From Gardener’s Cottage to Gallery

One of the first residences completed on the estate, the Gardener’s Cottage served as the home of Biltmore’s first head gardener. This historic house was designed by the firm of Richard Morris Hunt, who served as architect of Biltmore House.

Gardener's Cottage
The Gardener’s Cottage is located within Biltmore’s Walled Garden, adjacent to the Conservatory.

Today, the Gardener’s Cottage is transformed into our For Your Home Gallery. Honoring the Vanderbilt’s legacy of timeless style and gracious living, our gallery offers a curated selection of our licensed products—exclusively designed for Biltmore and inspired by various elements of the property.

Interior shot of Gallery
From the prints on the walls to the fine details in the furniture, all gallery items are inspired by the estate.

The Inspiration & Design Process

It all starts with a visit to the estate. Our industry-leading manufacturing partners send their distinguished designers to seek inspiration from Biltmore—from the architecture and archives to the historic gardens and grounds.

Inspiration & Design process
Our Imperial Dragon Lamp was inspired by a dragon-fish fountainhead along the Pergola.

The designers then process their insights to create a rendering that captures their vision for the product. This rendering may go through many versions to ensure the piece is functional, appealing, and suited for today’s homes and lifestyles. Renderings receive Biltmore’s stamp of approval prior to production.

Interior of Gallery
Take your time as you stroll through this historic home, soaking in each stunningly unique feature.

The final result is a beautiful furnishing that has a unique connection to Biltmore and meets the highest craftsmanship and quality standards. We invite you to visit the estate and discover these exclusive items amid their source of inspiration: America’s Largest Home® and its 8,000-acres of Blue Ridge Mountain beauty.

Outdoor furniture in front of Biltmore House
Luxurious outdoor furniture with the magnificent façade of Biltmore House.

Can’t visit right now? Select items are also available for purchase at biltmoreshop.com/gallery.

Feature image: An archival image of the historic Gardener’s Cottage from the Biltmore House collection.

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition by the Numbers

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition ended September 7, 2020. Please enjoy this archived content.

In honor of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition—on display at Biltmore now through September 7, 2020—let’s take a closer look and add up some of the elements of this immersive estate experience.

Costumes from Downton Abbey
Showcased at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village

58 costumes on display

This tally includes 53 costumes from the television series—plus 5 costumes from the recent feature film. Notable pieces: both of Lady Mary’s wedding gowns and both of Lady Edith’s wedding gowns.

44 ½ minutes of video from 16 segments

Video segments and compilations are played throughout the exhibition itself, including a 5-minute introduction film as well as a 6-minute farewell film.

Guests at exhibition
Take a deeper dive into Downton Abbey

35 display drawers and glass cases

The interactive display drawers and showcases feature a variety of props from the series—from books, letters, and postcards to gloves, necklaces, and tiaras.

The Crawleys' Dining Room
Marvel at the Crawleys’ Dining Room

6 of the series’ most recognizable sets

Get a remarkably up-close look at Mrs. Patmore’s Kitchen, the Crawleys’ Dining Room, Lady Mary’s Bedroom, the Servants’ Stairs & Hallway, the Servant’s Dining Room, and Mr. Carson’s Pantry.

Downton Abbey characters
Rediscover your favorite characters

21 characters highlighted

These profiles are largely featured in the exhibition’s “Great Hall of Character Stories”—an interactive hallway where you can get better acquainted with those associated with Downton Abbey.

22 days of installation

While plans to bring this exhibition to Biltmore began long before, it took the better part of a month to prepare the infrastructure and physically install the exhibition in its entirety.

Exterior of Amherst at Deerpark
Exterior of Amherst at Deerpark

10,860 square feet spanning 2 estate locations

Multimedia presentations in the ballroom of Amherst at Deerpark (8,260 square feet) combined with costume displays at The Biltmore Legacy (2,600 square feet) make for one not-to-be-missed experience.

Plan your visit today and join us for Downton Abbey: The Exhibition.

Who Runs the House: Differences in Domestic Service

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition ended September 7, 2020. Please enjoy this archived content.

