A “Rough Point” in my Newport Trip

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The "Rough Point" I’m referring to is the name of the magnificent seaside home of heiress, Doris Duke,  who died in 1993 leaving the bulk of her fortune to her chartible foundation. This was the last mansion tour I visited on my Newport trip and it was the best.


Situated at the end of famous Bellevue Avenue, overlooking rocky cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean beyond, "Rough Point"  was originally built for one of the Vanderbilts. Doris’s father, James Duke,  purchased it in 1922. He made all his money in tobacco and electric power and was a generous benefactor to Duke University, named after his father. His 12 year old daughter, Doris, inherited most of his wealth when he died in his 30’s.

The spectacular mansion has been left exactly the way it was on the day Ms. Duke died. She had a great eye for decorating, with a talent for combining unique colors and styles from various periods to create a uniquely eclectic look.

The remarkable art collection includes paintings by Gainsborough, Van Dyck, Reynolds and hanging over the fireplace in the master bedroom is an exquisite Renoir. Turkish carpets, belgium tapestries, chinese porcelains and even end tables from Russia bearing the initials of Catherine the Great are just some of the treasures Doris collected over the years.

Her bedroom suite consists of several pieces of Charles X mother of pearl inlay furniture. Each piece of mother of pearl had to be painstakingly cut and carved to form perfectly to the furniture’s curvilinear design.  Though the room is quite ostentatious in its decor, it’s worth a visit just to see the amazing workmanship of these particular pieces, along with the Renoir, of course!


The solarium where Doris kept her two camels during Hurricane Bob in 1990.


Doris Duke was reputed to be somewhat of an eccentric, with rumors always circulating about her scandalous love affairs. She was also an amazingly generous person, giving away at least $400,000,000 to various causes over the course of her life.

Also quite the clothes horse, she supposedly left a wardrobe consisting of 9000 pieces. Every other year there is an exhibit at the mansion showcasing outfits from her collection. The current exhibit is called "The Look- Doris Duke’s Day and Evening Wear".

Some of the interesting tidbits I found out about her on the tour included how she would disguise herself and attend the Newport Jazz Festival, often inviting the musicians back to her house for jam sessions. She kept two camels on her property, named "Princess" and "Baby" who were given to her by an arab shiek. She was married twice, the second time to a Domenican playboy, that only lasted 8 months. 

But after doing some digging on my own, I found out lots more juicy stuff that they do not include in the tour narration.  It seems Doris ran over her interior decorator friend and killed him right at the front gate to the mansion. Rumors flew that they had fought and she was intoxicated.

When she was 75 she adopted a 35 year old ex bellydancer and Hare Krishna devotee, Chandi Heffner, whom she believed to be the reincarnation of the daughter she lost right after her birth. I also found out this woman was married to Pee Wee Herman at one time. Doris eventually disowned Chandi and cut her out of her will, because she didn’t approve of her relationship with her bodyguard. In her final will, Doris left control of her billion dollar estate to her alcoholic butler, Bernard Lafferty. Lawsuits immediately ensued, contesting the will, with Bernard being accused of murdering her for her money.

Her wardrobe collection reflected her impeccable taste for classic style with a bit of an edge, choosing looks by designers that were a bit ahead of their time. This year’s exhibit consists of outfits from the late 1930s to 1990 by Halton, Dior, Pierre Cardin, Madame Gres, Chanel, Irene, Oscar De La Renta, Valentino, Pierre Venet and Givenchy. There is a sales receipt accompanying one of her Halton pantsuits with a price tag of $4500.00 with 7.00 added for shipping. I found it interesting that after spending so much money on an outfit, they hadn’t thrown the shipping in for free!

Though I couldn’t take photos inside, I did scan some pictures from the book you can purchase about the exhibit, to show what some of the outfits looked like.

This first one is a lovely strapless evening dress from 1951 by Irene, famous film industry costume designer.


Black spanish lace dress from Eisa, Balenciaga’s  couture house in Spain.


Futuristic 60s silver coat by Pierre cardin


Without a doubt, a perfect ending to a perfectly fun and informative trip!

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This entry was posted on August 28, 2007, in Travel. Bookmark the permalink.