Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Your Dream Concierge's Secrets of Locating More Mansions and Estates You Can Visit

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I certainly hope so. I know that I am!

I am still waiting to hear from a mansion or estate owner who would like me to spend a few days in their home so that I can write about the experience for you. I had assumed that some estate and mansion owners were in the process of selling properties, had moved out and would be glad for a little free publicity. But so far, I've heard from no one. I guess the real estate bubble hasn't burst yet for mansions and estates. I know that in our town it takes three times as long to sell a mansion as it does to sell an ordinary home. On a ten million dollar home, the extra interest earned from selling three months sooner would be worth $100,000. That seems to be like a good incentive to have me as a guest!

Perhaps some enterprising real estate agent will contact me about this sort of an opportunity. My bags are packed and I'm ready to go!

A number of people have written to compliment me on the skill of my staff in putting together the research behind these blog entries. I take that as a personal compliment because I employ no staff to work on the blog. It's just little ole me researching and sharing these insights.

Perhaps now is a good time to pull aside the curtain being used by Your Dream Concierge to show you how easy it is to find what you are looking for. Like the Wizard of Oz, you'll find I'm just an ordinary man with some levers I can pull . . . that you can use as well.

Let me reconstruct for you how I created the research for past blog entries on mansions and estates. For the first few entries, I simply drew on my own experience. By reading those entries, you have access to that same information.

For July 11 on Live Better than a Billionaire on Five Dollars Extra a Day, I started with my own experience and simply visited and entered "Newport, Rhode Island Mansions" which led me to

For July 20, I used, which led me to the rest.

For July 25, I used personal experience with Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes and supplemented that with

For July 28, I started with the list of museums at and searched for the ones in New York City to see which ones were in mansions.

For August 1, I started with mansions I knew about and searched the web using again.

For August 19, I did something new. I started with a theme, U.S. women authors, and did a google search to find a list of such authors. Once I had that list, I checked for homes by searching for each author by name and their home, "name of author's home". In a few cases, nothing came up, and I also did a search on the author's name which turned up that there was a museum in the author's home.

You can start with a theme, a locale, or a type of home. Your search will turn up what you're looking for from there.

You may have other ideas. I'm far from an expert on Web searches. Please share your suggestions in a comment so that others can learn from you.

In future blog entries, I'll take my search for mansions and estates you can visit outside the U.S. The methods needed to search will undoubtedly be different there. After I find out more about the best ways to proceed, I'll do another blog entry about the processes I find that work.

<>Please do share your own experiences about great mansions and estates you've visited. I look forward to learning from you and sharing the information with all this blog's many regular readers.

Please let me know what else you would like to learn, and I'll do my best to help in future blog entries.

Thanks so much for your support of this blog. I'm delighted that so many tens of thousands of people have made these blogs part of their regulare reading habit!

If you like this blog, please let others know who might also enjoy it.

Thank you to my many friends, students, clients and blog readers who are spreading the good word about this blog.

If you are visiting today because someone invited you, I'm delighted to meet you! Let's stay in touch.

May God bless you.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Great American Authoresses Write from More or Less Stately Mansions and Estates

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I certainly hope so. I know that I am!

Recently, I had an unexpected treat. I made my first visit to Edith Wharton's home, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts. The Mount was designed and built by Ms. Wharton in 1902 when she was 40. The Mount was her getaway from the swirling New York Society at Newport, and was designed to be comfortable for 5-6 people. Ms. Wharton lived there in luxury with her husband, eight servants and dogs during the late spring through the early fall until 1911 when they divorced, and she removed herself to France for the rest of her life. Of her many books, Ethan Frome was the best known that was written at The Mount.

Self-taught, Ms. Wharton had a life-long interest in architecture and interior decoration. Her first book was called The Decoration of Houses and was co-authored by Ogden Codman. Her theme was a return to symmetry, harmony and simplicity. You will find her home and extensive gardens (which she also designed) to be a delight to the eye . . . especially compared to many Victorian monstrosities.

The Mount was important to her. As she wrote in 1934, "The Mount was my first real home, and its blessed influence still lives in me."

The Mount is open daily from May through October (9-5). Admission is $18 for adults, $9 for students with ID's and children under 12 are free if accompanied by an adult.

For more information, visit

While The Mount lacks the opulence of Newport, it sizzles with style and intelligence. Restoration efforts are well along. Two floors are pretty much back to the original condition and are decorated now in a contemporary style. In coming years, the decor will be restored to items from Ms. Wharton's period. Half of her books are expected to be acquired soon and placed in her fine library. Be sure to take time to enjoy her beautiful gardens. They reflect the best of the classic French style but done in the fashion of an English country home.

Inspired by that experience, I thought you might also want to consider some other homes of famous American women writers. Did you know that only about 5% of the historic places in the National Register relate to women? We'll reverse that preference for men today and focus on the many jewels of women authors' homes that you can visit.

I like to visit authors' homes because I find them to be rich in intellectual and cultural content, and I always gain perspective on their writing that I wouldn't otherwise have had.

