Dinner with the Vanderbilts: 5 Fast Facts

To be invited to dinner with the Vanderbilts was to experience an elaborate, ceremonious affair. Amid their evening parties and celebrations, dinner in the Banquet Hall was often the highlight of a stay at Biltmore.

Let’s take a look at a few things to note as a guest at the Vanderbilts’ table around the turn of the century.

Monogramed linens
Even the dining linens used at Biltmore House were of the highest quality available.

5. Linens

Every detail of the Vanderbilt dining experience was of the highest quality—even down to the linens. An early inventory in Biltmore’s archives notes 1,139 linen napkins and 111 linen tablecloths in the collection. All of the linens were handmade and most were monogrammed by the famous needleworker Madame Dufoir in Paris, France.

Archival seating chart
Archival seating chart dated Saturday, November 26, 1898

4. Seating

Dinner customs of the era required seating assignments for formal meals. These assignments were often identified using name cards at each place setting and it was not uncommon for seating records to be kept. Edith Vanderbilt kept such records. Above is a seating diagram she created for a large dinner with the Vanderbilts just before the turn of the century.

dinner place setting
Extravagant meals required equally extravagant place settings.

3. Place Settings

Whether for grand banquets or intimate family meals, the Vanderbilts’ head butler and his staff spared no finery in setting the Banquet Hall table. Spread with more than 40 pieces of delicate porcelain, exquisite silver, and sparkling crystal per guest, the table attested to the grandeur of America’s Gilded Age.

dinner attire recreations
Dining attire recreations based off images from our archives

2. Attire

Dinner with the Vanderbilts was an elaborate and ceremonious affair—and as such, the event required some of the most extravagant attire of the era. Women’s dresses were made of luxurious silks and satins, adorned with their finest jewels. Men wore white tie, which is more formal than a modern tuxedo, and of course, everything had to be spotless.

Archival Biltmore House menu book
Archival menu book dated Saturday, November 12, 1904

1. The Dinner Itself

Often the highlight of a stay at Biltmore, dinner featured between six and ten courses, including soup, fish, entrée, roast or relevé, game and salad, dessert, and coffee to aid digestion. Meals included a combination of store-bought delicacies and the home-grown bounty of estate farms. Dinner also featured as many as five different wine pairings—illustrating George Vanderbilt’s interest in fine wines.

Learn More about Dinner with the Vanderbilts

Like many events at Biltmore, dinner with the Vanderbilts was an experience in and of itself. We invite you to learn more about Biltmore House during the Vanderbilts’ era with our behind-the-scenes tours.

New Partnership: Biltmore and Balsam Hill®

When a distinctive brand such as Biltmore® discovers a like-minded business that expresses the same values, including a deep belief in quality, craftsmanship, and thoughtful design, the two companies have a wonderful opportunity to create something special together.

Biltmore is delighted to announce our new partnership with Balsam Hill®, a company committed to creating the best artificial Christmas trees and holiday décor on the market.

Now you can bring Biltmore holiday magic into your home with our Biltmore Collection by Balsam Hill.

Biltmore Balsam Hill Christmas Stockings

Our Biltmore Gilded Stockings embroidered with beads and faux pearls add extra sparkle to your holiday mantel display.

Creating Balsam Hill

Balsam Hill founder Thomas Harman began the business because of a family member who was allergic to live trees but still wanted to create a festive atmosphere at home during the holidays.

When Thomas’ search for a lifelike artificial Christmas tree came up empty-handed, Balsam Hill’s mission to develop the most realistic and beautiful artificial trees was born.

To accomplish this goal, Balsam Hill designers use site visits and live cuttings as guides to carefully craft trees that mimic nature.

Biltmore Balsam Hill Christmas Ornaments

The Biltmore Legacy Ornament Set features Christmas balls, jumbo ornaments, and finials intricately hand painted with golden details. Ornaments shown with Biltmore Gilded Ribbon.

The Biltmore Collection

In addition to stunningly realistic Christmas trees, Balsam Hill also creates dazzling seasonal décor—and their Biltmore Collection required a site visit as well.

The company’s designers visited the estate last year during Christmas at Biltmore for inspiration from in and around America’s Largest Home® adorned for the holiday season.

The team also collaborated with Lizzie Borchers, Biltmore’s Floral Displays Manager, to ensure that the colors, quality, and overall feel of the collection were authentic to Biltmore.

