Our Favorites Tips for Easy Holiday Decorating

Couple decorating a Christmas treeGuests who come to Biltmore before diving into their own holiday decorating can’t help but pick up some tips and ideas during Christmas at Biltmore.  There is just too much inspiration all around! Decorating for the holiday season can be a stressful task, but we are sharing our tried and true decorating tips to make it a little easier.

Choose a theme.  A theme repeated throughout your holiday decorating scheme will bring continuity of style, color and overall look.  Themes can be as simple as a particular color or color palette, or objects that represent memories of family events. Family photos and travel souvenirs are perfect for creating ornaments.

Be choosy.  Be selective and stick to your theme.  You don’t have to use every ornament or decoration you own each year.

Avoid the “This and That” Scheme. Random placement of glittery things scattered around the room lacks the impact you can achieve if you concentrate on three to five elements (embrace the design “rule of three”).  The Christmas tree is one, a mantle might be the second, and the third might be an arrangement on top of an armoire.  Within those elements you can go over the top. 

It doesn’t have to be red and green.  Let your year-round style and colors inspire your holiday look.  Take cues from your wall and fabric colors to make your seasonal decor unique to you and your home. 

Pack away the everyday.  Don’t be afraid to send some of your everyday decorative objects on a short vacation. Replace the mirror over the mantle with a fresh evergreen wreath.  Cover your neutral sofa pillows with vivid and bright shams (or replace entirely for the season). Bring out some of your china or silver.

Bring the outside in.  Spend an afternoon outside gathering woodsy elements to create a rustic and natural look. Collect pine boughs, holly berries, pine cones, dried flowers and grasses.  Add favorite ornaments for a pop of color, or purchase an inexpensive bouquet of fresh flowers, pull it apart and add your own natural materials to create a beautiful seasonal display. 

Create the Biltmore sparkle. For a dazzling tree, tuck shiny ornaments deeply into the tree, starting at the trunk, and work outward. This creates depth, color and super-sized shine. Hang special and more decorative ornaments close to the branch tips.  Mound your favorite ornaments into bowls on your dining table, or mix them in baskets with pine cones and greenery.  Accent your wreaths and garlands with clusters of berries and shiny glass balls of different sizes.

Punch up the glow.  Group candles in varying heights throughout your decorating scheme to generate the warmest effect. 

Cue the lights!  Our team has perfected a no-fuss light-stringing technique you can use on your own tree.  First, work each light strand from the top of the tree down, and in sections, rather than round and round. This cuts down on ladder-climbing time.  Second, work the lights in toward the trunk of the tree, and then back out to the tip of the next branch, securing the strand by slipping the tree tip between the two wires of the strand.  We suggest a 6-foot tree requires 8 sets of 50 lights, a 12-foot tree needs 26 sets, and a 14-foot needs 32 sets.  

Do the squint test:  To make sure the tree is evenly lit, step back, squint your eyes to make things look blurry, and look for dark or overly bright spots.  Rearrange or add lights as needed. 

Tree trimming tips

Christmas Memory Framing Project

Get Creative with Fun Holiday Framing Ideas

The holidays are quickly approaching, which means it’s time to deck the halls with cheer. This year, don’t overlook the walls when adding festive touches.

custom framed holiday photo with SantaAn easy way to start is by going through old holiday photos. Consider framing photos of the children with Santa, or showing off family portraits in an attractive grouping. When Christmas is over, you can keep the photos out and enjoy beautiful memories year-round!

The holidays usually mean a mailbox overflowing with Christmas cards. Pick out some of your favorites, and display them around your home in frames. It’s an easy way to create instant artwork.

Need help getting started on your framing projects? We recommend selecting frames from our Biltmore Frame Collection by Larson-Juhl.

It’s Bedtime for Tulip Bulbs

gardener planting bulbsWe pause now from our holiday postings to bring you a mini-preview of things to come this Spring.

