Have you ever had the dream of taking a test that you didn’t study for? Or the one that you’re trapped in your underwear in a public place? Here’s another common one: you open a door in your house and discover a room you’ve never seen before. Just charge your laptop to make this a reality.
Since the pandemic began, online tours of historic American homes that were once purely personal events have proliferated online. There are houses of architectural significance while others have had famous former owners or are just – and wildly – opulent. When you encounter these domestic spaces through your screen, you have to sacrifice the feel of the vestibule and the hope of secretly caressing tablecloths or tapestries. However, if you’re looking for ways to increase your space – no contractor required – there are a handful of options here.
The gilded age rarely shimmered as brightly as it did in the late 19th century in Newport, RI, which housed summer homes for the wealthy of the country, provided your definition of “home” extends to 70-room masterpieces of marble, alabaster, and platinum leaf. With most homes currently closed, the Newport County’s Preservation Society has offered video and 3D tours of some of the fabulous: The Elms, Marble House, Chateau-sur-Mer, Chepstow, Kingscote, Hunter House, and Isaac Bell House. Scroll and click through Italian fantasies, Louis XIV pastiche, Gothic extravaganza, and high-end Victorian-style clutter. There’s also a tour of the Elms servants’ quarters to better understand the work and austerity behind the one that has preserved all that splendor. newportmansions.org
Winchester Mystery House
This San Jose, California mansion was purchased in 1886 by Sarah Winchester who had inherited a fortune from her gun tycoon husband (the second president of Winchester Repeating Arms). Until her death in 1922, it was expanded almost constantly. (Why? A popular if unsubstantiated rumors say the design was supposed to confuse the mood of those shot by Winchester rifles.) Live tours of the 160 rooms are currently on hold, but the company that owns the house has a 41- Prepared minute video available on Vimeo ($ 5.99) to rent ($ 13.99 to buy), with an interactive 3-D tour ($ 8.99) that includes areas not normally to be shown. Both give access to the creepy stained glass, numerology-influenced lights, stairs to nowhere, and the insane number of doors (2,000!) That Winchester funded. Paranormal enthusiasts can especially enjoy the séance room with its single entrance and three exits. None of the meditations contain any glimpse into the ghosts visitors have reported seeing. winchestermysteryhouse.com
Mark Twain House
In 1874, Samuel Clemens (pen name Mark Twain) and his family moved to this Edward Tuckerman Potter-designed mansion in Hartford, Connecticut. The lavish interior designed by Tiffany’s Associated Artists came seven years later. When asked about the style of his house, Clemens said: “I think we call it ‘versatile’.” The highlights of the free virtual tour include the library, the winter garden and the billiard room, which also served as a writing room. It was a source of great sadness for the writer when the family was forced to leave the home in 1891 due to financial problems. “Our house was not an unpleasant affair for us,” wrote Clemens, “it had a heart, a soul and eyes to see us with. “To see where and how other writers and artists lived, consider taking a 3-D tour of Alice Austen’s house (aliceausten.org), a video tour of one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s houses (okeeffemuseum.org), consider a live feed from Winslow, Homer’s Studio (portlandmuseum.org/homer#), and a remote tour of Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore house (poeinbaltimore.org) .marktwainhouse.org
The Frick Collection
Before being renamed a grand museum, this Thomas Hastings-designed mansion on the Upper East Side was home to wealthy industrialist Henry Clay Frick. A new renovation will close the building for at least two years. The art collection moves to the Frick Madison (the former home of Whitney and Met Breuer). In the meantime, a detailed 3D guide with a helpful audio component takes viewers through the rooms on the ground floor of the Garden Court, the Fragonard Room (once a drawing room), the music room, and the Boucher Room (once a boudoir). to name a few. The free tour includes close-ups of the art and the Baroque furniture that surround it, as well as archive photos. The second and third floors? These remain largely out of sight online. frick.org