In honor of Biltmore playing host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, we’ve recognized some of the similarities—and differences—between these two great houses.

Now, let’s take a deeper dive into one of the primary differences in how American and English households of the era were managed. It all boils down to one simple question: Who runs the house?

Sketch of Biltmore House
Archival sketch of Biltmore House façade, drafted prior to construction, does not include the glass-roofed Winter Garden that was added as plans were finalized

George Vanderbilt’s vision for Biltmore was heavily influenced by the model of similar English estates, much like Downton Abbey; however, the American interpretation of this system had its differences to the British one.

Though they often hired British staff to manage Biltmore House, in the United States it was the standard for the head housekeeper to be in charge over the staff, rather than the butler.

Downton Abbey Bell Board
Bell Board from below stairs in Downton Abbey, as seen in our newest exhibition

At Downton Abbey, it’d be hard to imagine Mr. Carson, the butler, serving beneath Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper—though she certainly illustrated that she was more than capable of influencing him.

At Biltmore, head housekeeper Emily Rand King, affectionately known as Mrs. King although she was unmarried, ran almost everything downstairs at Biltmore just as Mr. Carson does at Downton Abbey.

Biltmore House Call Box
Detail of Call Box in the Butler’s Pantry in Biltmore House

“Mrs. King was the boss,” said Winnie Titchener-Coyle, associate archivist. “That’s one of the differences—in the U.S., women could have that high-level managerial role.”

While Mrs. King didn’t oversee the butler’s work per se, she certainly had more responsibilities than that of a head housekeeper in a British household—Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Hughes, for instance.

“Mrs. King administered salaries and had to have her own budget,” Winnie said. “She supervised staff, and she managed household supplies and linens, cleaning supplies and tools.”

Biltmore House Butler's Pantry
The Butler’s Pantry, as seen on The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour

Plan your visit for now through September 7, 2020, to discover Downton Abbey: The Exhibition—on display at both Amherst at Deerpark and The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village.

We invite you to learn more about the staff of Biltmore House—as well as the staff of Downton Abbey—with our new Through the Servants’ Eyes Tour during your next visit to Biltmore.

Feature image: Servants’ Hall in Biltmore House, where staff could relax and socialize when not on duty

Top 5 Downton Abbey-Related Activities at Biltmore

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition ended September 7, 2020. Please enjoy this archived content.

From November 8, 2019 through April 7, 2020, Biltmore is hosting Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, an immersive, must-see event that pays homage to the show.

The multimedia display in Amherst at Deerpark includes holograms, video, and life-size imagery—plus some of the series’ most recognizable sets, including Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen and the gossip-fueled servants’ quarters.

The estate has a variety of additional offerings that connect to the exhibition. Here are our top 5 picks:

Costumes from Downton Abbey on display
The limited-time exhibition continues in Antler Hill Village with costumes on display at The Biltmore Legacy.

5. Costumes at The Biltmore Legacy

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition itself extends to The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village where more than 50 official costumes from the series’ six-season run—worn by actors such as Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, and Dame Maggie Smith—will be on display.

Lush summer blooms in the Walled Garden at Biltmore
Stroll through lush late summer blooms in the Walled Garden

4. Stroll Through Stunning Gardens

In one episode of the series, Lord and Lady Grantham had the delightful task of presiding over the annual village flower show. While visiting Biltmore, be sure to stroll through our four-acre English-style Walled Garden filled with roses and a glorious mix of summer annuals and perennials, exotic grasses, and more–and don’t miss the glass-roofed Conservatory that houses hundreds of tropical specimens.

Tea sets
Our charming estate shops offer a wide range of Downton Abbey-inspired items, including a variety of lovely tea sets.

3. Downton Abbey-Inspired Products

For a limited-time, shops throughout the estate are offering a variety of Downton-inspired items. Browse fashions such as fascinators, jewelry, scarves, hat pins, and more—inspired by the styles worn by characters in the show. Tea sets, books, and additional accessories relating to the era are also available.

