Off-Season Splendor

Newport’s grandest homes, including the Agassiz mansion at Castle Hill, were built as summer “cottages”. Luckily for us, this did not mean that their construction was in any way flimsy or unable to be hospitable in winter. For example, the exterior walls of The Elms mansion, pictured in the snow, are three feet thick! Not to mention all those fireplaces! From The Elms to Marble House to The Breakers to the Castle Hill Inn, there is one in practically every room. If you have visited Castle Hill Inn in the cooler months, you know that we use the original fireplaces to this day. Naturally, we decorate the mantles for the holidays, as they do at the Newport Mansions: which are currently filled with thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers, evergreens and wreaths as well as 28 Christmas trees professionally decorated to reflect the magnificent décor in many of the rooms through January 1st.

An emphasis on fresh florals, as seen in The Elms Conservatory, infuses all three of the houses decorated for Christmas at the Newport Mansions with beauty of sight and scent.

Almost no space is left unadorned. In the basement of The Elms, the former service areas, is a delightful display of trees decorated by 4th grade Newporters and a chance to vote for your favorite. Nearby you will find a gingerbread replica of The Elms created by students in the Culinary Arts Program at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Mass. The gingerbread replica found at Marble House was done by Judy Jay Cakes of Bristol, R.I., while The Breakers was replicated in gingerbread by Confectionery Designs in Rehoboth, Mass., whom we know personally from their creation of so many fabulous cakes and treats for Castle Hill weddings.

Really you could get lost in the details of some of the decorated trees, like the one in Gertrude Vanderbilt’s room at The Breakers, which is inspired by that room’s exuberant pink rose wallpaper.

Some rooms were just made for the Christmas treatment. At Marble House it is the Gothic Room, originally designed to house a collection of medieval and early Renaissance art acquired by Alva Vanderbilt, for a house that is often described as over the top. Well, the Gothic Room at Christmas is over the top with whipped cream and a cherry on top and a must see in Newport this time of year.

The other bona-fide Christmas stunner is the Music Room at The Breakers. The tones and architectural details of this room combined with the red and gold theme of the decorations will make any grinch’s heart grow three times as large.

If you have the time, it is great to see all three of the Newport Mansions that are decorated for Christmas. If you can only see one, make it The Breakers, as it lends itself best to the holiday treatment.

The Preservation Society of Newport County also provides the opportunity for you to enjoy the mansions in the evening. Guests enjoy live holiday music and light refreshments as they stroll through softly lit rooms, taking in the ambience of a Gilded Age holiday. Tickets may still be available for the final Holiday Evening at the Breakers on Saturday, December 28th from 6 to 8 p.m. and the Holiday Evening duet at The Elms and Marble House on Saturday, December 21st from 6 to 9 p.m. Visit for more information.

For Newport’s finest lodging, dining and holiday memory making, visit the Castle Hill Inn.

Shea C Nelson