The design highlight of my getaway to New England was the tour I took of Rough Point. One of the stops on the famed mansion circuit in Newport, Rhode Island, Rough Point was one of the primary residences of American heiress Doris Duke.
Ms. Duke was quite the gal! As one of the richest women in the world, the public eye was fascinated by her multiple marriages and affairs, jet-set lifestyle and attraction to scandal. Amongst other things, she kept camels as house pets and even ran over her decorator in a bizarre accident! But back to the important stuff…
Duke is a legend in Newport due to her passionate efforts to restore the city’s architecture after its glory days of the 1800s had faded to decay. She founded the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1968, with the goal of preserving the splendour of the city’s “gilded age.” Ms. Duke passed away in 1993 and left the estate to the foundation, who have opened it to the public for tours in 2000.
Originally built for a Vanderbilt in 1887 and designed by the architecture firm of Peabody & Stearns, Rough Point is situated on tony Bellevue Avenue and is a must-visit for any art and design enthusiast.
Visitors find it today exactly as Ms. Duke had left it, complete with her world-class collections of European paintings, tapestries and antiques on display. Eclectic design schemes filled with luxe damask furnishings, sombre European portraits and Chinese pottery make for dynamic viewing and the entertaining stories from the tour guides behind individual pieces are a fun bonus.
When walking through the house you can clearly appreciate Duke’s eye for colour, culture and details. Highlights include her music room with its green and pink Chinese wallpapered-walls which she artfully combined from two different auction lots; a mother-of-pearl furniture suite in her master bedroom that gleams against the citron and violet colour scheme; the gilded furniture, painted paneling and glimmering chandelier in the yellow room, and the classic country kitchen with its white subway tile backsplash, hexagonal mosaic floor and dark cabinetry.
The draw-back of visiting Rough Point though, is the no-photography policy and lack of any updated literature on the mansions. A paperback book with stale photos is the only souvenir available, which didn’t do the property any justice at all. I wish a magazine like Veranda would come in and photograph the place so you could all see for yourselves, but until then, pay a visit to Rough Point yourself and wave hello to the topiary camels chilling on the front lawn in honour of her own pets: baby and princess.