NRF promotes and invests in the architectural heritage of the Newport community, the traditional building trades, and Doris Duke’s fine and decorative arts collections, for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of all.
As a leader in the preservation of early American architecture, NRF supports research and education in areas directly related to its collections and issues of critical concern to the field of historic preservation.
Visit Doris Duke’s art-filled mansion and enjoy panoramic ocean views from the extensive grounds. Open late March to November.
The Vernon House is a site for expansive story-telling, contemporary dialogue, and preservation trades skill-building.
Newport Restoration Foundation holds one of the largest collections of period architecture owned by a single organization anywhere in the United States.
Celebrate excellence in historic preservation efforts within the City of Newport, Rhode Island.
Live amidst history by renting one of our many historic properties.
Whitehorne House Museum celebrates the artistry, industry, and craftsman/womanship of cabinetmaking and related arts in 18th-century Newport.
The museum’s collection, housed in a restored Federal-style mansion along Newport’s historic Thames Street waterfront, includes some of the best examples of Newport furniture and decorative arts from the mid-18th to early-19th centuries. Here you can see work by the renowned Townsend and Goddard workshops and many other skilled craftspeople.
Newport furniture tells the story of early America, Newport’s role in the development of the United States, and the wider global trade system. We invite you to discover colonial Newport furniture— and through the furniture, what people valued, understood about the world, and how they lived.
The history of Whitehorne House Museum follows closely the history of the founding and early development of the Newport Restoration Foundation.
Heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke founded NRF in 1968 to rescue and preserve the earliest architectural heritage of Newport, which was threatened at the time by long-time neglect and various urban renewal efforts. In her lifetime, Duke bought and restored 84 18th- and early 19th-century houses, most of which are still owned today by NRF and leased as private residences to tenant/stewards.
From the earliest days of the organization, Duke also bought and donated to NRF early Newport furniture and related decorative arts, including 18th-century silver, Chinese export ceramics, glass, and paintings. Her purchases were recorded in NRF Annual Meeting minutes alongside reports on house purchases, and by 1972, she had acquired for NRF 87 pieces of furniture of which some 35-40 still comprise the core collection of significant pieces firmly attributable to Newport craftsmen.
In January 1969, NRF bought the 1811 Samuel Whitehorne House at 416 Thames Street—a majestic, if much dilapidated, Federal brick mansion.
By the end of the year the director, Francis Comstock, made a note in his day book, “Inspected again the large brick Whitehorne House. . .The rooms are very large, with high ceilings. A possible museum, perhaps?” By 1971, Whitehorne House was referred to in NRF Annual Meeting minutes as “our future museum.” At the time, the furniture was either in storage, kept at Doris Duke’s Rough Point mansion, or on loan to other organizations, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Hunter House (Preservation Society of Newport County).
Doris Duke took a close and special interest in restoring Whitehorne House to serve the needs of NRF’s growing furniture collection. She and Francis Comstock consulted on interior finishes and the interpretive scheme with decorator Leon Amar; members of the NRF Board, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Katherine Warren, and Alletta Morris McBean; furniture and preservation experts, most significantly Joseph Ott and Antoinette Downing; and with staff from related organizations, including SPNEA (now Historic New England), Colonial Williamsburg, and the National Trust.
Whitehorne House Museum opened to the public on August 4, 1974. After more than 40 years, it was closed for a period of re-thinking and re-interpretation, and re-opened to the public in May of 2019.
The museum is housed in one of a handful of Federal period brick mansions to survive in Newport and is the only one open to the public. For more on its architectural significance, see the entry for the Samuel Whitehorne House (416 Thames Street) on our Preservation Properties pages.
The garden is a recent addition and is open for the community to enjoy.
The core collection of some 40 pieces of Newport furniture is well known to curators, scholars, and collectors in the American Decorative Arts field.
Pieces have been included in major loan exhibitions, including John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2005) and Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650-1830 at the Yale University Art Gallery (2016). Individual collection items are included in the Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery and in Newportal, the consortium online collections database for Newport museums.