One of my favorite homes isn't an estate or a mansion . . . just a modest schoolteacher's abode -- Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts. This was the childhood home of Louisa May Alcott, author of many classics including Little Women. While in the house, you will feel like Little Women has come to life. One of my favorite features of the house is the collection of the costumes that Ms. Alcott and her sisters used to put on their plays for the family . . . plays that became part of the themes for Ms. Alcott's novels. Orchard House is located near all of the exciting sites related to the American Revolution and other literary sites like Walden Pond, so be sure to check out the neighborhood when you visit there.

Orchard House is open year round except for a few holidays and the first half of January. For more information (and to check on tour times) see Tour tickets are limited and sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

No visit to Massachusetts would be complete with making the pilgrimage to see Emily Dickinson's modest home in Amherst where she reclusively developed her mentally drawn world through her spell-binding poetry. The Belle of Amherst's home will delight you when you visit from March through December. There is no admission charge, but reservations are recommended. See for more details.

If you continue south from Amherst, you will soon find yourself in Hartford, Connecticut where you can also visit the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book that helped cause a civil war. This home is open year around except on most Mondays and the admission cost is moderate. For more information, visit While you are in the neighborhood, you may also wish to visit Mark Twain's sumptuous Hartford mansion.

Closer to New York City, you can see Ida Tarbell's house in Easton, Connecticut. Ms. Tarbell wrote the classic expose of bad practices by big companies when she authored The History of the Standard Oil Company. For more information on this home, see

Heading south, you will have a surprise if you stop by Hillsboro, West Virginia. Pearl S. Buck of Good Earth fame wasn't born in China as many suppose (and as her obituary stated) but in this small town where you can visit her birthplace. Go to for more details.

By the time you reach Atlanta, you're in for a surprise. Margaret Mitchell didn't live in anything resembling Tara when she wrote the blockbuster, Gone with the Wind. Instead, she and her husband lived in apartment 1 of a converted mansion. You can visit that mansion today and learn more about her and Gone with the Wind. It's right in the downtown area and you can find out more about the details at

You should also journey to Red Cloud, Nebraska where you can see Willa Cather's childhood home and revel in local sites from My Antonia. For many helpful sources of advice, go to You may also enjoy seeing her Virginia home and photographs are available at

If your travels take you to Maui in Hawaii, you should check out the restoration efforts on the home of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the latter one of our most famous female authors. Perhaps your attention will help lead to the completion of these efforts. For more information go to

I'm sure I've missed some of your favorite historical homes of great writers among American Women. Please make a comment and I'll add that information to this entry.

Please feel free to let me know what else you would like to learn, and I'll do my best to help in future blog entries.

Thanks so much for your support of this blog. I'm delighted that so many thousands of people have made this blog part of their regular reading habit!

If you like this blog, please let others know who might also enjoy it.

Thank you to my many friends, students, clients and blog readers who are spreading the good word about this blog.

If you are visiting today because someone invited you, I'm delighted to meet you! Let's stay in touch.

May God bless you.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Great Mansions for Summer and Fall Visits

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I certainly hope so.

September is a great month to visit mansions that are surrounded by terrific estate grounds. Many people either have vacations this month or can take long weekends. The weather is usually good for outdoor strolling, and the grounds are as lush as they ever are.

As I promised, I'll spread around my recommendations so that you'll have choices to select from regardless of where you live in the United States

Unfortunately, no mansion owners or real estate agents have taken me up yet on my offer to write about their on-the-market mansions in exchange for living in them for a few days. Hopefully, this blog entry will stir more interest. What do they have to lose?

Since I last wrote about mansions in New York City
, let me begin by moving up the Hudson River into the country north of New York City. Along that river is some of the most magnificent scenery in the United States. Not surprisingly, the wealthy over the last 200 years bought many of the best spots and erected enormous homes on sprawling grounds beginning as far south as Yonkers and continuing north to just short of Albany in Kinderhook. For details on the more than a dozen mansions and estates you can visit, go to

For a Great Gatsby-like experience in Newport, Rhode Island
, check into my blog entry which describes the mansion choices you have for this summer. Newport was where the wealthiest people from New York used to go to get away from the hot weather and dirt in New York during the summers.

In the Boston
area, let me suggest three locations that you may not have visited. The first is Longfellow House in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This lovely home was once part of an estate that extended down to the Charles River. During the American Revolution, George Washington lived there while he fought the British troops in the Boston area during 1775 and 1776. The poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, lived there and often entertained his famous literary friends within it. Longfellow House is close to Harvard Square where you can also enjoy other pleasant historic buildings in Harvard Yard. For more information go to

Next, head into Boston
to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. This is located in Mrs. Gardner's remarkable Back Bay mansion that features a gorgeous indoor courtyard full of blooming flowers surrounded by great art. On the weekends there are concerts. Be sure to bring your appetite. The restaurant is wonderful. For details, go to

Then, head up to the north shore of Boston
to Salem, Massachusetts. After the American Revolution, Salem became an amazingly successful seaport and its merchant captains built beautiful homes to enjoy their wealth and enhance their business connections. The Peabody Essex Museum has conserved many of these early mansions and you can arrange to tour them through the museum. I especially recommend the Gardner-Pingree house. For more information, visit