Biltmore Sub-Basement
Our newest tour takes you into rarely seen areas of Biltmore House, such as fascinating parts of the Sub-Basement.

2. The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour

Developed exclusively to coincide with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour is a brand new behind-the-scenes tour. Hear the fascinating stories of those who worked and lived on the estate while visiting rarely seen servants’ areas including the Butler’s Pantry and beyond.

The Inn and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate
With so much to see and do at Biltmore during your getaway, stay overnight at The Inn (above), Village Hotel (below), or one of our private historic cottages to ensure you have time to experience it all.

1. Stay Overnight to Make the Most of Your Visit

Both The Inn on Biltmore Estate® and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate® offer an exciting opportunity to stay overnight on the property, ensuring you have time to see and do it all. Take your time while enjoying Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, and take in all the glorious costumes from the series on display at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village.

Comparing Biltmore House to Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition ended September 7, 2020. Please enjoy this archived content.

Did you know everyday life in Biltmore House bore striking resemblance to fictional life at Downton Abbey? In honor of Biltmore playing host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, let’s take a look at some of the similarities—and differences—between these two grand homes.

Archival image of estate workers during harvest season at Biltmore, ca. 1900

A Working Estate

The greatest overarching parallel between Downton Abbey and Biltmore is the idea of both as working estates overseen by one man and his family. While Downton Abbey is set in England, George Vanderbilt’s vision for Biltmore was heavily influenced by the model of similar English estates. There were numerous tenant families working the land, and the Vanderbilts grew to know each of these families closely over the years.

Servants' Hall in Biltmore House
The Servants’ Hall in Biltmore House, where staff could relax and socialize

Household Staff

Within the houses, the standards of domestic service were much the same between the Crawleys and the Vanderbilts. While there were some differences in the ways American and English households were managed, the housekeeper played a major role. At Biltmore, this role was primarily filled by Mrs. King; for Downton Abbey, it’s Mrs. Hughes—both known for their massive house key rings and calm demeanors.

Detail of electrical switchboard in the sub-basement of Biltmore House

Technological Advancements

Though numerous characters within the Downton Abbey household, both above stairs and below, expressed concerns about advancements in technology, they were widely embraced at Biltmore. Even in 1895, Biltmore House was constructed with many of these in mind: telephones, elevators, forced heating, mechanical refrigeration, an electric servant call bell system, electric lighting, and more. 

Restoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore House
Restoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore House

Preserving the Home

One of the primary themes in Downton Abbey is the importance Lord Grantham and his family place on preserving and maintaining their home for succeeding generations. This has also been a prime concern at Biltmore for George Vanderbilt’s descendants. Today, the estate is owned and overseen by the fourth and fifth generations of the family.

Join us November 8, 2019 through April 7, 2020 to experience Downton Abbey like never before—amid George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate—with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore.

Feature image: Biltmore House, ca. 1910

Keeping Track of Biltmore Gardens Railway

Twice a year, Biltmore’s Conservatory is home to Biltmore Gardens Railway, an elaborate G-scale railway with locomotives and rail cars weaving through the historic greenhouse’s exotic botanicals and miniature replicas of estate landmarks – even one of the Conservatory itself! A second railway display is located in Antler Hill Village where trains travel past replicas of the Eiffel Tower, London’s Tower Bridge, and other European landmarks visited by George Vanderbilt during his world travels. 

Working from original floor plans, drawings with elevations, and photographs of Biltmore House and other estate structures, a team with Applied Imagination constructed the Biltmore replicas using natural materials they gathered from estate grounds. The result is a stunningly accurate version of Biltmore. 

Scale model replica of Biltmore House inside Conservatory.

Some fun facts and figures to consider about Biltmore Gardens Railway: 

“Luxuriant” bamboo, as Frederick Law Olmsted called it when planning George Vanderbilt’s gardens and grounds, was harvested and used as the roofing material on the Biltmore House replica. Grapevine was also collected and fashioned into Biltmore’s iconic gargoyles. 

1,700 – The number of hours it took to construct the 10-foot-long replica of Biltmore House, compared to… the 6 years it took to build the 250-room Biltmore House in the late 1800s.

