A VanderBiltmore Christmas

Completed in 1895 as a collaboration between owner George Vanderbilt, architect Richard Morris Hunt, and landscape architect Frederic Law Olmsted, the Biltmore House opened on Christmas Eve after six years of intensive construction,

construction

and remains the largest private residence in America, with 250 rooms covering 175,000 square feet.

The fourth and fifth generation of Vanderbilt descendants continue to operate the estate as a tourism mecca, welcoming the general public since the Great Depression, and generating needed income to preserve this Versailles-inspired masterpiece.

A variety of tours around the property are available, including: insight into the design, technology, and construction; biographical nuances about the owners and guests; historical notes on the rare artifacts and art collection; and upstairs-downstairs living comparisons.

We started our day by cycling through miles and miles of groomed gardens and grounds,

cornfield

lake gazebo view

to gain a better perspective of the castle on the hill,

rowboat

estate wall

while surviving the first wave of Asheville’s brisk winter air.

By late afternoon, we’d had our fill of chill, and eagerly sought the warmth of the Biltmore House. We opted for a self-guided house tour of selected rooms that allowed us to visit at our leisure. The programmed route was matched to an accompanying booklet that provided brief reflections and information highlights that has assisted me in captioning the many photographs taken as we moved from room to room.

Our first impression of the residence upon entering the Entrance Hall was sheer wonder and amazement. Looking skyward through the spiraling staircase, was the perfect foreshadow of the immensity and grandiosity of what was to come.

chandeliers

Just beyond the center hall stands the Winter Garden,

Winter Garden
The glass roof illuminates the center fountain sculpture Boy Stealing Geese by Karl Bitter.

an acoustic marvel for instrument and voice.

caroling

We followed signs to the Banquet Hall.

Banquet Hall
This impressive room with a seven-story high ceiling and Flemish tapestries from the mid 1500s was the scene of dinner parties and celebrations.
Organ Loft
Organ Loft houses a 1916 Skinner pipe organ powered by an electric blower below the floor.

Moving on, we entered the Breakfast Room.

breakfast room
Both breakfast and lunch were served in this room. Portraits displayed include Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, George’s grandfather, and founder of the family fortune.

Exiting left, leads into the Salon,

Salon
Once unfinished, this formal sitting area, decorated in the French style was completed by Vanderbilt’s descendants in the 1970s with selections from the original collection.

and continues through the Music Room.

music room
Also left unfinished during George Vanderbilt’s time, the current owners completed the room in 1976. The cabinet to the right of the fireplace features a rare collection of 12 Meissen porcelain apostle figures and 12 candlesticks from the 1730s and 1740s made for the Austrian Hapsburgs.

On the other side, stands the Loggia,

Loggia
This covered room offers views of Deer Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

which is an extension of the adjoining Tapestry Gallery.

Tapestry Gallery
This 90-foot-long room was used for entertaining guests with refreshments and music. The three Flemish tapestries on the wall are from the 1530s, and represent Charity, Faith, and Prudence from the set known as The Triumph of the Seven Virtues.

A walk down the runner terminates at the Library.

library
The Library houses half of George’s 22,000-volume collection of subjects ranging from American and English fiction, to world history, religion, architecture, art, and philosophy.

Above the vaulted ceiling is a valued fresco.

library ceiling fresco
The Chariot of Aurora, painted in the 1720s by Giovanni Pellegrini, once adorned the Pisani Palace in Venice.

Returning to the Entrance Hall, a climb of the Grand Staircase, reveals the Second Floor Living Hall.

Second Floor Living Hall
This room, intended as a picture gallery and formal hallway was restored in 2013, with John Singer Sargent’s portraits of architects Hunt and Olmsted hanging in their original locations.

Turning left and down the hall is the approach to George Vanderbilt’s Bedroom.

George Vanderbilt's Bedroom
The furnishings in his bedroom include 17th-century Portuguese turned and carved furniture, and feature a canopied walnut bed. George would dress between four to six times a day, according to activity and time of day.