Biltmore Balsam Hill Christmas Tree

Lizzie Borchers, Biltmore Floral Displays Manager, with Balsam Hill décor in the Music Room of Biltmore House

Decking the Halls

This holiday season, the new Biltmore Collection by Balsam Hill is on display in the Music Room of Biltmore House as well as in the guest suites of The Inn on Biltmore Estate™. These elegant products are available for purchase online and at The Marble Lion shop at The Inn.

Feature image: The Biltmore Spruce with hand-strung LED lights; Legacy Wreath and Legacy Garland are pre-lit with LED lights and decorated with gilded leaves, sprays, and shatter resistant ornaments.

Limestone in the Limelight: The Façade of Biltmore House

Chihuly At Biltmore Was On Display From May 17 To October 7, 2018.
Please Enjoy This Archived Content.
 

Now through October 7, Biltmore’s Gardens are transformed by the dramatic artworks that compose Chihuly at Biltmore. Installations can be found in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House as well as the Italian Garden, the Walled Garden, and beyond.

But one of the installations—Sky Blue and Cobalt Fiori—is set on the East Terrace of Biltmore House. Let’s take a look at this piece’s perfect backdrop: the magnificent limestone façade of America’s Largest Home®.

Sky Blue and Cobalt Fiori by artist Dale ChihulySky Blue and Cobalt Fiori by artist Dale Chihuly on the East Terrace

Hallowell Quarry

In selecting the materials used to construct Biltmore House, George Vanderbilt and architect Richard Morris Hunt wanted nothing less than the best available.

While the underlying walls are of the house are brick, the overlay is limestone from the Hallowell Quarry in Indiana. At the time, Hallowell, which also sourced the stone used to construct Chicago’s City Hall in 1885, was the richest quarry in the country.

Workers and steam engine during Biltmore House construction, 1892Workers and steam engine during Biltmore House construction, 1892

Limestone en Route

From February 1891 to February 1892, approximately 287 train cars left Indiana carrying the limestone that would become the façade of Biltmore House.

Once the train cars arrived at the Biltmore Village depot, the stone was transported to the construction site by a narrow-gauge railroad track that was built specifically for that purpose.

The first shipment arrived at the house on March 16, 1891.

Stonemasons' shed during Biltmore House construction, 1892Stonemasons’ shed during Biltmore House construction, 1892

Cut, Carved & Crandalled

The limestone blocks were stored in sheds to protect them from the weather until it was time for them to be cut and carved. To achieve the texture seen on the house today, the blocks were tooled by hand through a process called “crandalling.”

Skilled stonemasons cut shallow grooves into the surface of the stone, resulting in a fine, pebble-like surface. The process results in an elegant-looking limestone that reflects light in a more dramatic manner.

Crandalling detailCrandalling detail surrounding a brass ring on the house exterior

The crandalled limestone blocks were then lifted into place using wooden derricks powered by hand-drive, geared winches. The first block of stone was put in place in the west garden wall on June 8, 1891.

Adding It All Up

Although there’s no exact final count, estimates indicate that when the construction was complete, around 60,000 cubic feet of limestone—weighing about 5,000 tons—had been used in the project.

The surface as it’s seen today reflects the beautiful effects of aging in the elements for more than 120 years.

Feature image: The Front Door of Biltmore House surrounded by limestone detail

Richard Sharp Smith: A Western North Carolina Legacy

Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt collaborated with Richard Sharp Smith to create America’s Largest Home as well as other buildings on the estate and in the surrounding area.

Among others, Smith remained in the Asheville area and contributed their talents to many homes and buildings around the region. Let’s take a look at Smith’s work in the Asheville and Western North Carolina.

After receiving architectural training in England, Richard Sharp Smith came to America in 1882, joining Richard Morris Hunt’s New York office in 1886. A pivotal point in his career came when he was assigned as Biltmore’s supervising architect, responsible for overseeing construction onsite. Following Hunt’s death in August 1895, Smith became Vanderbilt’s lead architect.

All Souls’ Church, designed by Richard Morris Hunt with construction overseen by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. late 1895–early 1896
All Souls’ Church, designed by Richard Morris Hunt with construction overseen by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. late 1895–early 1896

Once this major project was completed, Richard Sharp Smith started his own firm in Asheville, raising a family and becoming one of the area’s most popular architects until his death in 1924. At the time of his passing, the Asheville Citizen said:

“After long years of residence in Asheville, Smith has done more than any other person to beautify the city. He came to Asheville just at a time when he was needed, and was really a pioneer architect in the community…

Smith worked in styles ranging from Arts and Crafts to Tudor to Colonial Revival. And not surprisingly, many of these homes and buildings are reminiscent of Biltmore House and other structures on the estate.

Biltmore Village Post Office, designed by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. 1903
Biltmore Village Post Office, designed by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. 1903

“Two beautiful examples of Richard Sharp Smith’s residential style—the Annie West House at 189 Chestnut Street in Chestnut Hill and the Charles Jordan House at 296 Montford Avenue—include pebbledash stucco, archways, and rooflines, much like his buildings in Biltmore Village,” said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s Curator of Interpretation.

In downtown Asheville, Smith was the architect for the E.W. Grove Office at 324 Charlotte Street, the Elks Home—also known as Hotel Asheville—at 55 Haywood Street, and the Young Men’s Institute on Eagle Street. Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church on Charlotte Street, Grace Episcopal on Merrimon Avenue, and All Souls’ Church in Biltmore Village are also his creations.

Young Men’s Institute in downtown Asheville, designed by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. 1893
Young Men’s Institute in downtown Asheville, designed by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. 1893

Smith’s work is evident throughout Western North Carolina, including homes in Flat Rock and courthouses for Henderson, Jackson, and Madison counties.

“Many of the buildings that define Asheville today were designed by Richard Sharp Smith,” said Leslie. “It’s enjoyable to see these structures and worth taking the time to notice the arches, tile work, pebbledash, and architectural features that relate to Biltmore House.”

George Vanderbilt: A Modern Art Collector

From a young age, George Vanderbilt inherited his father’s passion for admiring and collecting art. While George was inspired by the earlier artists his father admired, he also supported more modern, progressive artists who embraced contemporary themes and new technologies.

Let’s take a look at a few of the pieces in the Biltmore House collection that speak to George Vanderbilt’s love of ground-breaking artists and their work.

1. Ignacio Zuloaga’s “Rosita”
Rosita

On display in the Louis XV Hallway

​Painter Ignacio Zuloaga drew from folklife and long-founded elements of Spanish painting—for instance, Rosita is lounging on a divan draped with a mantón de manila, an integral part of the costume worn by flamenco dancers. However, Zuloaga was also influenced by the philosophy and art of the French symbolists to explore different modes of expressing character and energy and encouraging personal interpretation. In this, the character and energy of Rosita is distinct; she is confident: a model at ease with being an object of beauty.

2. Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Young Algerian Woman” and “Young Boy with an Orange”
Young Algerian Woman

On display in the Breakfast Room

Renoir painted alongside fellow artists Monet and others to create a wholly new style concerned with capturing light, movement, and other optical effects. This Impressionistic approach to handling light, as well as Renoir’s unique style of composition, his use of underlying foundations and free brushwork, and his informal, intimate subject matter were all ground-breaking developments—represented in both Young Algerian Woman (above) and Young Boy with an Orange (feature image).

Fun fact: The Renoir paintings in the Biltmore House collection were likely among the first of his works in America!

3. Maxime Maufra’s “Vue du Port” (“View of the Harbor in Sunset”)
Vue du Port

On display in the Breakfast Room

Frenchman Maxmie Maufra travelled to England as a young man and devoted time to study the Romantic landscapes of Constable and Turner. While their dramatic skies and turbulent seas were impactful, his work clearly shows the influence of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist schools in his handling of light and color.

4. Constantin Emile Meunier’s “Anvers” (“Antwerp”)
Anvers

Not currently on display

Inspired by his travels and exposure to the industrial region of Belgium, Meunier made an important contribution to the development of modern art by elevating the image of the industrial worker, dock worker, and miner to an icon of modernity. While he certainly wasn’t the first to explore the theme of workers and industry, his portrayal of labor and laborers in forthright, heroic fashion was an altogether new approach.

Viva Voce: Biltmore’s Oral History Program

Have you ever wondered how exactly our Museum Services department knows so much about life on the estate during the Vanderbilts’ era? Our Oral History Program helps to fill in the gaps of our archival records with the details of the everyday.

“Many of the documents in our archives are financial or administrative in nature, such as payroll slips and receipts,” explains Winnie Titchener-Coyle, Biltmore’s Associate Archivist. “But not much of what we have sheds light on the daily lives of people who lived and worked on the estate.”

The program allows us to ask specific questions about celebrations, meals, and leisure time. 

“I think one of the most important elements of the program is how it helps to personalize the story of Biltmore,” says Winnie. “It provides social and cultural context that we may not have otherwise.”

Archival Documents stored in Biltmore's Collection
Our Oral History Program helps to fill in the gaps of our archival records.

A Love of Storytelling

Winnie first became intereseted in the practice of oral history while pursuing her master’s degree in library and information science.

“I love the idea of providing opportunity to give voice to those who may not have had the means to tell their story before,” she says.

She was hired at Biltmore in 2012 to oversee our Oral History Program—a mission of our Museum Services department that was initiated in the 1980s.

The initial goal of the program was to tell the stories of servants who worked in Biltmore House. However, as time passes and the generations become further and further removed, stories from George Vanderbilt’s era become scarce.

As a result, the program’s focus has shifted to the mid-1900s, highlighting the stories of estate farmers and dairy workers as well as Vanderbilt descendants.

“The fusion of estate history with family lore is really special,” says Winnie. “I remember one interviewee who passed away shortly after we spoke, but I was able to share our recording with his wife, who can listen to the audio of his voice now. I felt honored to be a part of that.”

Curator's pointing at documents
Many of our archival images are acquired through our Oral History Program.

Documenting Oral Histories

Winnie has conducted about 10 interviews each year since she’s been in her role—those in combination with interviews conducted before she arrived brings the total to about 375.

She and other Museum Services team members begin the interview process by gathering facts about the interviewee, their family, and other people they may have known or worked with.

“I always put together a list of questions, but it’s also helpful to enter an interview without much prior knowledge,” Winnie explains. “If the interviewee knows that you’re familiar with what they’re talking about, they’re less likely to go into detail than if you ask them to explain everything from the beginning as if you don’t know.”

A typical interview session lasts a few hours, and sometimes longer interviews are broken up into a series of sessions on multiple dates.

Most of the research actually takes place after the interview—including collaborating with the interviewee again to ensure correct spellings and identifications for any photographs they shared, and then putting the interview in context with the rest of what we have in archives.

“One of the most rewarding parts of this work is how the memories and stories are able to corroborate each other,” she says, “and getting a sense for how Biltmore was and is such a close-knit community.”

Archival records
We invite you to share your Oral History and become part of the Biltmore story.

Share Your Oral History

While Biltmore is a private, for-profit company, we are vested in local history and family connections, which are also valued parts of the story of the estate.

Winnie, along with other members of our Museum Services team, would like to encourage those with family stories and connections to the estate to share them with us.

Your family’s story could become part of the Biltmore story—a special way to pay homage to preserving this gracious time and place.

If you or one of your loved ones would like to share your stories with our Oral History Program, contact our Museum Services team at museumservices@biltmore.com.

Feature image: Winnie Titchener-Coyle, Associate Archivist

A Tribute to the First Hostess of Biltmore

As the youngest of eight children, George Vanderbilt had a very close relationship with his mother, Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt, who became the first hostess of Biltmore.

After his father’s death in 1885, it was George who took on the task of caring for her, a task that played a significant role in the selection of Asheville as the location for Biltmore.

But before we delve into that, let’s take a look at a few pieces from our archives and collection that highlight their special mother-son bond.

The Elm Island Series

Photo of George Vanderbilt in 1873
Photograph of George Vanderbilt in 1873, two years after receiving The Elm Island Series from his mother

For George’s ninth birthday, his mother gave him three volumes from Reverend Elijah Kellogg, Jr.’s Elm Island Series and within each, she inscribed “George from Mama Nov. 14th 1871.” 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 that challenge their resolve to be upstanding young men, all while they navigate the treacherous waters of the West Indies.

Maria Louisa’s thoughtful gift helps to shed light on George’s boyhood interests as well as how deeply she valued and encouraged her children’s moral and intellectual growth.

The gift of a poem

An unsigned, undated poem was found tucked away among some of George’s personal papers. Bound with a ribbon, the three pages were composed in perfect penmanship. Upon reading the poem, it becomes apparent that it was from Maria Louisa, written for the occasion of George’s 21st birthday.

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

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…

Just as his mother urged, George did, in fact, develop a sound moral compass and strong philanthropic sense, qualities that helped establish his original vision for Biltmore.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains

The first hostess of Biltmore: Maria Louisa Kissm Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt party near Biltmore Station; March 1891. Seated (L-R) are Margaret Bromley, Maria Louisa Vanderbilt, Marguerite Shepard, and two unidentified women; unidentified person seated behind Mrs. Vanderbilt. Standing (L-R) are Margaret Shepard, possibly Frederick Vanderbilt, and George Vanderbilt.

In 1887, Maria Louisa visited Asheville with George, now her designated caretaker, amid growing concerns over her health.

While we have no archival documentation stating the exact nature of Maria Louisa’s health problems, we do know that Asheville’s mountain air was promoted as a curative for a variety of ailments.

As a result of their visit, George fell in love with the area’s landscape—as well as its supposed medicinal benefits to aid his dear mother—and he set into motion the process of acquiring land for his country retreat.

Family portraits by Sargent

Painting and mannequin of the first hostess of Biltmore for A Vanderbilt House Party -- The Gilded Age exhibition in 2019
(L – R) Mrs. William Henry Vanderbilt by John Singer Sargent, 1888; mannequin representing Mrs. Vanderbilt with clothing recreated from that portrait for the 2019 A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age exhibition

Around that same time, George commissioned renowned artist John Singer Sargent to paint a portrait of his mother which is displayed in the Tapestry Gallery in Biltmore House, along with Sargent’s 1890 portrait of George himself.

In 1895, Sargent painted Richard Morris Hunt, Biltmore’s architect, and Frederick Law Olmsted, the estate’s landscape architect; both of these works can be seen in the Second Floor Living Hall.

Other Vanderbilt family portraits by Sargent include Mrs. Benjamin Kissam, George’s aunt, and Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon, one of George’s favorite cousins.

Yet it is Sargent’s portrait of Maria Louisa, titled Mrs. William Henry Vanderbilt, that has been referred to as “one of Mr. Sargent’s greatest successes in portraiture.”

The first hostess of Biltmore

Detailed paper wig created for Maria Louisa Vanderbilt's mannequin
Detailed paper wig created for Maria Louisa Vanderbilt’s mannequin as part of our 2019 A Vanderbilt House Party exhibition

Maria Louisa visited Biltmore only three times—once while the house was still under construction—before she passed away. According to the Guest Book, she visited at Christmas 1895 when the house first opened, presiding as hostess, and then again the following May.

After her passing on November 6, 1896, in New York, condolences sent to George came from many, including his dear friend John Singer Sargent, among others.

And though Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt was only able to visit her youngest son’s visionary masterpiece a few times, she is remembered fondly as the first hostess of Biltmore.

Plan your Biltmore visit today

Today’s guests can admire the Sargent portrait of Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt to the left of the door into the Library.

Whether you’re planning a surprise for your own mother or simply looking forward to visiting America’s Largest Home, we invite you to join us soon.

Dressing Downton™ with Biltmore’s Floral Design Team

Dressing Downton™ has ended. Please enjoy this archived content.

When you walk into the Salon during the Dressing Downton™ exhibit, right away you notice the striking purple ensemble—the one worn by Lady Violet Crawley during Season 1 of the PBS Masterpiece series Downton Abbey® in an episode about the village flower show.

It’s no accident that the costume seems perfectly in place in the room, although the reason why may not be immediately obvious. Look around and you’ll see that the exquisite floral arrangements in the room pick up the blues and purples of the dress and hat, and echo the style of Edwardian flower arranging seen in the episode.Edith's bedroom

That’s the work of Biltmore’s Floral team, which not only handles the estate’s arrangement year-round but took on the additional task of enhancing the Downton exhibit with show-stopping flowers.

Cathy Barnhardt, Floral Manager, heads the team comprised of seven full-time and 10 reserve staff. Each week, the designers create the sumptuous displays seen in Biltmore House, taking inspiration from the time period when the Vanderbilts lived here, and the architecture, and the furnishing. During this special exhibition, they also took cues from the exquisite costumes.

In the Tapestry Gallery, the particular orange-red of Lady Mary’s coat is picked up in the simple, graceful arrangement nearby. The fox collar of the coat worn by character Martha Levinson inspired the colors seen in the arrangement in the Claude Room.

Cathy says color is very important to their designs, but it’s not the only consideration. During the Dressing Downton exhibition, overall floral design in the house was influenced by English garden style: loose arrangements, trailing vines, lilies, and peonies.Entry Hall

The scale of Biltmore House requires big thinking: the Banquet Hall ceilings in are 70 feet high, so oversize urns filled with big and bountiful arrangements are placed on top of the dining table. In this room, Lord Grantham’s bright scarlet military “Spencer” jacket inspires “patriotic” themes and arrangements, says Cathy.

In the team’s Basement work room, the walls are lined with period-appropriate vases, urns, and other containers such as French painted porcelains, Creamware, and Chinese blue and white ginger jars and fish bowls to match with the designer’s ideas. To come up with this inventory, Cathy researched Vanderbilt family history, scanned the Sargent paintings, and pored over photos of Newport mansions and English castles to determine what kind of containers would have been used in the house and how the designs would have looked.

rosesFloral designers also take into account what they know about the individual tastes of the Vanderbilts.  “Mrs. Vanderbilt loved roses,” Cathy says, so the team makes use of roses from the gardens while they are blooming in addition to flowers from distributors. Greenery is cut from around the estate and arrangements are switched out on Thursdays and Fridays.

The arrangements and artistry that the Floral team contributes add to the distinction of Biltmore as a family home—which is especially evident with during this exhibition.

“When people lived and celebrated here,” says Cathy, “gardens were very important. Our designers breathe life into Biltmore House.”

See what our designers have created when you visit now through May 26 for the Dressing Downton™ exhibition. 

Photos

Top: The Banquet Hall features Lord and Lady Grantham’s evening wear and dramatic centerpieces..

Top Left: Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom features Lady Mary Crawley’s evening dress and her lady’s maid uniform.

Right: The Entry Hall welcomes guests to the Dressing Downton exhibition.

Bottom Left: Roses beneath a portrait of Edith Vanderbilt in the Tapestry Gallery.

Craftsmen add their expertise to Dressing Downton exhibition

Dressing Downton™ has ended. Please enjoy this archived content.

As you marvel at the costumes in the Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times™ exhibition, take a moment to look at details of the displays in Biltmore House.

What? You haven’t notice the light boxes and display stands for the exhibition labels?

That’s probably because each piece was custom made by Biltmore’s Facility Services and carpentry crews, using their years of experience to craft these items specifically to blend into the beautiful surroundings.

Biltmore is fortunate to have craftsmen of all trades who develop invaluable knowledge of the house’s inner workings and take pride in matching their work to the exquisite level of detail found throughout Biltmore House.

To host the Dressing Downton™ exhibition required display stands for the costume labels, light boxes to house illumination, and bases for the mannequins. All pieces were made from red oak, then stained with a custom hand-mixed blend of two colors to provide the classic look found in the house’s woodwork.Downton costumes illuminated in the Banquet Hall

Because all of the pieces were made in-house by carpenters Benny Reed, Jason Pleva, and Larry Carver, they include special handcrafted elements. The display stands alone contain 11 pieces, with each piece being hand-milled, sanded, stained, and sealed with polyurethane.

The light boxes are adjustable to provide optimum light, and feature additional woodwork to conceal cords. Mannequin bases are designed to make the task of dusting easier for Biltmore’s housekeeping staff, and the feet on the display stands were modified so they could stand flush against the walls in Biltmore House.

But the crew’s work didn’t end with assembling the pieces. They also installed the lights within the light boxes and the display stands.

“We saved the estate money and made the pieces easier to set up and operate,” said Benny Reed, Lead Carpenter.

While the crew usually doesn’t take time to see their creations in use, this time they are pausing long enough to admire their work.

“We usually move straight on from one project to the next, but this time we’re all going to see the exhibition set up in Biltmore House. We’re going to see our project in place and appreciate our accomplishments,” said Bobby Wright, Construction Trades Manager.

Photos

Top and center: Downton costumes illuminated in the Banquet Hall.

Bottom: Members of Biltmore’s Construction Trades team: Bobby Wright, Benny Reed, Larry Carver, Tim Hawkins, Willie Wolfe, Jason Pleva, Brandon Rice, Randy Ownsbey, Dewayne Williams, and Jimmy Davis. Not shown: Vince Helton.

Members of Biltmore's Construction Trades team