No consideration of fine American mansions can be complete without visiting Virginia, home to presidents and plantations. Naturally, you'll want to start with George Washington's home at Mount Vernon
<>, located quite near to Washington, D.C. For directions, details and schedules, go to

is also home to perhaps the most famous American mansion, Jefferson's Monticello, located on a hilltop near the University of Virginia (which Jefferson founded) in Charlottesville. This remarkable home benefited both from Jefferson's wealth and from his planning. Daily tours end soon so check the schedule before visiting at

Many people will not realize that James and Dolley Madison lived about 45 minutes away (by car today) at their home, Montpelier
, which is situated on over 2,000 acres of grounds. While the home is under restoration now, you can still tour it. More information is available at

Of course, if you've never been to the White House in Washington, D.C.
, you would be foolish to visit Virginia without heading to Washington. You can find out more about the White House and tours at

Many people argue that Charleston, South Carolina
is the most beautiful city in the Old South. You can visit there and form you own opinion. For choices of mansions to tour, look at

A well-kept secret for some is Savannah, Georgia
home to some of the most beautiful squares in any town. The city also has a delightful assortment of mansions and historic homes. A number of them have been turned into bed-and-breakfast inns. You can check out which one you might want to stay in by clicking on the web links located at While you are there, I specially recommend that you visit the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace. Ms. Low was the founder of the Girl Scouts, and her home is one of the most interesting ones I have ever visited. To learn more, go to

Anyone who ever enjoyed Gone with the Wind will probably want to see the best of what Atlanta
has to offer. For walking tours of the best historic mansions there, go to

For those who love more modern mansions, especially those owned by billionaires and celebrities, you have a treat ahead as you take the harbor tours of Fort Lauderdale
and Miami. To get a sense of the Fort Lauderdale views, visit
Be sure to visit the Barnacle house in Miami
, Dade County's oldest home, which was constructed out of shipwreck salvage by yacht designer Ralph Middleton Munroe. For more details go to

I love New Orleans
. The city has a charm that's unequaled. The garden district is the best place to see mansions. Here's a great site to give you an advance look at what you'll enjoy there after the horrible effects of Katrina are cleaned up:

Everything is bigger in Texas
. . . according to the Texans (I know, my grandfather was one, and he always told me this). For fans of the Dallas television show, you should take the time to head north from Dallas to Plano in order to visit the Southfork Ranch where the series was shot. Here is the tour information:

I've written about some of the great Frank Lloyd Wright homes you can visit before which are located in Illinois
and Indiana. But there are many other wonderful homes there. Many are superb examples of Victorian styles. Here is a listing:

But you may want to locate other great Victorian homes in either the United States
or England. This is a great site to help you:

When many people think of mansions and estates, William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon comes to mind. Located in an isolated part of the mid-California coast, advance reservations are necessary. Near-by accommodations are limited too. So be sure to plan this trip well in advance. Everything you need to know can be found at

While many people think first of Beverly Hills
when mansions come up, many of California's finest mansions you can tour are located in nearby Pasadena (home of the Little Old Lady). For more information, visit

I've probably missed some of your favorites. If you know of a great mansion I haven't mentioned, please add a comment to help your fellow Live Better than a Billionaire-a-Holics enjoy their summer more.

Many thanks to DW for reminding me of the Biltmore Estate. This is perhaps the number one destination estate in the United States for your dream summer vacation. Located in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate was built by George Vanderbilt of the famous New York Vanderbilt family about 100 years ago. There are endless activities you can do in the area between concerts, walking in the lush gardens, staying in the inn, visiting the winery and viewing the many film shoot locations. For more information, go to For more on the history, see For more on the films shot there (including Tap Roots, The Swan, Being There, Mr. Destiny, The Last of the Mohicans, Forrest Gump, Richie Rich, My Fellow Americans, Patch Adams, Hannibal and The Clearing) see

Please feel free to let me know what else you would like to learn, and I'll do my best to help in future blog entries.

Thanks so much for your support of this blog. I'm delighted that so many thousands of people have made this blog part of their regular reading habit!

If you like this blog, please let others know who might also enjoy it.

May God bless you.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Enjoy More Stately Mansions in New York City

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I certainly hope so.

Most people miss the best of New York City when they visit. Sure, they may find their way to Broadway, Trump Tower, Ellis Island and a few museums. But many of the greatest delights can only be found by going to lesser known places . . . especially the mansions that are open to the public.

While no blog entry could possibly list every mansion in New York that you can visit, I wanted to provide you with enough entertainment to keep you busy for two days . . . which will probably get you started in finding your favorite New York mansions.

Before launching your trip, be sure to become a member of the American Association of Museums. You'll save a bundle on admissions. Find out how to qualify at

I think that a good place to start is to visit the Museum of the City of New York, located at 1220 Fifth Avenue (at 103rd Street). The Web site is and you will find many photographs there of the mansions that have graced the city over the years. Plus, you'll probably locate many other interesting sites that you wouldn't otherwise know about.

