Document Type


Publication Date



Source: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 70, No. 2 (June 2011), pp. 210-239 Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society of Architectural Historians Stable URL:

© 2011 by the Society of Architectural Historians. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website, DOI: 10.1525/jsah.2011.70.2.210.


The Spatial Practices of Privilege focuses on the children's cottage that stands on the grounds of the Breakers, in Newport, Rhode Island. Designed by Peabody and Stearns in 1886, the cottage was the first of several changes Cornelius Vanderbilt made to the property after he purchased it in 1885. While the main house (designed by Richard Morris Hunt after the first Breakers burned in 1892) has long been interpreted as the architectural reflection of the Vanderbilts' class status, the cottage has been ignored. Bringing together the methodologies of cultural landscape studies, performance theory, and the history of childhood, Abigail A. Van Slyck argues that the estate played an active role in establishing, maintaining, and enhancing the family's class status, and that children - and their spatial management - were integral to the process. In its form and content, the cottage evoked middle-class domesticity, but did so in the service of an upper-class identity that sought to distinguish itself from the middle class. Ostensibly a site of play, it was also a place of work, both for the Vanderbilts' servants as well as for the Vanderbilt offspring. Modeled on an almshouse and devoted to the homely skills of cooking and sewing, the building made claims to humbleness that were refuted by its size, expense, and its spatial arrangements that supported the Vanderbilt children and their parents in the performance of their privileged status.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.