Heat & Water: The Elms is heated by three boilers. During an average heating season, the mansion uses 8,000 gallons of oil; even the closets are heated via small grates. The estate uses 7,000 gallons of water per month today. Originally, a water-tank room served as a back-up supply (early municipal systems were unreliable); each of the four containers held 9 tons of water.
The Shining: About those pristine floors: 5 gallons of paste wax are used annually to keep the oak parquet gleaming.
Lightbulb Change: The estate was fitted with electric chandeliers and hanging lights 15 to 19 feet high. A lightbulb tester was placed in the basement so that the staff didn’t have to traverse multiple floors plus a 16-foot ladder before discovering a nonfunctioning bulb. Today, total electricity use tallies 130,000 kilowatt hours per month—that adds up to about 1,200 lightbulb replacements per year.
Underground Coal Rail: In the mansion’s early days, 40 tons of coal a year would be delivered to the estate via an underground rail system. The Elms had so much coal on hand that during the winter of 1917–18, in the midst of World War I, the city of Newport requisitioned some from the estate to keep its citizens warm.
Third-Floor Servants’ Quarters: The Elms was designed to keep work hidden, maintaining a carefree magic; that meant that the servants were also hidden. The third floor is invisible from the exterior, behind a roof balustrade. The Elms employed some 42 people to maintain the estate. Throughout the house there are 29 call buttons for summoning the servants.
Mornings at The Elms: The breakfast room was designed around 18th-century K’ang Hsi lacquered panels, a décor that was popular in Europe during the 1700s. This genuine Asian lacquer, black with gold powder, can become a durable film only in humid environments, making it unique from European lacquers. The panels are a world rarity and are now being restored on site.