From there, geographically you'll find it easiest to mosey to some of the mansions that house museums in the area. I suggest The Jewish Museum as your next stop. Located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, The Jewish Museum is housed in the Warburg family mansion and contains a great collection of material and art about New York's distinguished Jewish history. The web site is

Just a block away, you have another treat ahead of you at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, which is located in Andrew Carnegie's 64-room mansion built in 1899-1902 to mimic a Georgian style country home. You'll also enjoy the wonderful product designs and decorative arts on display there. The Cooper-Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue. For more information go to

Most people miss the next gem, the National Academy Museum, which is located at 1083 Fifth Avenue between 89th and 90th Streets. This mansion was the home of Archer Milton Huntington and his sculptor wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington. Mr. Huntington was the heir to the Huntington railroad fortune. This Beaux Arts building was created by expanding several existing buildings in 1913 and is famous for its beautiful staircase. This mansion contains much of the finest American art in the world. The National Academy is comprised of academicians who make up the foremost American artists, and they share their work with their fellow citizens in this beautiful location. The Web site is My son is an assistant curator at this museum, and I would like thank him for introducing me to most of these mansions.

From there, swing east towards the river until you arrive at Gracie Mansion which was built as a country home by Archibald Gracie in 1799. Beautifully situated on the river at 88th Street and East End Avenue, be sure to walk in the park grounds that were once part of the estate. Tours are available to the public through advanced reservations on Wednesdays. For more information, call 212-570-4751. The Web site is Gracie Mansion was the first home for the Museum of the City of New York and currently serves the mayor.

You have a great treat ahead of you as you now head southwest towards 1 East 70th Street (between Madison and Fifth) where you will locate the Frick Collection, housed in the mansion of Henry Clay Frick, of coke and steel fame. This museum has a great collection of paintings from the Renaissance through the end of the 19th century. Inside, you will delight in the Garden Court where a skylight, greenery and the gentle sounds of water will relax you. It's a perfect place to enjoy tranquility on either a hot summer or a cold winter day. You'll feel better than a billionaire when you do! The Frick's Web site is

If you don't mind a trek, you have a treat ahead near Washington Square when you visit the Merchant's House Museum at 29 East 4th Street. This home was built in 1832 for the Tredwell family who lived there for over 100 years. The Tredwells were prosperous merchants, and their home is the only site in New York that has been restored inside and out to present 19th century living. You can learn more at

Naturally, there are other mansions in New York. Keep your eyes open as you stroll from one museum to the next . . . and feast on the many exciting exteriors you will see!

Enjoy your mansion viewing . . . wherever you do it!

Please feel free to let me know what else you would like to learn, and I'll do my best to help in future blog entries.

Thanks so much for your support of this blog. I'm delighted that so many thousands of people have made this blog part of their regular reading habit!

If you like this blog, please let others know who might also enjoy it.

May God bless you.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Open Up the Doors to Your More Stately Mansions, Estates, Castles and Historic Villas and They Will Come

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I certainly hope so.

The local Cheesecake Factory draws my wife and daughter like a magnet draws iron filings. I occasionally join them there for a delightful salad (the new chopped salad is great!) and the delicious tropical iced tea. But inevitably there's a wait (unless we go at 3:45 in the afternoon).

Fortunately, there's a Borders near by, and I usually duck in there to check out the new books and magazines while waiting for my pager to buzz. Having realized that thousands of my regular blog readers love learning about mansions, estates, castles and villas, I've been reading up on what's available at the Borders.

I must say that what I found is disappointing. Architectural Digest, for instance, has a section in the August 2005 issue about Private Homes in Faraway Places. The title is certainly accurate, but the material is hardly worth your time. Most hotels I've stayed at in the same regions have nicer public areas where you can enjoy an iced tea in more beautiful surroundings than in these archetype private homes.

Next, I looked at one of the many magazines that are really just ads for homes that are for sale. The one I happened to pick up was Dream Homes International. You can see what their listings look like by going to

While their homes are certainly pricy . . . very little is under one million . . . very little is special. Your average billionaire might buy one of these homes to keep the staff in, but they didn't feel like the real thing. Consider one home in La Quinta, California. It had less than an acre of land and looked like any other golf course 3 bedroom home for $2.5 million. I wouldn't waste your time considering that property for anything.

I have been enjoying the Tour de France over the last three weeks as Texan Lance Armstrong rode to his unprecedented seventh straight general classification title aided by his stout fellows from the Discovery Channel team. I must have seen over 100 beautiful castles and estates from the air during the long helicopter shots that help relieve the tedium of watching the peleton. I would rather have seen more about one of those homes than anything I could find in a magazine at Borders.

That led me to realize that the most wonderful homes have to be sold from time to time . . . just like any other home. Naturally, those who own such marvelous places don't want everyone who would like to see their home trooping through. It would be like the crowds that visit the Vatican Museums.

But perhaps, just perhaps, some of the owners who were selling would be willing to let in one person to stay for a few days . . . perhaps someone like Your Dream Concierge . . . and report on the charms of the place for thousands to consider. That seemed most likely when the family was actually living in another location during the sales process or there had been a family problem and no one was ever going to live there again.

What's in it for the owners? Well, you may remember that old statistic about six degrees of separation. Each of us can meet anyone else on Earth by only being introduced to the right five new intermediaries who know one another.

