean Lawn; Newport, Rhode Island (13 bedrooms, 10.5 bathrooms, $18.5 million) There are few Newport locations that are more prestigious than the Cliff Walk, a stretch of shoreline that is home to the city’s grand mansions, The Breakers among them. This house, aptly named Ocean Lawn, which comes courtesy of Lila Delman Real Estate International, was built in 1889 by Boston firm Peabody & Sterns and sits on 6.7 acres of the Cliff Walk.
The 13-bedroom mansion, built in the Queen Anne style, features a variety of ornamentation, from thick, heavily carved woodwork, painted white in the foyer and stained dark in the his-and-hers libraries, to delicate paneling in the living room, and green chinoiserie wallpaper in the dining room. And oh, the views! Surrounding the 16,237-square-foot house are a combination of expansive lawns, manicured gardens, and an in-ground pool, all bound on its eastern edge by 515-feet of frontage on Easton Bay.
Gardenside; Southampton, New York (7 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, $28 million)
If you’ve always dreamed of living like a Vanderbilt, now’s your chance: Gardenside was the Southampton home of Consuelo Vanderbilt, who became a member of the British aristocracy after marrying Charles Spencer-Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough and cousin of Winston Churchill.
There may not be a more idyllic home on our list than this seven-bedroom retreat. Cream-colored woodwork on the exterior complements the slightly weathered shingles, and the side patio is a real charmer with its antique Belgian blocks and grass growing in the grout lines.
The house, which was recently renovated, looks like a Nancy Meyers film set inside (in the good way). We especially love the inlaid wood floors in the foyer and the white dining room with crystal chandelier and latticework. Gardenside may not be completely original to when Consuelo called it home—although we don’t think she would have been unhappy with the 45-foot swimming pool.
Oak Knoll; Mill Neck, New York (6 bedrooms, 6.55 bathrooms, $11.8 million) Besides Newport, many prominent families built urban refuges along the north shore of Long Island—an area that would become known as the Gold Coast. Oak Knoll, in the town of Mill Neck, is a 1916-built Gold Coast mansion by William A. Delano for the chairman of the Goodrich Tire Company, Bertram G. Work.
Inspired by Mediterranean architecture, the house, which features a symmetrical facade, is accessed through a stone-and-wrought iron gate that leads to a large cobblestone forecourt. If you weren’t impressed enough by the approach, the foyer features vaulted and frescoed ceiling.
But that’s not the only painted space in the mansion: The dining room features panels with pastoral scenes, and a secondary dining room is entirely covered in a whimsical fresco.Thankfully, if you tire of the lavish rooms in the nine-bedroom home, there are plenty of terraced gardens, a pool, and access to Oyster Bay to keep you entertained.
Chilton House; Dalton, Massachusetts (14 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, $595,000) If you’re not afraid of a project, look no further than Chilton House, a Colonial Revival mansion located just about a 30-minute drive from Tanglewood in Dalton, Massachusetts. Built in 1915, the brick house was one of the mansions of the Crane family, who are perhaps best known from their stationery company Crane & Co.
The seven-bedroom house is full of original details waiting to be restored back to their original grandeur. We can’t get over the woodwork in the main hall—from the dark wood floors to the fluted columns and oversized dental molding. But even beyond the main reception rooms of the house, there are unique surprises like a closet full of built-ins and a butler’s pantry with beautiful wood-and-glass cabinetry. If you ask us, this would be prime territory for anybody looking to realize their fantasy of opening a rural bed and breakfast.
∙ All Period Dramas stories [Curbed]