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Designing A Welcome Home

Posted on 12/12/2013 by Jean Sexton

Once you pass through the entrance way “Vestibule” into Biltmore House, you have entered a special place for Biltmore Floral Designer Mary Quirk.  This is the first space that guests see when coming into the home, like a foyer on a grand scale.  This year, Mary was responsible for the design of the Entrance Hall and Winter Garden.
Because the Vestibule has holiday decorations as well, connecting the two spaces was important from a design standpoint. 

“Molly and I worked together to make sure our plans were in harmony,” Mary said, describing how the two designers coordinated their décor so that guests would not feel an abrupt change as they moved between the Vestibule and the interior of Biltmore House. “I wanted to portray coziness upon entering a winter forest, so I used the same deciduous trees that you see in the Vestibule. Some of mine are in urns for a more formal touch, and I added sparkle with gold and silver ornaments.”  Other natural elements include a large grapevine tree with a fresh arrangement at its base and a large grapevine ball tied with sheer gold fabric. Mary added Asian honeysuckle twined through garlands to give the greenery more body and interest.

One of the major decorating challenges in this area is the breeze that sweeps through the massive front door when it’s opened for guests. Mary has to make everything secure so that nothing blows away.  Creating that signature ambiance in the evening is a challenge on breezy nights. “We’re trying battery-powered candles in some places near the entrance so that the candles stay lit during Candlelight Christmas Evenings and don’t blow out every time the door opens.”  It is that attention to every detail that creates Christmas magic in Biltmore House.   

Winter Garden of Biltmore House decorated for the holidays.In keeping with its original use as a conservatory setting to house exotic plants, the Winter Garden always features massive displays of poinsettias. Mary also used more deciduous trees and holly trees with berries to emphasize natural elements and bring the outdoors inside. “I grew up cutting pods and branches with my grandmother and spray painting them,” said Mary, “and we did some of that for Biltmore this year. I learned a lot from her, and I love having all this vast estate available to us for materials.”

Although Mary enjoys incorporating natural elements into her designs, she recognizes that all of the team members have different styles. “It’s a nice mix of people in the crew,” she said, “and each of us have preferences, from glitzy to natural and everything in between.” The designers rely on teamwork, especially since they all have multiple areas to decorate. 

In addition to the Entrance Hall and Winter Garden, Mary’s work can be seen in the Oak Sitting Room and at Antler Hill Village in The Creamery, Cedric’s Tavern, and the Winery.  “We are good resources for each other.”

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