This blog can start the process of helping those who want to buy real dream homes (rather than the overpriced weekend getaway spots in the magazines) find out about the properties. The blog readers will tell their friends, who will tell their friends . . . etc. and within a week the optimal buyer for the property will find out about its charms for the first time.

This process can both increase the sales price and shorten the time needed to sell the home. Most sellers like those benefits. Their real estate agents do too.

So whether you are an owner, real estate agent, attorney or a friend who knows about such properties, get in touch with me at and let me know about properties you would like me to visit. Anyplace in the northeastern United States is just a few hours away, and I would be willing to travel in this area over the next few months. Put the heading "Come Visit This Great Mansion" on your e-mail so I'll be sure to read it.

My wife and I are big fans of Frank Lloyd Wright. A number of his spectacular homes are open for visits. The intelligence and customization in these homes will fascinate you, I'm sure. For those who love urban elegance in a university setting, consider visiting the Frederick Robie house near the University of Chicago. While I was a summer student there, I lusted to see that home. Now, you can take tours as part of the National Trust ( about which I have written in the past. Here is a link to find out more --

If you are going to be in Chicago anyway, you should naturally also visit Mr. Wright's first home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois . . . just outside of Chicago. Here's a link for that as well --

You can walk to several other homes that Mr. Wright built in the area . . . as well as Unity Temple, his fascinating Unitarian-Universalist church.

But my favorite Wright work in the Midwest is located in Spring Green, Wisconsin . . . not far from Wisconsin Dells, Taliesen. The name means "shining brow" in Welsh and refers to Mr. Wright's placement of the home down from the peak of the hill. It's well worth a special trip to Wisconsin from anywhere. You can read about it at

If you have a taste for the bizarre, consider also visiting the House on the Rock in the area. This is a mostly underground abode built in a beautiful part of Wisconsin. All of my relatives like House on the Rock better than Taliesin while I prefer the latter. One or the other will delight everyone in your party. Here is a link:

Please feel free to let me know what else you would like to learn, and I'll do my best to help in future blog entries.

Thanks so much for your support of this blog. I'm delighted that so many thousands of people have made this blog part of their regular reading habit!

May God bless you.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Outdo the Great Gatsby as You Live Better than a Billionaire in Newport, Rhode Island This Summer and Fall

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I certainly hope so.

You may be wondering why I ask that question. I used to travel on business to San Francisco on an almost weekly basis. Whenever possible I would stay at the Hyatt on Union Square. The doorman there was one of the most inspirational people I've ever met. He would always ask me that question when I left each morning for work while sporting a wide smile. He really made my day!

Today, we'll travel back in time to when the equivalent of today's billionaires all traveled to Newport, Rhode Island every summer to escape the New York City heat. They stayed in summer cottages . . . what we now refer to as the Newport Mansions.

No visit to Newport is complete without having lunch at the mansions there, taking tours, seeing how the staff lived and imagining yourself at a glamorous garden party. Sounds expensive, doesn't it? Newport is running a special this summer. For $49 per adult ($19 for youths 6-17 and free for children under 6), you can visit several mansions, have lunch and take Newport's best mansion tours. Be sure to join the Gilded Age Summer Party at the Elms After Hours while you are there. For more information and to order tickets, go to

But that's just the beginning. Glamorous social events literally stalk Newport. The highlight of the summer season was the International Polo Ball on August 19. The Jamaican Polo Team was honored this year. Dress was "tropical black tie."

If you like polo, international matches are held every Saturday during the summer and fall at Glen Farms in Portsmouth, Rhode Island . . . about 8 miles north of downtown Newport on Route 138. You can attend for $10. For more details, go to

You can also take polo lessons and get ready for next year's polo season!

For music fans, the Newport Jazz Festival arrived on August 11-14. The main events were on the 13th and 14th. Tickets for a whole day of wonderful music are less than what most individual summer concerts cost for a single performer. It was a steal!

Newport is full of great exhibitions and parties this summer. You can go to a murder mystery at a mansion, attend a roaring 20's speakeasy, and choose from among many different clubs featuring live music. To find out schedules and locations check out

If you come wearing your own costume from the 20's or the Gilded Age, you can really feel yourself step back into the age of Newport's most brilliant social events.

While you're there, check out holding an event at one of the mansions. You can run catered weddings, anniversaries, family reunions or whatever that would make the Great Gatsby envious!

So bring your imagination, a little money and a big smile to live better than a billionaire in Newport this summer. It's my choice for this summer's top bargain events that any billionaire would love.

Please feel free to let me know what else you would like to learn and I'll do my best to help in future blog entries.

May God bless you.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Charity and Politics Open the Doors to Celebrity Homes

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I certainly hope so.

Recently, I had a chance to get out in the ocean to watch humpback whales. The weather was perfect and the whales were actively feeding and traveling throughout Jeffries Ledge near Boston's north shore.

