Ever wondered how Christmas was celebrated amongst the fabulously wealthy during the Gilded Age? We've got your peek into some of America’s most beautiful and celebrated homes.
Located in Newport, Rhode Island, Marble House is decorated with hundreds of poinsettias, drenched in fresh flowers and evergreens and wreaths and filled with massive trees, trimmed in silver and gold.
Built for William Vanderbilt between 1888 and 1892, this spectacular mansion was a gift for his wife Alva and used as the family’s summer cottage.
In 1963, Alva’s son Harold helped the Preservation Society of Newport County buy the house back and then donated much of its original contents so that it appears much as it did during its gilded days.
The Biltmore Estate
Tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Biltmore Estate and gardens is a year-round must-see. During Christmas, almost all 8,000 acres are awash in Christmas cheer with over 135,000 white lights on the exterior alone.
Built between 1889 and 1895 by George Washington Vanderbilt, the estate was designed to be completely self-sustaining with the land and gardens providing everything residents needed for comfort. It originally sat on close to 100,000 acres; most of the land was sold to the US Forest Service at $5 an acre, creating the Pisgah National Forest.
The home is no stranger to the spotlight and has appeared in many motion pictures, most notably Being There, which stars Peter Sellars and Shirley MacLaine.
For Christmas, parts of the 252-room castle are decked out with 41 trees, 30,000 lights and over 150 candles. 13,000 ornaments twinkle on the trees while at dusk Biltmore staff elves rush to set up 300 luminaries that will greet visitors when they make the journey down the long drive.
The estate’s 65 fireplaces are dressed with handmade ornaments and Fraser fir wreaths ornamented with golden arborvitae, holly, or other natural materials.
Around 360 fresh wreaths and sprays are placed the estate during the holiday season, requiring seven full-time floral designers and 14 members of the floral reserve team.
The best part is that you can book a room in one of the estate’s cottages, the five-star inn or at the village hotel and live like a Vandy.
Located on California’s central coast is America’s most eclectic residence, Hearst Castle, built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.
Once the weekend playground for Hollywood’s elite, including Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, the property has indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a full-scale screening room/theater, an airfield, and the world's largest private zoo. Zebras and other exotic animals still roam the grounds and you might spot one if you keep your eyes peeled when the shuttle bus takes you up the long and winding driveway.
For its Christmas tours, the castle features a splendid 18-foot-tall tree, mantles festooned with garland and holly as well as docents dressed in period costumes, laughing and enjoying holiday cheer.
The 65,000-square foot main house, Casa Grande, was never completed as construction ceased in 1947 when Mr Hearst's health began to fail. It features 38 bedrooms, 42 bathrooms, 14 sitting rooms and 30 fireplaces. There are also three guesthouses on the estate.
The family donated the home to the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1958.
Some of the castle's outdoor elements are under repair due to recent storms and is consequently closed to the public.
Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens
The inspiration for Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens started with a trip to Europe and unprecedented access to English manors and other estates. Imagine if someone knocked on your door and asked to take a look around because they wanted to copy elements of your home, which is basically how the Tudor Revival was designed.
Located in Akron, Ohio, it is the 14th largest home in the US and the sixth largest with public access. The 65,000-square foot estate includes five historic buildings and eight historic gardens on 70 acres, though it originally sat on 3,000. All of the collections and furnishings in the manor house are original and were once used by the family.
Every year the estate is decked out in some one million lights and features holiday film screenings throughout the house.
Also located in Newport is the Breakers mansion, which was built as a summer retreat for Cornelius Vanderbilt, the great-grandfather of Anderson Cooper.
The Breakers replaced a building that burned to the ground, which led to Vanderbilt’s insistence that no structural elements of the home being made from wood, save the flooring, trim and molding. Consequently, its main components include marble, concrete, steel, limestone and brick; the roof is terracotta. It is so solid and sound that it survived the New England Hurricane of 1938 with minimal damage and hardly any flooding.
During Christmas there is plenty of room to host visitors as they watch twirling ballerinas, jazz ensembles and even large choirs.
The Vanderbilt family leased the Breakers to the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1948 for $1 a year. The group later purchased the home in 1972 for less than $400,000 with the stipulation that the family could still reside on site. The family donated most of the furnishings back to the society.
Not part of the tour is the home’s entire third floor where Countess Anthony Szapary, the great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, lived part time until her death.
The countess would occasionally join tours and correct docents' mistakes about the home. Sounds just like being home for the holidays.
See more images and even more homes in our gallery.