Gilded Age Fireplace Designs
Monumental, Majestic...and Rustic?

Gilded age fireplace designs are especially notable for their imposing size and often lavish ornamentation.   Carved from some of the world's most beautiful and sumptuous marbles available at the time,  they -- and the grand mansions that house them  --  stand as a lasting tribute to out-
standing craftsmanship and the leading architects, designers and artisans that created them!

biltmore house

    Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina


fireplace designs

Welcome to one of the most dynamic and transformative periods in U.S. his-
tory,  an  era that ushered in many of the highlights and conflicts of modern American life!    The Gilded Age was a period  of   unprecedented   economic
and population growth  in  the  United States  from the post-Civil War era to the  dawn  of  the twentieth century. The  production of iron and steel rose dramatically  and  western  resources
like lumber, gold,  and silver increased the  demand  for improved transporta-
tion. Railroad development boomed as trains moved goods from the resource-
rich West to the East.    Steel and oil were in great demand. A tidal wave of immigrants arrived on American soil to provide  the  manpower  necessary to harvest  the abundance of natural re-
sources, as well as to toil in the steel mills  and  factories  that transformed these natural resources  into  a  wide
range of useful products.

In the process, immense wealth was created by many of the investors and businessmen involved in these endeavors.     Individuals  such  as  John  D. Rockefeller (oil), Andrew Carnegie (steel),  and "Commodore" Cornelius Van-
derbilt (shipping & railroads) accumulated vast fortunes.    As was the cus-
tom of the day,  many of these industrialists and/or their heirs were all too eager to display their wealth by building magnificent townhouses and coun-
try estates.     Indeed,  the term "Gilded Age,"  itself,  was coined by Mark Twain  to  describe,  i.e.,  ridicule,  such  ostentatious displays of personal wealth.

It was a time when conspicuous consumption was "in." A time when merely "keeping up with the Joneses" was not  enough.  Rather, it was imperative among the wealthy to outdo the Joneses -- in a BIG way. In other words, "if you've got it . . . FLAUNT it!"



Fireplace Designs from the Gilded Age

And nobody was better at flaunting it than  the  descendants  of  "Commo-
dore" Vanderbilt -- particularly his grandchildren.  Biltmore House (pictured at top, left), in Asheville, North Carolina, was completed in 1895 for George Washington Vanderbilt.     Designed  by  prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt  (1827-1895),  the  mansion  was modeled after French chateaux and encompasses 135,000 sqare feet and 250 rooms  --  making  it  the largest privately-owned home in America.     Still owned by one of Vanderbilt's de-
scendants,  it  stands today as one of the most prominent remaining exam-
ples of the Gilded Age in the United States.      The marble fireplace design for the library pictured above right,  and  directly  below,  is  indicative  of  the monumental scale and massing of this majestic architectural jewel.

fireplace designs


Though George Vanderbilt may  have  built  the  largest  home  in  America, many of his older siblings built a veritable collection of homes -- from mag-
nificent mansions on New York City's Fifth Avenue (since razed) to  extrav-
agant summer homes throughout the Northeast.   However, the undisputed capital of America's Gilded Age was Newport, Rhode Island  --  the location of some of the most opulent of the Vanderbilt mansions.

fireplace designs


The marble-walled dining room  and  gilded ballroom  that  follow  (left  and right, respectively) are just two of the lavishly appointed rooms in the apt-
ly named Marble House, pictured in the second row, below.   Commissioned by William K. Vanderbilt as a birthday present for his wife,  Alva,  it was in-
spired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles and, once again,  was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt.

fireplace designs
fireplace designs




fireplace designs


The grandest Gilded Age mansion in Newport was completed in 1885 for yet another Vanderbilt brother.     Modeled after an Italian Renaissance palace, The Breakers  (pictured  below)  was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, namesake and grandson of the "Commodore." The architect? None other than the prolific and extremely talented Richard Morris Hunt.

The fireplace designs (second row) pictured below  the  exterior  image  of The Breakers  include a regal hooded design in the dining room (left) and a uniquely colored marble and gilt mantelpiece in the music room (right).

fireplace designs


fireplace designs
fireplace designs




The magnificent wood-paneled library that follows is anchored  by  an  ex-
traordinary  antique  Caen stone  fireplace  imported  from  France for The Breakers.

fireplace designs



fireplace designs

In keeping with the popular French design of the period, the images at  right  and  below   depict   another
French-inspired  Newport  treasure,
The Elms, completed in 1901.   De-
signed  by  architect Horace Trum-
bauer (1868-1938),  the home was modeled  after  the  Chateau  d'As-
nieres   in    Asnieres - sur - Seine,
France  for  coal  baron  Edwin Ber-
wind.      Note the magnificent con-
trasting  colored  marble   fireplace surround  in  the  wood carved and paneled dining room.




fireplace designs


fireplace designs
fireplace designs



Perceptions aside, all the gold and glitter portrayed above  does  not  tell the entire story of the tastes and preferences of the Gilded Age's wealthy.  After all,  everyone needs a break now and then.   As  with  many  of  us, contemporaries of the Gilded Age also enjoyed  getting away from it all by going "camping" in the mountains and deep woods.  And  fortunately,  the beautiful Adirondack Mountain  region  of  upstate  New  York  provided  a perfect  setting  and  escape  from  the hustle and bustle of everyday life. However, "roughing it" in the Adirondacks was a much different experience for the wealthy of the Gilded Age than for those less privileged.

The image below with the rustic stone fireplace design only  hints  at  how the capitalists and captains of industry "toughed it out" in  the  wilderness during the Gilded Age . . . . .

fireplace designs

Click here to see the "rustic side" of Gilded Age wealth


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