As we left the harbor, our tour guide pointed out some of the many castles and historic homes in Gloucester. They are now mostly in the hands of charitable organizations. That's because wealthy people often bequeath their estates to their church or favorite charity if no one else in the family needs the property or wants to live there. In other cases, charities use their tax-free money to buy up such properties at bargain prices when such "white elephants" are a drag on the market.

Rarely, however, do the properties come with the funds to keep them up. That opens the doors for you. At first, such properties may only be available for special occasions, like fund-raisers. Soon, however, organizations are likely to rent them out for retreats or meetings. Before long, you can arrange for lengthy stays.

I was reminded of this while taking a meditation course at a beautiful estate in central Massachusetts. Before the course, I was asked which room I wanted to stay in. Each was reasonably priced so I decided to treat myself to the nicest one for about $5 a day more. After checking in, I was informed that I was staying in the Elizabeth Taylor suite. Why did it have that name? Well, it turns out that Ms. Taylor often came to this estate . . . and always insisted on staying in that room.

If you want to find out more about which properties you can visit and stay in, I suggest that you simply contact organizations that have lots of these estates and homes. In our area, the Catholic Church is especially well endowed in this way. While you are there, you will probably uncover lots of celebrity connections of the sort I have run into from time to time.

One of my favorite stories in this regard concerns staying in an old mansion in England that had been converted into an inn. When making the reservation, I had had reservations about the facility because the facilities were down the hall. Upon arriving, I could see why they hadn't replumbed the place. The W.C. proudly bore a bronze plaque on the inside noting that the Prince of Wales (under Queen Victoria) had once used this facility. It was an unexpected royal connection that made me chuckle.

One of the other ways I've gone into some remarkable celebrity homes has been to attend fund-raising events for politicians. Any candidate can draw a crowd if the right venue is in place . . . one that everyone wants to see. Celebrity authors and academics are especially likely to be open to providing this experience. One of my favorite memories is of spending the evening at the impressive home of John Kenneth Galbraith in Cambridge, Massachusetts when my classmate and friend, Jim Roosevelt, was running for Congress. Professor Galbraith was a thoughtful and intriguing host, and he took us on as many house tours as we liked. He especially seemed to enjoy showing the many medals he had won for his work in economics. His favorite was the French Legion of Honor. The after-tax cost of the evening was less than most people probably paid to have dinner in Harvard Square that night. It was much better to spend the time chez Galbraiths. And there wasn't a billionaire in sight!

What are you missing out on tonight?

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Enjoy Hundreds of Billions in Art, Crafts and Historic Homes for Pennies a Day

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I know that I certainly am!

Let's face it. Most people fall into one of three categories: They love art, crafts and historic homes and cannot get enough; they love looking at what they like; and they who can happily do without.

If you are in one of the first two categories, today's entry is for you.

I find that I could enjoy two hours of museum viewing every day as long as I don't revisit the same exhibit more than three times a year. Clearly, I'm in the first category.

If I satisfy my urge in the most natural way, it would be easy for me to spend thousands of dollars a year on museum and historic home admissions, even if I bought an annual membership to my favorite museums.

If I were a billionaire, that would be no problem. But then, if I were a billionaire, I might be so busy tending to my billion that I wouldn't have time to visit museums.

But since I'm not a billionaire, and I want to help you live like one on five dollars extra a day, I wondered how to accomplish that excellent result.

I was delighted to learn that those who are interested in providing professional services to museums or who volunteer their time in any role for museums are eligible to join the American Association of Museums. This is a great time to join because the association will be celebrating its centennial next year in Boston during the spring. The fee is adjusted downward for students and those on smaller incomes.

One of the many member benefits is to be able to visit hundreds of museums for free or at a reduced admission charge as a professional courtesy. Many museums also offer discounts on merchandise in their stores.

For more information about membership to AAM, please visit

If you don't provide services for museums and don't volunteer your time, think about taking on a volunteer role. You'll meet fascinating people and qualify for special opportunities to learn more about your favorite museum.

The friends' organizations of local libraries often purchase group museum passes which can be borrowed for a day at no charge for many other museums that do not honor AAM membership cards. For more information, contact the reference desk at your local library.

If neither of those alternatives works, contact the museum you want to attend and inquire about free days and nights. Most museums offer some free admission times. You just need to know when they are and attend then.

If you arrive early, it's usually possible to find reduced rate parking even in the busiest city. In Manhattan, some parking companies offer information about which of their garages offer the lowest rates for a given time of the day. If I'm feeling frugal, I can usually find a free spot on the street on the Upper East Side. Then I can walk or take a bus or subway from there to wherever I want to go.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Estate Living in a Historic Mansion in Cambridge, Massachusetts

"Every man believes instinctively that all the beautiful sentiments
in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.”

-- James Russell Lowell
New England Two Centuries Ago”
Literary Essays, Volume I

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I know that I certainly am!

Now you might think that lightning cannot strike twice. But for us it did. While I was a law student, I worked for the school’s dean to help pay my tuition bills. I didn’t qualify for financial aid because I was married, and I could find no merit scholarships for law school. With the help of my wife, we eked it out.