6 – The number of artists it took to build the scale model of Biltmore House, compared to… the 1,000 workers it took to build Biltmore House in the late 1800s.

5,000 – The number of tons of Indiana limestone used to build Biltmore House in the late 1800s, compared to… the 25 types of items harvested from estate grounds to create replicas of Biltmore House and other buildings. This included horse chestnut, magnolia leaves, hickory nuts, lotus pods, bamboo, pine cone scales, acorn caps, winged bean, star anise, grapevine, honeysuckle, ash bark, oak bark, pine bark, elm bark, hickory bark, eucalyptus leaves, day lily stem, rose of sharon, cedar branch, walnuts, stewartia, wisteria, turkey tail fungus, and contorted Filbert.

Artists from Applied Imagination suited up in waders to snip a few treasures from the Italian Garden pools. The lotus pods growing there were just too perfect to pass up, and ended up in the creation of the Stables. 

Woman gathering seed pods from the Italian Garden pool.

6 – The number of separate railroad tracks running through the Conservatory carrying locomotives and rail cars around the buildings. The trains cross bridges and trestles on varied levels and through multiple rooms.  

8 – The number of estate building replicas in the Conservatory. 

7 – The number of artists it took to create all of the replicas in the Conservatory.

3,745 –The number of combined hours it took to construct eight estate building replicas for the Conservatory exhibition.

Overhead trellis carries scale model train through the Conservatory.

8 – The number of buildings in the display at Antler Hill Village. 

1,050 – Amount of railroad track in feet required for the displays.

1 – Amount of weeks to install Biltmore Gardens Railway at two locations on the estate.

Biltmore Gardens Railway is a wonderful, fun-for-all-ages feature at Biltmore this summer. Plan your visit now

Biltmore Gardens Railway: A Fun-For-All-Ages Experience

In the summer of 2019, Biltmore Gardens Railway brought large-scale model railroads and handmade buildings connected with Biltmore and its founder George Vanderbilt to two locations on the estate—the Conservatory and Antler Hill Village.

The exhibition featured replica structures fashioned from all-natural materials, largely collected from the estate, to offer a one-of-a-kind, fun-for-all-ages experience.

Enjoy a special look at the structures and stories that inspired Biltmore Gardens Railway.  ​

Conservatory Display: Structures from the estate and surrounding area

Photograph of Biltmore House from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1910

Biltmore House with Fountain & Rampe Douce
Completed in 1895, Biltmore House was a collaborative effort between George Vanderbilt and architect Richard Morris Hunt. It took six years to construct America’s Largest Home®. The 250-room French Renaissance chateau contains more than four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.

Photograph of the Stable Complex construction from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1894

Stable Complex
An important part of a turn-of-the-century country home, the stables housed the Vanderbilts’ 30–40 driving and riding horses. Correspondence in Biltmore’s Archives indicates that George Vanderbilt made every effort to procure the best horses possible for the estate. Original horses’ names included Ida, Pamlico, and Maud.

Photograph of the Conservatory from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1910

​Conservatory
This grand structure was built to provide flowers and plants for Biltmore House year-round—a role it continues to fulfill today. Carefully placed at the lower end of the Wall Garden so as not to obstruct the view from Biltmore House, the Conservatory includes a Palm House and an Orchid House and spans more than 7,000 square feet.

Photograph of All Souls’ Church from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1906

All Souls’ Church
Commissioned by George Vanderbilt, All Souls’ Church was the anchor—architecturally, spiritually, and socially—of nearby Biltmore Village. The church as well as the rest of the buildings in the village were the result of a collaboration between Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Photograph of the Biltmore Passenger Station from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1899

Biltmore Passenger Station*
The Passenger Station in Biltmore Village was the first stop for many of the Vanderbilts’ guests when they arrived in Western North Carolina on their way to the estate. Family and friends were met there by the Vanderbilts’ carriage or car and brought up the breathtaking three-mile Approach Road to Biltmore House.

