The grand fireplaces mantles featured here showcase a collection of ele-
gant hearth designs in two of the most opulent Classical Revival mansions built in America since the Gilded Age. Inspired by classic Beaux-Arts sty-
ling -- a late form of Neoclassicism that combined Greek and Roman mod-
els with Renaissance forms -- they are both monumental and grand!
Harrison Design Associates
PART I OF II
Popular for government buildings and other public institutions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
Beaux-Arts architecture was also a favorite among the wealthy for their own private residences. Richard
Morris Hunt (1827-1895), the first American architect to attend the pres-
tigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, was one of the most promi-
nent practitioners of the style in the United States. His client list included a veritable "Who's Who?" of leading capitalists and industrialists of the day.
Among his elite clients were the very wealthy Vanderbilts - the most prolific mansion builders in America during that era. The aptly named Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, pictured on the left, was one of numerous commissions designed by Richard Hunt for members of the Vanderbilt family. Completed in 1892 for William Kissam Vanderbilt and his wife, Alva, it reputedly cost $11 million -- $7 million of which was spent on marble, alone!
In addition to the marble exterior, a view of the dining room (below) hints at the extent to which this
beautiful material was used throughout the in-
terior. Clad in marble from floor to ceiling, the dining room features an ele-
gant French style marble fireplace mantle with elaborate ormolu mountings.
Who said "They just don't build them like they used to anymore?"
Most of us have heard the foregoing cliche on numerous occasions. And all too often, unfortunately,
there is a significant element of truth to it. The examples that follow, however, do not even remotely fall
under that um-
The stunning Atlanta area residence pictured below (with close-up of entry at top of page) echos the work of
Richard Morris Hunt and one of his con-
temporaries -- the well-known and highly prolific architecural firm of McKim, Meade and White. Created by Harrison Design Associates of Atlanta, it is a present-day incarnation of those created for the Vanderbilts in the late 19th century.
As in the mansion-building era of the Vanderbilts, this Beaux-Arts master-
piece is crafted from the highest quality materials and flawlessly executed with meticulous attention to each and every detail. And, as was custom-
ary during the Gilded Age, many of the home’s furnishings and interior ar-
chitectural features were acquired during extensive travels abroad.
Pictured directly below are two of several fireplace mantel designs in the home. Below, left, is a
relatively simple stone fireplace mantle. Nestled in
a soaring wall niche, it creates a cozy inglenook with built-in seating on either side of the firebox opening.
Conversely, the towering chimneypiece or fireplace surround pictured be-
low, right, features intricate stone carving on both the mantel and over-
mantel. Flanking this elaborate mantelpiece are stone archways leading to an adjacent room.
The striking marble fireplace surround that follows is flanked by a stately pair of fluted
Corinthian columns with gilded capitals on either side. Cen-
tered between the pairs of columns, which rest on paneled pedestals, is a soaring overmantel mirror with a beautifully paneled frame. The classic symmetry and detailing of this formal composition is echoed throughout
Pictured below are two images of the richly paneled library in this magnif-
icent home. The beautiful spiral staircase shown below, left, is modeled after the stairway in the library at Biltmore House, another one of the legendary homes designed by Richard Morris Hunt for a member of the Vanderbilt family in the late 19th century. Though not modeled after the chimneypiece in the library of Biltmore House, the hand carved wood fireplace surround pictured below, right, is equally magnificent. With a beautifully contrasting backdrop of Italian marble, the two story design is framed by fluted pilasters with Ionic capitals. Rising above the capitals is
a splendid arch that echos the smaller arch in the richly carved wood overmantel beneath it.
Not to be outdone, the fireplaces mantles in the rear loggia, or outdoor room, pictured below, are as
stunning as the fireplaces mantles on the interior. Renaissance-inspired, these massive carved stone
rounds overlook a magnificent pool modeled, in part, after the Neptune
Pool at Hearst Castle, designed by architect Julia Morgan (1872-1957) in San Simeon, California.
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