Over 30 years ago, when we were on our honeymoon, my husband and I toured the Biltmore Estate. The grand home – often called America’s Castle, is located near Asheville, North Carolina. This past August we decided to visit it again, taking our daughter along with us this time. If you have never visited the Biltmore, let me just tell you that every.single.thing about it is impressive. You arrive as the first guests did on Christmas Eve in 1895 – slowly… via the 3 mile long approach road that snakes through natural woodlands, building up your anticipation. Then you come into the clearing, round the curve. That is when you finally see the house – the 250 room French Renaissance chateau that took bachelor George Vanderbilt 6 years and an entire community of workers to build.
It has 250 rooms in its 175,000 square feet spread throughout 3 floors, a basement, and a subbasement. There are 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, and 16 chimneys. In 1888, when George Vanderbilt was 26 years old, he visited Asheville with his mother for the first time and decided that this piece of property was the perfect location for his “country home.” He hired Richard Morris Hunt as the architect to build the house and Frederick Law Olmsted (the designer of New York’s Central Park) to design the grounds and estate.
Now remember, Vanderbilt was not married at this time. There are bachelor quarters that he lived (and partied) in until he married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in Paris in 1898..and she had not even seen the house until they returned from their honeymoon in Italy. What a house to come home to! There are so many other details to know about the house – like how it was built ahead of its time with electricity… and hot and cold running water… and refrigeration… and a pool… and so much more. But let’s look at some of the rooms now. I know that is what your really want to see. 🙂 Here is a floor plan of the main level so that you can follow the layout of the rooms we are going to see:
We entered through the corridor and walked first into the Winter Garden. This room has a trap door that was used by the servants to care for all the plants in it. The center sculpture is called Boy Stealing Geese. The ceiling in this area was amazing.
We turned and entered the Billiard Room next with its custom made billiard tables (built in 1895. ) To the right of the fireplace you can see a door with artwork hung on it. That is actually a secret door (when it is closed) that leads to a private office. Doesn’t this look like a room a bachelor would want in his home? 🙂
On the other side of the Billiard Room is the Banquet Hall with its 7 story high ceiling. The 40 ft. long table can seat up to 64. (The Vanderbilts were wonderful hosts with frequent guests.)
A triple fireplace is at one end of the room, and Flemish tapestries hang from a side wall.
The other end of the room has a loft with a 1916 Skinner Pipe Organ.
Of course the family did not eat all of their “regular” meals in the grand banquet room. They had their breakfast and lunch in the Breakfast room. The artwork alone in the Biltmore is quite impressive with 185 paintings and 1,228 prints. Two original paintings by Renoir hang in this room. The walls are covered in handtooled Spanish leather.
The salon was an unfinished room during the time of the Vanderbilts. It was left with a rough subfloor, an unfinished tile ceiling, and bare brick walls. It was restored and open to the public in 2013.
Stepping outside you find the covered logia. I loved all the wicker seating out there (and the view!)
When we walked into the next room, my daughter and I immediately channeled Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The Biltmore library, with its 10,000 books written in 8 different languages evoked the library from Beast’s castle.
And its ceiling came from a palace in Venice.
(Sorry for the blurry photo. 🙂 )
While the library reminded us of Beauty and the Beast, the Tapestry Gallery with its 90 ft. long walls covered in 7 tapestries, reminded us of Downton Abby. The tapestries were woven in Belgium in 1535.
And now let’s take the stairs up to see some of the bedrooms.
Upstairs we toured the gilded bedroom of George Vanderbilt, whose furniture was designed by the architect himself.
An oak sitting room connects Mr. Vanderbilt’s room with his wife’s.
And here is part of Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom:
There is also an upstairs living room to tour:
In addition to that, there are bathrooms with hot and cold running water….
And a number of guest bedrooms. Some of their guests would come and stay for months.
(It really could have been a grand hotel!)
We are going to stop our tour here today, but we will go down to the basement to visit the servant’s quarters and out to the garden in the next post. In the meantime, if you get a chance I would love for you to read a couple of articles for more information on the Vanderbilts. First – this one will give you more information about the history of the family, and this one (my favorite 🙂 ) really gives you some insight into the personalities of the people who lived there. I think you will enjoy it!
Until next time…