Photograph of deer at the Bass Pond Waterfall from the Biltmore collection, ca. 1950

Bass Pond Waterfall
Designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the Bass Pond was created by greatly enlarging an old creek-fed millpond. In order to keep the pond free of sediment and debris caused by heavy rains, Olmsted engineered an ingenious flume system to divert debris and storm water through a conduit laid on the lake bed.

Photograph of The Gardener’s Cottage from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1892

The Gardener’s Cottage
One of the first buildings completed on the estate, the Gardener’s Cottage served as the residence of Biltmore’s first head gardener. The one-and-a-half story stone cottage was originally occupied Mr. Robert Bottomley, who was the estate’s head gardener until November 1903.

Photograph of the Lodge Gate from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1900

Lodge Gate
Located at the entrance to the estate from Biltmore Village, the Lodge Gate provided round-the-clock security by means of a resident gatekeeper. Other entrances to Biltmore also had gatehouses and gatekeepers, though the Lodge Gate was considered the main entrance to George Vanderbilt’s grand estate.

Antler Hill Village Display: Landmarks from George Vanderbilt’s travels

Photograph of Pisgah National Forest Entry Gate, ca. 1916-1936

Pisgah National Forest Entry Gate – Transylvania County, North Carolina
Just before George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, he was involved in negotiations to sell a large portion of his estate to the federal government in hopes that it would become a forest preserve. His wife Edith later completed this undertaking, selling 87,000 acres of the estate to establish the core of what later became Pisgah National Forest.

Photograph of Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, ca. 2009

Vanderbilt Mansion – Hyde Park, New York
George Vanderbilt’s brother Frederick Vanderbilt and his wife Louise created a seasonal home in Hyde Park, NY. The house was inspired by a classical Palladian villa and was surrounded by formal and informal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who later served as the landscape architect for Biltmore.

Photograph of a Dutch windmill taken by George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A. V. Cecil, ca. 1950

Windmill & Three Classic Canal House Façades – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The Vanderbilt family line originated in Holland in the village of De Bilt, not far from Amsterdam. The Vanderbilts’ ancestors immigrated to the Dutch colony of New Netherland around 1650, eventually settling near present-day Staten Island, New York. George Vanderbilt visited his family’s homeland in 1897.

Photograph of the Eiffel Tower from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1890

Eiffel Tower – Paris, France
This Paris landmark was already an icon when George and Edith Vanderbilt were married on June 1, 1898 in a civil ceremony after a whirlwind courtship abroad. An understated religious ceremony was held the following day at the American Church of the Holy Trinity, attended only by family and close friends.

Photograph of the Arc de Triomphe from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1885

Arc De Triomphe – Paris, France
After the Vanderbilt’s Parisian marriage ceremony, the wedding party attended a breakfast at the apartment Edith shared with her sisters on Rue Vernet, just an avenue away from the iconic Arc de Triomphe. Edith’s sister Natalie provided two bottles of champagne that their maternal grandfather had set aside at Edith’s birth to be served on her wedding day.

Colorized photograph of Tower Bridge, ca. 1900

Tower Bridge – London, England
In June 1897, George Vanderbilt rented an apartment on London’s Pall Mall to witness the celebration surrounding Queen Victoria’s 60-year reign. Among his guests viewing the festivities from the balcony was his future bride, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, likely marking the beginning of their romance.

Engraving of the USS Vanderbilt, ca. 1862

USS Vanderbilt – Transatlantic Service
Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt’s grandfather and founder of the family fortune, commissioned a steamship in 1856 dubbed the Vanderbilt, once hailed as “the largest vessel that has ever floated on the Atlantic Ocean.”

*Feature image: Recreation of Biltmore Passenger Station; this structure is on display in both the Conservatory and Antler Hill Village.

Behind the Scenes: Sustainability in Our Winemaking Process

In honor of our upcoming harvest season, let’s take a look behind the scenes to understand sustainability in our winemaking at Biltmore.

Fall marks the beginning of our winemaking process. During the seasonal harvest, our grapes are hand-picked in the vineyard and brought to the Winery, where their stems are removed.