In our region, November is the time to plant springtime bulbs. And that’s exactly what Biltmore’s Walled Garden crew did earlier this month, spending many hours on hands and knees tucking tulip bulbs into the ground for their long winter’s naps. They’ll need the rest – the tulips, we mean – because they have a show to put on.  (Not that our hard-working crew doesn’t need the rest, of course!)

When April arrives, our annual Biltmore Blooms event (formerly known as Festival of Flowers) will already be underway. The bulbs currently in the ground will transform themselves into bright green stems and showy petals in coordinated hues of pink and dark purple; and yellow, orange and light purple.

Estate-wide, the horticulture team planted around 96,000 bulbs. They dug thousands of 6-inch deep holes and dropped between eight and six bulbs into each one to ensure three or four weeks of bloom time.

Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture, suggests if you’re planting tulip bulbs in your garden at home, wait until the soil’s temperature drops to below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Arrange them so their pointy sides are facing up.

 He also advises that bulbs in the ground often serve as a subterranean buffet for critters like voles. If you have problems with these tiny rodents, add a little gravel to each hole to keep them from tunneling toward your bulbs.

Extra tidbit in the name of Trivial Pursuit:  What do Biltmore gardeners talk about while planting tulip bulbs? Any number of things, says Travis Murray, Walled Garden Crew Leader. The day we took these photos, the topic was “Favorite 1980s Horror Movies.”

Our Annual Christmas Party

For more than 120 years, Biltmore has celebrated the holidays with a party for employees and their families. Today's annual gathering begins with a warm welcome from Bill Cecil Jr., great grandson of George Vanderbilt. The party is something staff looks forward to every year, and it's a wonderful opportunity to see co-workers and their loved ones fill the halls of Biltmore House. Children sit on Santa’s lap and whisper their wishes, while staff members hand them gift chosen as carefully for them as those that Edith Vanderbilt selected for earlier generations. This beloved tradition was started by George Vanderbilt when he first opened his new home on Christmas Eve 1895.

Children sit with Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Biltmore Christmas partyMaking a list and checking it twice

In October 1898, George and Edith Vanderbilt returned to Biltmore after a June wedding in Paris and an enviably long honeymoon. Mrs. Vanderbilt quickly settled into her new home and became involved in the lives of the families living on the estate. Within weeks of her arrival, our archival correspondence documents that she had already begun planning the holiday celebrations for estate staff.

Each year, Edith gathered the names of each of the children on the estate and carefully selected items she thought they would like. A “Christmas Tree Fund” was established to purchase gifts. Anna Wheeler, the wife of estate veterinarian and a close friend of Edith Vanderbilt, sometimes helped with the holiday preparations. In an unpublished memoir, Anna fondly described these special times:

Mrs. Vanderbilt kept a book in which the individual presents were recorded yearly; her idea was to avoid duplication, but it served another purpose in assisting [her] in the better knowledge of each family. It was just another example of her predominate kindness and her executive ability. Mrs. Vanderbilt did the buying, and labeling and wrapping of all those many gifts.”  

Edith Vanderbilt's Christmas list for Biltmore familiesGifts for all

Given the Vanderbilts’ conscious support of the community, it’s no surprise that they believed in buying local. Edith made a point of purchasing the majority of toys and gifts from area merchants, though some specialty items were also ordered from F.A.O. Schwartz, an upscale department store in New York City. For the adults, gifts tended to be practical in nature. For her first Christmas here, Edith purchased comforters, mufflers and shawls from H. Redwood & Co. in Asheville.  For the youngest members of the estate, treats of special sweets, clothing, games, and toys were standard gifts.  Leaving no detail un-attended, Mrs. Vanderbilt personally labeled and wrapped these goodies, using one of the bedrooms in Biltmore House as her staging area. Anna recalled that the room “assumed the appearance of a Santa Clause storage place.”