Unexpectedly during my last year in school there, the dean was named to be Harvard University’s new president. The dean immediately began worrying about how he would persuade his young family to leave their cozy home on Belmont Hill to live in Harvard Yard where the current president had been besieged by student demonstrators.

radually, he developed a different plan. Harvard owned Elmwood, the historic home of the poet, James Russell Lowell, located on large, leafy grounds in Cambridge about a mile from Harvard Square. Although Elmwood was near a busy intersection, it was much more of a place for a family than Harvard Yard and its restless students. My boss, Derek Bok, decided that he would live in Elmwood instead and began plans to prepare the home for his arrival. The house would be torn up for months as the inside and out were improved and updated. No one had lived in the house for decades so a lot needed to be done. He was worried about how everything could be kept safe during the construction.

I immediately remembered that our good friends, Paul and Nancy Dredge, needed a place to stay for the summer while their apartment was refurbished by the university. I asked them if they would be willing to house sit for the new president, and offered to relay the news to Derek. Nancy was a secretary to one of the professors at the law school, and I was sure that they would be seen as good people for the task. The Dredges agreed, and I told Derek I had a solution for him.

His eyes widened as I made my suggestion. He immediately countered with the observation that I had a great idea, but it needed one change to make it perfect – my wife and I should live in Elmwood and give our friends our apartment for the several months involved. My jaw went slack and I told him I would have to ask my wife. We agreed that this was the opportunity of a lifetime and quickly consented to become presidential house sitters. About all we had to do was to call the police if we saw anyone lurking who made us nervous. And we had the mansion to ourselves for the four months we lived there except for days when workers needed to make changes inside the house. Even then, they always left our floor alone when we were home.

Sissela Bok, Derek’s wife and a highly esteemed author and professor whose father was Gunnar Myrdal, visited often to supervise the work. While there, she helped us learn about Elmwood. She showed us holes inside the house from balls shot from Revolutionary muskets when the house’s Tory owners were threatened. Elmwood later served as a Revolutionary Army hospital, and there are other scars she showed us along one stairwell from bayonets employed by some of the hospital’s guards. We also learned that Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and later a governor of Massachusetts and vice president of the United States
under James Madison, had once lived in patrician style inside the house on Elmwood’s then almost 100 acres. Gerry is best remembered today by the term, gerrymandering, which refers to changing the boundaries of an electoral district to favor one political party over another. It’s an old political practice that doesn’t seem to be going away.

Everyone we had ever met suddenly wanted to visit us and tour the house (which was closed to the public). We entertained guests almost every week, and they always insisted that they would bring the food and beverages because my wife was pregnant and nauseous a lot of the time. So we entertained royally at no expense to us. We also dined out for years at our friends’ homes on reciprocity from that spring and summer.

Okay, you probably didn’t go to Harvard, and you probably don’t work for people who own or have access to mansions. You can still live in a mansion . . . at least for awhile.

Did you know that there are jobs for house sitters? Mansion owners are especially likely to be looking for them because many of them travel a lot. The owners often need someone to water the plants once a week, keep the place looking like someone is living in it and forward any important messages. You could devote a week or two of your time doing this when you aren’t very busy at your regular work. If you have a family, you could schedule the work for when your children will be away at camp or otherwise occupied away from home. Or for a country state, you could do your mansion sitting during summer vacation when your children could join you without missing school.

A golf pro once taught me an even better lesson. He had to live on a limited budget, but while the winter winds were whistling through bare branches in Massachusetts he was basking in the sun in Florida. Over the years he had asked thousands of people about themselves, and knew which ones owned nice vacation properties in Florida. If he wanted to travel to a different part of the state, he would just ask someone who owned property there if he could borrow the place for a few days and the owners would usually oblige except when they were in town. The first time I did this with him I was amazed to realize that we were borrowing the beautiful country home of a couple who had been neighbors and friends of mine for many years. But I never had bothered to learn about their vacation home. Silly me!

Another approach to mansion living was revealed to me still years later. A California client came to town and asked me to meet with a man who was looking to enter into a partnership with my client. We were invited to the potential partner’s home for dinner as a way to start the discussions. The potential partner lived on an enormous estate in the country north of Boston. There were horses in the stables, riding trails everywhere, gorgeous gardens and a lush forest. The home reminded me of something out of a James Bond movie about a rich villain.

Over dinner, I found myself meeting the children’s tutor who was a teacher at a local private school. It turned out that the house had a lot of extra bedrooms. The family provided free room and board for the tutor in exchange for his being willing to help the children with their homework. The tutor liked to teach so this was easy duty for him. And the food and accommodations were matchless. Surely, you know or could find out enough about some subjects to be a live-in tutor for children. Otherwise, many elderly people who live alone are happy to provide similar accommodations for someone so that they will not be alone at night.

Recently, I ran into a man who had worked for the CEO of a consulting organization who decided to move the company into a home in his luxurious neighborhood. That left the CEO with one extra mansion where no one was staying at night. The CEO invited his single employee to move into the new home, and the employee lived there for 14 years with daily maid service and a cooked breakfast.

While I was looking for an agent for this book (before meeting the remarkable Peter Miller), one agent told me she liked the book idea because it reminded her of all her years house-sitting in empty movie star mansions in Beverly Hills. The sellers wanted someone to be in the houses while they were on the market, and she had lots of privacy in one wing of 40,000 square foot homes.