Harvesting grapes in Biltmore's vineyard on the west side of the estate
Grapes are picked by hand in Biltmore’s vineyard on the west side of the estate

The grapes are then crushed and put in tanks to ferment. Afterwards, our wines are moved into barrels or other tanks to age. Some varieties need six months for aging, while other need up to two years. Finally, our wines are blended, bottled, and sealed.

The process is a delicate balance of art and science. And if you take a glimpse behind the scenes, you’ll find that our efforts are geared towards more than just crafting award-winning wines. We also strive for environmental stewardship and sustainability in winemaking, every step of the way.

Composting grapes

We combine all remaining parts of the grapes—skins, seeds, and even the woody stems—with recycled plants and other organic matter at our large compost site. About once a year, after being turned regularly, the finished compost is used as fertilizer in our gardens as well as our field crops, which serve as food plots for wildlife on the estate.

Repurposing barrels

Wine barrels in Biltmore's Barrel Room

Once our Winery can no longer use its wine barrels, made of French, American, and Hungarian oak blends, they are repurposed across the estate in a variety of ways.

For instance, many wine barrels end up at A Gardener’s Place shop to be used as decorative holders for estate-grown plants. Some barrels are used to create rustic-style bars for outdoor Winery events, while others find their way into Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate and The Kitchen Café to be used as towel containers and trash cans.    

“Almost all of the businesses on the property have repurposed a barrel at one time or another,” says Biltmore winemaker Sharon Fenchak.

Recycling corks

Cork recycling barrel for sustainability in winemaking
A wine barrel repurposed for recycling corks

In addition to recycling the usual materials—cardboard, plastic, glass, paper, and steel—the Winery recycles wine corks.

Natural corks, as opposed to screw caps and synthetic corks, are the most sustainable wine closure on the market

Cork is a renewable and biodegradable material harvested through an environmentally friendly process. We have partnered with Cork Forest Conservation Alliance through their Cork ReHarvest program to help educate the public on the importance of using and recycling natural corks.

Cork recycling locations include:

  • Gate House Gift Shop, located at the main entrance of Biltmore
  • Biltmore Winery
  • Estate restaurants

You can also mail used corks to:

Biltmore Estate Wine Company
Re: Cork Recycling
1 North Pack Square
Asheville, NC 28801


Recreating a Masterpiece: Edith’s Boucheron Brooch

To create A Vanderbilt House Party, our Museum Services team worked with designer John Bright and his team at Cosprop, London, to recreate clothing worn by the Vanderbilts, including George and Edith’s ensembles from their engagement portraits.

In addition to Edith’s striking blue velvet gown, there is another vital piece that completes her look in the archival photo: the diamond and ruby brooch George gave to her as an engagement gift. Our team decided that the elaborate piece simply had to be recreated in order to truly capture Edith’s look in the portrait.

Place Vendôme in Paris, site of the Boucheron flagship store, ca. 1890–1900

Place Vendôme in Paris, site of the Boucheron flagship store, ca. 1890–1900

First Things First

The first step for our team was to determine the jeweler that crafted the original brooch, which was part of a set that also included a choker necklace and tiara. One of our curators had a hunch that the piece resembled the work of Boucheron, a high-end French jewelry house established in 1858.

Boucheron’s company archivist was able to confirm that they indeed had a receipt of George Vanderbilt having purchased the set on May 7, 1898—just after his and Edith’s April engagement and prior to their June wedding.

Luckily, Boucheron was also able to share with us the original 1898 photo of brooch from their archives, which turned out to be an incredibly helpful reference in the recreation of the piece.

Place Vendôme in Paris, site of the Boucheron flagship store, ca. 1890–1900

Left: Edith Vanderbilt’s engagement portrait, 1898; Right: archival catalog photo of the original brooch (Courtesy of Boucheron Heritage Department)

A Master Artisan

John Bright and the Cosprop team recommended artisan Martin Adams for the job. Martin specializes in making jewelry and jewelry-related props, including crowns, tiaras, regalia, and the like.

In his 43 years of prop-making, Martin has worked on countless notable movie, television, and theater productions, including Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Titanic, The Crown, Downton Abbey, Hamilton, and the list truly just goes on and on.

Given the high demand and prestige of Martin’s work, our team considered themselves fortunate that he undertook the brooch recreation project—and that he gave it such time.

Early sketch of the recreated brooch’s frame (Courtesy of Martin Adams)

Early sketch of the recreated brooch’s frame (Courtesy of Martin Adams)

The Recreation Begins

We supplied him with Boucheron’s archival photo of the brooch, which captured its fine details, as well as our photos of Edith wearing it, which showed the brooch from various angles, displaying its depth.

But in order to determine the actual size of the piece, the Cosprop team made photographic cut-outs of the brooch in various scales—under Martin’s direction—to see which size appeared to be most accurate against the backdrop of Edith’s gown as it, too, was being recreated.

Comparing the archival photo of the original with an early trial stage of construction (Courtesy of Martin Adams)

Comparing the archival photo of the original with an early trial stage of construction (Courtesy of Martin Adams)

Martin then set to work on the frame of the piece, which he pierced from flat sheet copper. He filed the copper to give it steeply sloping sides, which gives the appearance of being delicate, while still maintaining its strength. The whole frame was them gently hammered over a dome-shaped block to give the brooch the correct dimension and depth.

Struggles with Stones

With the exception of two stones, all of the diamonds in the original brooch were boat-shaped stones, known as a marquise or navette cut. Martin estimated that the piece’s 46 diamonds were in five different sizes—from 6mm long (just under a quarter of an inch) to 14mm long (a bit more than half an inch).

He chose to use cubic zirconia which, particularly for a piece that will be viewed closely, would provide a much better representation of diamonds than would foil-backed stones, which are commonly found in costume jewelry.

Both the largest and smallest stone-mounts used in the recreation (Courtesy of Martin Adams)

Both the largest and smallest stone-mounts used in the recreation (Courtesy of Martin Adams)

As for the rubies, Martin obtained samples of the richest red stones available, including red cubic zirconia, synthetic rubies, and red paste stones—but none of them had deep enough color. He finally found just enough rich red Swarovski stones in the four main sizes he needed.

However, Martin had to settle for using a synthetic ruby as the massive cushion-shaped stone in the center. Although to the trained eye the stone may appear a slightly lighter shade than the rest, he simply could not find a better alternative to fit the size.

Comparing the accuracy of the custom-made mounts (left) with pre-made mounts (right) (Courtesy of Martin Adams)

Comparing the accuracy of the custom-made mounts (left) with pre-made mounts (right) (Courtesy of Martin Adams)

And Struggles with Stone-Mounts

After a few failed attempts using ready-made stone-mounts, Martin realized he needed to make the mounts from scratch in order for the piece to be as authentic as possible.

This required him to make 10 different mount models—the main body of the brooch consists of five different stone-mount sizes, there are four different joint mounts, and one mount just for the central stone. He used the models to make molds, from which he then cast each of the mounts.

Martin’s final challenge was to grind down and polish the 14 “diamond” wafers for the pendant sections, as nothing like this was available to buy.

He then set all of the stones in their mounts individually. And after upwards of 200 hours of work, the brooch was complete.

the recreated brooch

The completed recreation of Edith Vanderbilt’s Boucheron brooch

The Finished Piece

“This turned out to be one of the most complicated and time-greedy jobs I have ever done,” said Martin. “It has also been one of the most rewarding.”

From start to finish, the entire process took nearly 8 months and the final result is nothing short of stunning. Having a recreation of this quality allows us to tell more of the Vanderbilts’ romance and courtship story through a tangible, exceptionally beautiful object.

We are overjoyed that it is now part of Biltmore’s permanent collection. The brooch is on display in the Tapestry Gallery of Biltmore House now through May 27 as part of our A Vanderbilt House Party exhibition.

Meet the Staff: A Look at Servant Life at Biltmore

In addition to boasting the latest and greatest in technology, Biltmore required an exceptional team of domestic staff to ensure the house operated like a well-oiled machine.

In the days when George, Edith, and Cornelia Vanderbilt resided at Biltmore, they employed up to 40 staff members who each played a crucial role in the day-to-day operations of the house and stable. With large house parties of guests coming and going throughout the year, Biltmore functioned more like a luxury hotel than it did a house. As soon as guests arrived on the estate, the domestic staff made sure that each and every one of their needs were met.

George Vanderbilt not only provided room, board and uniforms to his staff, but he also compensated his employees with New York wages, a substantially higher rate than the Asheville standard. Staff wages could be up to $2 for higher ranking staff, which is substantial given that a week of room and board typically cost $2.50.

Demographically speaking, the domestic staff was majority female. While many of the servants were native North Carolinians, there were also a number of employees from around the globe including an English Head Housekeeper, a French cook, a Swedish laundress, and an Irish Butler.

The domestic staff members were classified into two groups: upper and lower staff. The higher the ranking, the more defined the responsibilities of their role. While each member of the staff provided invaluable service to the Vanderbilts, there were a few upper roles that maintained the standard of service and hospitality Biltmore is renowned for.

The wardrobe of Biltmore’s Head Housekeeper was recreated for the exhibition A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age (which was on display February 8, 2019, through May 27, 2019). The detailed recreation included a chatelaine (an accessory used to carry keys) the Head Housekeeper would wear at all times. 

HEAD HOUSEKEEPER

  • At Biltmore, the Head Housekeeper was among the highest-ranking staff members, and the chief female servant. She reported directly to Edith Vanderbilt at Biltmore.
  • Whether she was single or married, the Head Housekeeper was always addressed as “Mrs.” out of respect.
  • The Head Housekeeper supervised all lower-ranking female staff, with the exception of the Chef’s kitchen staff.
  • She oversaw the cleaning of the house, household inventory, and held keys to the storerooms, pantries, china closet and still room.
  • The Head Housekeeper typically dressed in a black dress.
  • Read more about Emily King, one of Biltmore’s first housekeepers.

BUTLER

  • As the highest-ranking male staff member in Biltmore, the Butler was responsible for all lower-ranking manservants.
  • His primary responsibility was to ensure that Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt and their guests were seamlessly served three meals daily, as well as afternoon tea.
  • The Butler was also tasked with maintaining  the family china, crystal, and silver (which was stored in the aptly named Butler’s Pantry)
  • Other duties of the Butler: creating floral arrangements; overseeing the storage, decanting, and serving of wine; maintaining the clocks; greeting guests upon arrival; and assisting with the departures and return of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt, as well as their guests.
  • The Butler’s livery was formal and often included a coat with tails and multiple monogrammed buttons.

An archival photograph of Edith Vanderbilt’s Lady’s Maid Martha Laube. Photograph courtesy of A. Babette Schmid Schmaus.

LADY’S MAID

  • The Lady’s Maid served as a personal companion to Edith and/or Cornelia Vanderbilt.
  • The Lady’s Maid traveled with her mistress and managed her correspondence, and she was also responsible for dressing her mistress and combing her hair.
  • The lady’s maid was also expected to be quite skilled at sewing, as her responsibilities included mending and packing Mrs. Vanderbilt and Cornelia’s clothing.
  • Instead of a uniform, the Lady’s Maid wore dresses gifted or no longer worn by her mistress, which was regarded as a privilege.
  • The lady’s maid was referred to by her last name.

VALET

  • The valet was one of the older and more experienced members of the male staff (typically in his 30s) who reported directly to George Vanderbilt.
  • The valet traveled with George Vanderbilt and attended social functions and events with him.
  • His responsibilities included making travel arrangements for George Vanderbilt. (Mr. Vanderbilt would travel first class, while his valet traveled in second.)
  • The valet would be familiar with foreign languages, and be an expert of fishing and hunting to assist Mr. Vanderbilt.
  • He did not wear a uniform and, like the lady’s maid, he was addressed by his last name.
  • Read more about George Vanderbilt’s personal valet here.

For a more in-depth look at servant life at Biltmore, guests can enjoy the Through the Servants‘ Eyes Tour.