A family enjoys Biltmore's Christmas party

Describing a scene almost identical to what still takes place today, Mrs. Wheeler wrote, “Every family received a package which contained a gift for each member. The brilliant tree, in its magnificent setting… the faces of those surrounding it, and the beautiful and gracious hostess are never to be forgotten.”

Enjoy our seasonal celebration with your family

Make Biltmore part of your family's holiday tradition by learning more about our Christmas at Biltmore and Candlelight Christmas Evenings celebrations.

— Featured image: Children of a Biltmore employee enjoy meeting Santa and Mrs. Claus at Biltmore's annual Christmas party
— First image: Santa and Mrs. Claus listen to children's Christmas wishes
— Second image: Receipt for Edith Vanderbilt's 1898 Christmas order from F.A.O Schwartz in New York
— Third image: Floral Design Manager Cathy Barnhardt enjoys Biltmore's Christmas party with her family, ca. 2010

Decorate your Outdoor Spaces for the Winter

Want to spruce up your garden, yard, or walkway this winter? The presence of unique statues can add beauty to your grounds during the cold months. When it snows, the pieces are truly eye-catching.

If you have outdoor containers, you can fill them with evergreens to bring color into your space—spruce, fir, magnolia, holly, and pine.  You can use Oasis (floral foam) to help arrange and hold moisture. The cuttings can go up to four weeks without water. If the container is in direct sunlight, the cuttings will brown out faster, even if they are watered and in Oasis. 

Hang wreaths or use garland to decorate other areas like your front door or other statues.  Add bows, berries, pinecones, or other pops of natural color to really showcase winter’s beauty.

Create an attractive arrangement in a container by using a taller evergreen surrounded by smaller plants around the outside.

Purchase a potted shrub that is slightly smaller than your container.  You can either remove it from the pot and plant it directly into the container in a potting soil mix, or place the pot into the container and use small pine bark nuggets to hold it in place as well as on top to hide the smaller pot.


decorations in front of wooden doors

Insider Tip: Our Venetian Urn is displayed at A Gardener’s Place, our garden-inspired gift shop, this winter with such an arrangement if you need some in-person inspiration!

The most important thing to remember is to water but not over water.  Plants still need water in the winter.  Once a week is a good rule of thumb for winter months, but check the soil moisture just in case!  If it’s staying dry, water more often.  If it is staying too wet, water less often.  You want the soil to be slightly moist but not saturated or powder dry.

 See our Unique Stone statuary for inspiration!  Unique Stone, a licensed partner with Biltmore For Your Home, carries on the visionary legacy left by Biltmore’s landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. Throughout Biltmore inspiration was drawn to craft outdoor statues, benches, pedestals, and various other architectural elements in cast stone. Items are then hand finished for an aged patina.

Happy Birthday, George

It’s a special day at Biltmore: the 150th anniversary of George Vanderbilt’s birth! His parents, William Henry and Maria Louisa Vanderbilt, welcomed him into the world at their family home near New Dorp on Staten Island, NY on November  14, 1862. Named in honor of a paternal uncle, little George was the youngest of a large, lively brood. Every so often we run across objects in the collection that shed some light on how the Vanderbilt family celebrated special occasions together.  It’s always touching to me (particularly after 150 years!) to come across tokens of these traditions. Maria Louisa was a devoted and loving mother to each of her eight children and she and George maintained a particularly close relationship throughout their lives. Today seems like a fitting occasion to share two of the birthday gifts that Maria Louisa bestowed upon her youngest son.

Tucked among Biltmore’s 23,000 books are three treasured volumes that George received from his mother for his ninth birthday. Inscribed “George from Mama Nov. 14th 1871”, the books are part of a popular series of novels written by the Reverend Elijah Kellogg, Jr. With titles like Boy Farmers of Elm Island and The Ark of Elm Island, one might guess that George had a taste for adventure, but the stories are also instructive. Throughout the series, the main characters are faced with all sorts of ethical dilemmas challenging their resolve to be upstanding young men, all while navigating the treacherous waters of the West Indies.  Maria Louisa Vanderbilt’s carefully-selected gift gives us a hint of George’s boyhood interests, as well as how deeply she valued and encouraged her children’s moral and intellectual growth.

