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AROUND HOME : The Vanderbilt Homes by ROBERT B. KING with CHARLES O. MCLEAN

August 27, 1989|Sam Hall Kaplan

(Rizzoli International Publications Inc.; 1989)

IF YOU THINK some of the mansions rising in Bel-Air and environs, such as the Aaron Spelling's, flaunt the wealth of their owners, take a glimpse of this book. It explores the design and development of 25 select "homes" built by various members of one family. But the Vanderbilts was not just another wealthy family. During America's Gilded Age, which lasted from about 1860 to 1927, no family was more gilded than the Vanderbilts. Having accumulated their wealth from railroads, shipping and land in the heady days before income, inheritance and property taxes--and antitrust laws--the Vanderbilts and their spouses and heirs spent it freely on the construction of opulent mansions, townhouses, country and weekend retreats, and yachts. Each project is well illustrated in the book by a broad selection of photographs.

Less engaging is the bland, though informative, text. By hiring the more prominent architects, landscapers and interior designers of the day, the projects, while immense, tended to be well sited and sensitively scaled, unlike what is rising in Los Angeles today. Generally, the family preferred to build and decorate their houses in a French Renaissance style, pre-Revolutionary, to be sure. ($45)

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