Visiting Chateau sur Mer in Newport, RI

Chateau sur Mer is that very rare creature, a mansion without a gift shop, a shocking statement but true. If any of the houses could be said to feel like a cottage, Chateau Sur Mer has perhaps the most livable atmosphere. This is a house where you can almost imagine yourself residing. It has a warm and lived in feel that is very obviously missing in the other mansions.

The Wetmore family, who built this home, can trace their hometown roots to my hometown. A street called Wetmore Place is located in Middletown, Conn. and the genealogy chart on the wall of the waiting area makes the connection between the two families very clear.

Chateau Sur Mer (House on the Sea) must be visited on a guided tour. My husband and I, along with another couple, made up the tour with Barbara Caldwell as guide. Seth Bradford built the original house between 1851-52 for William Wetmore. Mr. Wetmore made his money in the China trade. Constructed of granite from Fall River, Mass., in the Italianate style it was the grandest house in Newport. In 1856, he hosted a grand party, 3,000 were invited and the President of the United States received one of the invitations.

George Peabody Wetmore hired architect Richard Hunt to update the mansion and the High Victorian French Chateau design was created. The Wetmores took a decade long European honeymoon while the update was going on. Hunt experimented on this home using Eastlake Style for the Great Hall and Arts and Crafts Style in the tiles of the fireplaces. In the gentlemen’s library, the ceiling is coffered and the fireplace is carved wood done in the Renaissance Style. Never has such a mixture of styles made such a lovely whole. The stunning stairway is one of the finest Hunt ever created and he played visual tricks to make the 45-foot central hall appear taller. Until 1894, it was year round home.

Most of the furniture is not original to the house but the library table is. It now belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is on loan at Chateau Sur Mer. Visitors get to enjoy a fine collection of rose medallion china, Amari, rose Canton and rose Mandarin which is on display. William Morris and Eastlake created the wallpaper for Mrs. Wetmore’s bedroom.  Chateau-sur-Mer_,_Newport,_Rhode_Island

Everything is in a very grand style and yet not overwhelming, okay I personally do not have a Carrera Marble fireplaces but I would like to have one.

Unfortunately, the Wetmore daughters did an update of their own and a great deal of the wonderful designs was covered by oil-based paint. The Preservation Society of Newport County has made it their purpose to restore these areas to the 1870s. The house remained in the family into the 1960s and most of the fine paintings were bequeathed to Yale University.

This is not one of the grandest of the Newport mansions, but it is one of the most interesting. Chateau sur Mer in Newport  became a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Tickets for the mansion can be purchased from the Preservation Society, in combination with other mansions or a single ticket is available at the entrance.


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