Filed away in George’s personal papers, we found an unsigned and undated poem. The three pages are bound with a ribbon and composed in perfect penmanship. Upon reading it, it becomes apparent that the poem is from his mother and was written on the occasion of his 21st birthday. She reflects back upon his birth, celebrates his coming of age, and shares her hopes for his future.

Crowned in an aureole of light, I see grand dreams and visions bright

…there is no scope to youth’s vast boundless wealth of hope, and boundless opportunity for good…

Through her carefully-crafted prose, Maria Louisa bids her son to heed the call of work, to put right what he finds wrong , and:

To give a kindly word of cheer

To those who heavy burdens bear

Such work will bless, when nobly done.

And such work comes to every one.

He helps the age in which he lives,

Who does his best – and his best gives

To carry sunshine everywhere…

A later stanza relates every mother’s dream of having her child’s greatest aspirations fulfilled.

If in thy heart deep-hidden some cherished wish there be,

One that may bless thy future – that wish is mine for thee.

And with this wish in parting, there comes to light the way

The season’s ripe perfection crowning this festal day.

I can only imagine the pride that Maria Louisa would feel in knowing that her son did indeed improve the age in which he lived, and was able to bring his “grand dreams and bright visions” to fruition as she had hoped. She would undoubtedly be elated to learn that George’s life’s work resulted in the creation of a bounteous estate, a peaceful oasis, and an enlightened community that are all still going strong 150 years later. Happy birthday, George!

Thank you to those who serve and have served

A flag containing an array of stars hangs in the Banquet Hall of Biltmore House to honor Biltmore employees who served during World War I. Its 53 stars represent each person – 50 blue stars mark those who returned home, and the three gold stars represent those who died in action.

Today, Nov. 12, 2012, we honor the men and women who have served our country, and those who were and are employed by Biltmore.

Edith Vanderbilt commissioned the flag, known as the Service flag, in 1920. These flags grew in popularity during World War I after Army Captain Robert L. Queissner of the Fifth Ohio Infantry designed and patented a flag to honor his two sons serving on the front line.

In 2005, Biltmore’s Museum Services team had a reproduction of the flag made, which had hung in the Banquet Hall for more than 80 years. It had deteriorated over time and eventually it could no longer support its own weight.

For many years, we knew that one of the blue stars represented Herbert Noble, an English butler who worked in Biltmore House. In 1930, journalist Louis Graves wrote:

“Herbert Noble had been employed at the Vanderbilt home before the war; he had begged to be released to go to England and enlist; and he had come back to America with his ribbon, his wounds, and his memories of the great adventure, and had found his old job waiting for him.”

Herbert’s star was the only one to which we could attach a name. Until last week, that is.

The Museum Services team recently discovered new information about the Service flag through ongoing cataloging and research of the many thousands of documents in the Biltmore Archives. Within these documents exists the elusive list of 52 employees – 49 men and 3 women – who are remembered by these stars. Not all worked at the estate, but some worked at Biltmore Estate Industries and Biltmore Hospital as well. Just like Herbert Noble, many of those who returned to the U.S. after the war went back to their jobs, as Edith Vanderbilt made sure their jobs would be waiting for them when they got home. The identity of the 53rd star, a gold one that is not on the list and presumably added later, is still a mystery.

So now the process of researching the names, positions and stories of those on the list begins.

Biltmore House hosts share the flag’s history with our guests every day, noting that the names have never been known or confirmed. It’s exciting to think that now they’ll be able to share this new discovery with our guests.

Design Biltmore's Next Wine Label

Although the calendar claims it’s still officially fall until December 21, it’s all about Christmas for us right now! Christmas at Biltmore kicked off last Saturday and Candlelight Christmas Evening tours begin tonight. It’s also the season for our commemorative Christmas at Biltmore Wine to appear around the estate, in our online store and in retail stores across the region.

