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, Asheville, North Carolina
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
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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).
The magnificent wood-paneled library that follows is anchored by an ex-
traordinary antique Caen stone fireplace imported from France for The Breakers.
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.
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 . . . . .
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