A Designer’s Plan for Christmas

Written By Jean Sexton

Posted 11/11/13

Updated 11/11/13

For the Home

For more than 20 years, Gloria Brank has been decorating Biltmore House for Christmas. In her role as Floral Department Supervisor, she’s also instrumental in organizing the design and installation of Christmas at Biltmore displays across the entire estate, including shops, restaurants, and Antler Hill Village & Winery.

“I’ve decorated almost every room in Biltmore House except Louis XV,” Gloria said, thinking back over all the planning sessions and themes she’s seen. “But I have the Library again this year, and it’s always my favorite.”

For Gloria, this year’s “Nature of Christmas” theme led her to look upward, to the beautiful ceiling canvas painted by Pelligrini that soars high overhead in George Vanderbilt’s lofty library. Known as The Chariot of Aurora, the painting symbolizes the coming of dawn and features angels and cherubs.

“As I thought about our theme,” Gloria explained, “I wanted to interpret the room with the angels announcing the birth of Christ.”  Gloria Brank stands in the Library of Biltmore House.

Gloria focused on the rich hues of the painting and the warm reds and dark walnut tones that characterize the Library to create an opulent, Renaissance-style decorative scheme that highlights the layers of color and texture throughout the room.  And while planning the design of her room took a lot of time, her primary focus was managing the process of decorating for the estate as a whole.  That task starts at the beginning of each year, just as decorations are coming down.

“So much of what we do is in the planning stages,” Gloria said. “We walk through Biltmore House in January while the decorations are still in place and we start thinking about the following year. We begin to get a core of an idea and we work with that, keeping it in mind while we’re thinking about what elements we have and what we might need to purchase or create.

“By May, we’re pretty set on what our rooms and areas will look like, and we work with our curators to locate existing screws and nail heads to see how we can implement our designs without damaging anything in Biltmore House—or making any new holes in the walls!

“In June, we go over all the logistics, like where power outlets are located and how many power strips we’ll need. All the tree and garland lights are on timers so that our Candlelight Christmas Evening hosts don’t have to worry about getting each room glowing at the appropriate time. After that, we focus on creating silk arrangements and special decorations and adornments—and getting all that Christmas décor hidden away inside the house until we’re ready to start decorating in October.”

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