The neighboring Oak Sitting Room…

Oak Sitting Room
The Vanderbilts shared breakfast here while planning their day with the Head of Housekeeping. As hostess of Biltmore, it was Edith’s responsibility to manage the social calendar and anticipate the needs of their arriving guests.

…was a buffer between George’s and Edith’s Bedroom.

Edith Vanderbilt's Bedroom
Edith, upon her marriage to George at age 25, retired to this oval room with purple and gold silk fabrics and furnishings in the style of Louis XV.

The stairs to the Third Floor, left of Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom lead to the Guest Quarters, connected by the Third Floor Living Hall.

Third Floor Living Hall
Guests in nearby rooms congregated here to relax, listen to music, and unwind after dinner.

However, access to grandest guest rooms are located behind the Vanderbilt’s bedrooms on the Second Floor. A walk down the hallway, and a gaze out the window offers incredible details of the limestone-clad exterior of Biltmore, with its statuary and gargoyles hanging from the decorative edifice.

twilight and tree

Spiraling down to the Second Floor via the Grand Staircase…

staircase and tree

garland staircase

…is the entrance to the Damask Room,

Damask Room
The name of this room was inspired by the silk damask draperies and style of the wallpaper.

followed by the Tyrolean Chimney Room,

Tyrolean Chimney Room
This room is named for its hand-painted 18th-century Swiss porcelain tiled overmantel.

and the Louis XV Room, where Edith gave birth to Cornelia, and spent several weeks of convalescing, as was the custom of the time.

Louis XV Room
This room was named for the French king who inspired a style of ornate furnishings. Following in the footsteps of her mother, Cornelia also birthed her two sons in this room during the 1920s.

After taking breakfast in their rooms, guests of the Vanderbilts could enjoy a variety of indoor activities located on the Basement level, accessible by descending the Grand Staircase, and passing through the Stone Hallway, with foundation footings extending 29 feet into hillside.

Stone Hallway

The hallway passage winds into the Halloween Room,

Halloween Room wall art

so-named after friends and family of Cornelia and her newlywed husband, John Cecil spent several weeks painting whimsical wall scenes for a New Year’s Eve party to welcome the year 1926.

A Recreation Lounge along the hallway…

Recreation Lounge

…transitions to the one of the nation’s first bowling alleys built for a private residence.

bowling alley
Since there was no automatic pinsetters at the time, servants would reset the pins and roll the ball back to the bowler.

the hallway continues down a long narrow row separating two sides of dressing rooms–one for men, the other for ladies–where guests could change to use the 70,000 gallon indoor Swimming Pool,

swimming pool

or the fully-equipped Gymnasium, where guests kept fit by rowing, swinging Indian clubs, tossing medicine balls, and practicing on the parallel bars.

gymnasium
Needle Baths along the back wall offered stimulating “massage” showers.

Just beyond the Gymnasium is the Servants Wing, containing the servants’ quarters and work stations.

servant's quarters
Female housemaids, laundresses, cooks and kitchen maids lived in the house, while male employees like groomsmen and stable boys lived above the Stable. Each servant had a comfortably furnished, heated, private room–most uncommon for the period. Most servants were entitled to two hours off daily, but still remained on call. They received one afternoon and one evening off per week, and a half day every other Sunday.
Main Kitchen
This kitchen was used to make elaborate deserts by the pastry chef.
servants' dining room
This dining room could feed up to 30 servants, three meals a day.
laundry
The Main Laundry was as large and well-equipped as any stately hotel of the day.
laundry finishing
Laundry finishing and detail work was completed here.

Servants’ Stairs climbing to the Main Floor of the Bachelors’ Wing…

servant staircase

provided access to the Billiard Room.

billiard room
Female and male guests gathered here to play dominoes and billiards, while enjoying evening refreshments in this richly paneled room.


This house tour represents one of many we’ve taken since hitting the road. For example, we have walked through plantation houses outside New Orleans, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, the Kaufman House at Fallingwater, Elvis Presley’s Graceland, and Hearst’s Castle during another trip.

But nothing, and I mean NOTHING compares in scope or elaborateness, and attention to restorative detail as the Biltmore estate… especially when it’s decorated for Christmas.

 

 

 

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