Just the other day, I was in contact with the National Trust and they told me about a program where some state historical associations will let you live in a historic mansion for life as the curator . . . in exchange for your paying for some of the mansion's preservation. The cost is usually much less than the rent on a home . . . or mortgage payments. Check it out!

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Unexpected Estate Living in French Chateaux Country

“Surprised by joy – impatient as the wind.”

--William Wordsworth, Surprised by Joy

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I know that I certainly am!

As a youngster, I thought that an old country estate set among beautiful gardens would be the greatest place to live. The closest I ever got to one, however, was reading about them in novels.

I was as surprised as you probably are to find my wife and me as the sole occupants of a large and elegant country home in Normandy, France. There was a staff who came in to clean the house and take care of the lavishly landscaped grounds. Each room was filled with huge hunting trophies such as stuffed animals on the walls and skins as rugs on the floors. The rooms were also filled with gorgeous furniture that was so fine I was reluctant to even touch it. In every direction, beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers gently swayed in the breeze and beckoned from gently terraced fields. When we went into the nearby village, everyone seemed to know who we were and eyed us with respect.

It was almost like being lord and lady of the manor.

How did this all occur? It was a total accident as far as I was concerned. The year before, my wife and I had volunteered to serve as a host family for two French graduate students. Dominique and Yves were attending the masters program at HarvardLaw School where I was also a student. My wife and I enjoyed our time together with the students, and we continued to participate in the program in future years with other students. Our new friends knew that I had never been to France and very much wanted to go there. I had majored in French history in college and done original research from French newspapers for my undergraduate thesis. They said to be sure to look them up if we were ever in Paris, and they gave us their telephone numbers there.

By that summer my wife and I had saved enough to take a cheap charter flight to Paris. We remembered our friends, of course, but didn’t contact them until we arrived in France. We couldn’t afford to pay for the long distance calls from Boston which werequite expensive then.

When I did call, one of the men immediately invited us over to visit his family.

We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at a huge apartment with elegant furnishings on the Left Bank and had a lovely visit over tea that afternoon.

While we were chatting, our friend’s mother asked if we were traveling south at all. We mentioned that we planned to take a train to the Loire Valley, rent a car there and go see the chateaux (the French word for castles). She smiled and asked if we would mind taking a little detour to Normandy. They had a “little summer place” there that they would be glad to loan to us, and we could easily take day trips from there to see the chateaux. They just needed to have someone get their place ready for us.

Although we had no plans to go to Normandy, a free place to stay sounded very good. We were living in a disgusting Parisian hotel room where the floor looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in ten years. Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings by declining the unexpected hospitality, we glanced at each other and quickly agreed to stay at their home.

That’s how we arrived to find ourselves as the sole occupants of a totally unexpected country estate. Our French hosts must still be laughing over our amazement when we called from Normandy to thank them for the remarkable gift they had given us.

Now, you may be thinking that you could not have the same experience. Why not? Every community of over 10,000 people probably has some exchange students attending local high schools, colleges or graduate schools. These students need a place to live, someone to help them and sympathy. If you don’t know any foreign languages, you can borrow tapes from your local library and develop a basic vocabulary that will make aiding the students easier. We can all help in one or more of the areas where exchange students want to be with local residents. Chances are that these students will welcome you to enjoy their hospitality in their country. And who knows what that hospitality might involve? While not every exchange family is a wealthy one, you are bound to experience warm and sincere hospitality.

Further, many towns, organizations, and church and temple groups have exchange programs where individuals and families take turns visiting one another in their countries. You live with your exchange family there, and they live with you here. Who knows what their homes might be like or what experiences they can share with you? The expense is usually modest, a bargain airfare during a time of the year when air fares are low and some food. If you have enough frequent flyer miles from traveling for your job, the tickets may cost you almost nothing.

Having been to Europe a few more times since then, I learned another secret for the live-large-and-free lifestyle. You can often stay in a country estate or a castle for less money than a chain hotel. Our family has done this in Scotland, France and Spain . . . and enjoyed every minute of it.

Not to be outdone, one of our children taught us an even better lesson. He has a friend whose parents worked in the diplomatic service. Naturally, these diplomats had a pretty nice home to use while representing the United States. The parents were often happy to invite their friends’ children to visit while they were in the country . . . and some nice diplomatic residences to enjoy visiting while they were serving abroad.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell

Introduction to This Blog

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I know that I certainly am!

Everyone who has passed a stunning mansion has wondered about what it looks like inside, what the people are like to live there and how their lives would change by living in a mansion. Think of it as an advanced form of window shopping.

While many dream about mansions, many others get organized and go out and visit mansions . . . and even arrange to live in them . . . even on little money.

This blog is for those doers . . . and to help turn more window shoppers into doers.

In this blog, I will begin by reprinting entries from my popular blog, Live Better than a Billionaire on Five Dollars Extra a Day ( so they can be accessed more easily. I will also write special blog entries from time to time for those who are interested advanced mansion enjoying tips.

Please send me your suggestions for this blog.

May God bless you!

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell