In HBO’s The Gilded Age, the newly-constructed Fifth Avenue home of the new-money Mr and Mrs Russell is a subject of fascination for the old money set. And not in a good way: with its European-style architecture (the standard at the time for fashionable families was the classic brownstone), ornate interiors and, well, gargantuan size, the home seemed gauche rather than genteel. When Mrs Russell introduces herself to high-society lady Mrs Fane at a charity event, she states her address. “Oh,” Mrs Fane replies.“That new house we’ve all been talking about.”
As in much of Julian Fellowes’s HBO series, this plot line is very much based in reality. In the 1880s, various members of the railroad-fortune Vanderbilt family built their mansions on Park Avenue and in the East 50s. One was known as the “Petit Château,” and it belonged to William K Vanderbilt and his wife, Alva. (In case you missed it – William K and Alva bear a striking similarity to fictional Mr and Mrs Russell in The Gilded Age.)
Built at 660 Fifth Avenue by Richard Hunt, the Petit Château was said to be inspired by Louis XII’s Château de Blois. (Both Vanderbilts were quite the Francophiles, as both studied in Europe.) They adorned the inside with pieces straight out of Paris, including Aubusson carpets, Gobelin tapestries, and windows created with Medieval-era stained glass, tapping well-known French interior designer Jules Allard to design their 18th-century regency style salon. Fellowes alludes to these interiors in The Gilded Age: “I want to try to put the other Boucher in the drawing room!” Carrie Coon’s Mrs Russell demands in episode one.