Every year we hold a competition to design a wine label inspired by the holidays at Biltmore, with the winner’s artwork appearing on Christmas at Biltmore Wine bottles.  The competition is intense, drawing hundreds of entries from around the country.

Need a little inspiration?

Check out these wine label designs from previous years.

2012 Christmas at Biltmore Wine bottle was designed by Marcus C. Thomas

The gorgeous painting on the 2012 Christmas at Biltmore Wine bottle was designed by Marcus C. Thomas of Weaverville, NC. What makes Marcus’ artistry even more breathtaking: He is a quadriplegic, paralyzed below the neck and uses his mouth to paint his incredible works of art. Thomas will be at Biltmore Winery to sign bottles of the 2012 Christmas at Biltmore Wine Dec. 22, 2012. Marcus, his wife Anne and their yellow lab Bella live and create in Western North Carolina, where the Appalachian mountains serve as a source of infinite inspiration.  Visit marcusthomasartist.com for more information.





facade of Biltmore House and a Christmas tree is by Meagan Warren of Matthews, NC

This beautiful winter scene depicting the facade of Biltmore House and a Christmas tree is by Meagan Warren of Matthews, NC and was the winner in Biltmore’s 2011 wine label design contest. Meghan noted that “Like Biltmore, this label inspires magical memories of Christmases past, present, and the wonder of those to come.” Her label cast the most votes in our 2nd annual contest which drew 128 entries and thousands of votes cast across the country.






“Snowy Sunset Scene” is the name of the winning label in the 2010 wine label design contest. Designed by Teena Steenerson of Mauldin, SC

“Snowy Sunset Scene” is the name of the winning label in the 2010 wine label design contest. Designed by Teena Steenerson of Mauldin, SC, she was looking to capture a vintage look and feel of our annual Christmas at Biltmore celebration.






Interested in participating?

Now through January 13, submit an original design, photo or piece of artwork. A panel selected by Biltmore will identify up to five semifinalists. The semifinalist submissions will be featured on Biltmore.com beginning February 1, 2013 for fans to vote for their favorite. The winning submission will appear as the label of the 2013 Christmas at Biltmore Wine and receive prizes valued at $900.

How to Enter

Submit your best original design, photo or piece of artwork online at biltmore.com/contest. Include a three-sentence summary telling us why your entry embodies “Christmas at Biltmore.”

May I Park Your Car?

We hear often from our guests that it is our staff who make Biltmore special.  And we agree!  Every person in every job has the same goal of making our visitors love their time with us.  At Inn on Biltmore Estate this is especially true, where guests stay several days and interact with employees throughout their visit.  But who are they really?  Let us introduce you!

May I Park Your Car?

These smiling faces often make the very first impression when a guest arrives at the inn.  That’s a huge responsibility, one that sets the tone for the guest’s entire stay. And they take that responsibility very seriously.  Not that they don’t have fun on the job – because they do.

The smiles tell the story. Meet Shane Robinson, Justin Pinner and Chris Roberts – Valets at Inn on Biltmore Estate.

Each describes himself as a “people person,” and on a recent beautiful November afternoon the three were working side by side to welcome guests, assisting them with their luggage, answering questions, parking their cars and retrieving their cars from the parking lot. “What’s not to enjoy,” says Justin. “It’s a beautiful location, you meet people from all over the world, you’re outside and you’re getting exercise.”  The three have a great sense of humor and clearly enjoy working together.

And all of this while staying in constant motion.  On average, Justin and his colleagues run between 7 and 8 miles per day to deliver guest vehicles to the parking lot or back to the front door where the guest is waiting. On days when the weather turns fierce with rain, wind, cold temperatures or all three together, it just makes them run faster.  No need to stop by the gym on the way home from work, this job has that benefit built in.

 Other qualifications for the job? Be an excellent driver.  And you better know how to drive a straight-shift vehicle – it’s on the job application.