Today Ryan and I drove an hour from the city to Centerport on Long Island, where he grew up. After passing gorgeous houses lining green streets and boats dotting the Long Island Sound, we reached the Vanderbilt Mansion.
I’ve been to a mansion built by this obscenely wealthy American family (who owned most of the railroads 120 years ago) before: About five years ago, I went to Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina, which is the largest private residence in the U.S. with 250 rooms.
I expected this mansion to be similar, but it couldn’t have been more different. We had about half an hour before the tour started so had a browse around the grounds. Immediately it seemed so different from Biltmore, which is grand but somehow a little inauthentic – because of its sheer size, I remember that it lacks a little attention to detail. But this was rustic and ornate and gorgeous. The water and sprawling terracotta roof let me believe we could’ve been in Spain.
We soon gathered for the tour and were introduced to ‘Harold Vanderbilt’, the brother of the owner, William K. Vanderbilt, who told us it was 1932. The 44 acres of land had been bought 25 years prior for $10,000 and William had slowly built the property to accommodate his growing family. In fact, he was away for eight months of the year, exploring the coasts and finding new species of marine life, and only stayed here for the remaining four.
As the tour proceeded, he was interrupted by the cook, who in turn was interrupted by the social planner, then the taxidermist, then William’s mother-in-law – and each took us on a different part of the tour. This character play was fun.
This place may have been much smaller than Biltmore but it had the ornate details I craved. Vanderbilt had a love of European furniture and flourishes, so spared no expense to ship over furniture, panels and bricks for the home. He loved a staircase he found in a Spanish monastery so much that he sent it over on his yacht – and when he found out it was too large, he ended up building the house around it.
The home also had some rooms devoted to Vanderbilt’s marine and wildlife finds.
This was a brilliant visit and Centerport is so gorgeous – Ryan is really lucky to have grown up there. And I’m jealous he’s so close to home.
But I actually felt a bizarre closeness to home too thanks to the mansion; it was brimming with European flourishes and, unlike the Biltmore House, this felt like the real deal.P.s. I’ll get around to writing Saturday’s blog today, I promise!