Spring is a Special Time to Honor Olmsted

Spring is a special time to honor Frederick Law Olmsted, Biltmore’s landscape designer.

Bench by Biltmore's Bass Pond
A quiet spot near the Bass Pond highlights Olmsted’s landscape design

When designing Biltmore’s historic gardens and grounds, Olmsted knew that spring would set the stage for all the glorious seasons to come.

Today, the meticulously maintained landscape still stand as a timely tribute to Olmsted’s springtime birthday.

Born April 26, 1822, Olmsted is known as “the father of American landscape architecture,” with premiere projects including Central Park in New York City and the grounds of California’s Stanford University.

Olmsted designed this lagoon to reflect Biltmore House
The Lagoon is one of Olmsted’s many landscape designs for Biltmore

“There are many beautiful American parks and landscapes that reflect Olmsted’s genius,” said Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture, “but it’s the design for Biltmore that is considered Olmsted’s masterpiece.”

According to Parker, Olmsted had already worked on several Vanderbilt family projects when George Vanderbilt approached him in 1888 for advice on the North Carolina property he’d already purchased.

“Now I have brought you here to examine it and tell me if I have been doing anything very foolish,” Vanderbilt reportedly told Olmsted.

Olmsted’s frank assessment

Azaleas along the Approach Road in spring
The Approach Road to Biltmore House is lined with azaleas each spring

“Olmsted was frank in his assessment, advising Vanderbilt that the soil seemed to be generally poor, with most of the good trees having been culled already,” Parker said. “He noted that the topography was unsuitable for creating the type of park scenery that characterized the English country estates that Vanderbilt admired.”

Olmsted planned colorful blooms for spring in Biltmore's Shrub Garden
Colorful spring blooms in Biltmore’s Shrub Garden

Plans for both the house and landscape changed in 1889 when Vanderbilt and architect Richard Morris Hunt toured France together and the scale of Biltmore House and its surrounding gardens expanded.

Olmsted wrote that he was nervous, not sure how to “merge stately architectural work with natural or naturalistic landscape work,” but Olmsted biographer Witold Rybczynki says that the landscape architect achieved something completely original at Biltmore: the first combination of French and English landscape designs.

White wisteria blooming in Biltmore's Walled Garden
White wisteria blooming in the Walled Garden

“You can see Olmsted’s creativity and skill in the transitions between Biltmore’s formal and natural gardens, and his use of native plants, small trees and large shrubs, and color and texture year-round,” said Parker. 

Now that Biltmore welcomes 1.7 million guests each year, the historic gardens and grounds must be protected and preserved as carefully as Biltmore House and all other original parts of the estate.

Kids in Biltmore's Azalea Garden
Guests of all ages love discovering Biltmore’s “outdoor rooms” like the Azalea Garden

“In addition to the impact of so many visitors, the landscape has changed and matured over the past century,” said Parker, “and the challenge for today’s landscaping team lies in determining what Olmsted intended.”

Landscaping crew at work in Biltmore's Walled Garden
Landscaping crews at work to carry on Olsted’s vision for Biltmore

“The team uses archival resources such as early plans, original plant lists, letters of correspondence, weekly reports written during the construction of the estate, and information about Olmsted’s design philosophies to help them preserve the landscape style while remaining true to Olmsted’s vision,” Parker noted.

Plan your visit this spring

Prepare to be dazzled as the splendor of spring unfolds across Biltmore’s historic gardens and grounds and thousands of blossoms create a tapestry of color across the estate.

Featured blog image: A couple enjoys a visit to the estate’s historic gardens and grounds

A Sneak Peek at “The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad”

Please enjoy this archived content from 2018

Premiering March 15 at The Biltmore Legacy, The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad details George Vanderbilt’s youth and boyhood travels, his courtship and marriage to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, and the birth of their daughter, Cornelia Vanderbilt.

In addition to family life, stories about their travels and lives on the estate are chronicled, and a variety of rare objects and personal photos from the Biltmore House collection are showcased. In honor of this upcoming exhibit, here’s a sneak peek at some of the items that will be on display:

Louis Vuitton travel trunk, 19001. Louis Vuitton travel trunk

Edith Vanderbilt’s elegant Louis Vuitton travel trunk, ca. 1900, has her initials E.S.V. engraved on the top. This fashionable piece served as her luggage for many of the Vanderbilt’s frequent trips to Europe.

Edith Vanderbilt's No. 4 Panoram Kodak camera Model B, ca. 1900-19032. Edith Vanderbilt’s Personal Cameras

Edith was an avid photographer who chronicled the lives of her family while living at Biltmore and traveling the world. Two of her personal cameras will be on display: her No. 4 Panoram Kodak camera Model B, ca. 1900-1903 (pictured); and her No. 3 Folding Pocket Kodak camera Model G, ca. 1912.

Samurai warrior armor from Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868)3. Samurai Armor

This suit of Samurai warrior armor dates to Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868). Made of iron, lacquer, leather, textiles, and silk, the armor caught the eye of George Vanderbilt during his travels in the Far East.

Japanese daggers from the Meiji period (1868-1912)4. Japanese Daggers

Also souvenirs from George Vanderbilt’s travels in the Far East, these ornate daggers were prized by Western collectors and are exquisite examples of traditional lacquer and metalwork. They are made of steel, lacquer, gold, bronze, and silk from the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Cartier hat pin, 19245. Cartier Hat Pin

In addition to the antique books, tableware, and decorative objects that Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and Honorable John F. A. Cecil received for their 1924 wedding, they also received jewelry, including this Cartier hat pin, made of carved jadeite, sapphire, diamond, and platinum.

Join us for The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad—included in your estate admission—to view these items and other exceptional pieces while learning more about the fascinating family that called Biltmore “home.”

Housekeeping in America’s Largest Home®

What happens in America’s Largest Home® after we un-deck our massive halls from the splendor of Christmas at Biltmore

Deep cleaning

Our housekeeping team “sweeps into action,” giving Biltmore House the kind of deep cleaning that can’t be accomplished during the busy holiday season.

“It’s my favorite time of year,” said Connie Dey, housekeeping supervisor. “We jump right into some of our biggest cleaning projects, from the Basement all the way to Fourth Floor.” 

Lights, dusters, action!

There are plenty of smaller jobs, too, and for these, Connie relies on her flashlight that busts dust in all its hiding places, a soft goat hair brush, and a Swiffer-style duster created in-house to meet Museum Services standards. Armed with these trusty tools, Connie and her team can carefully clean even the most delicate pieces in the collection. 

“It takes several weeks of special training to learn how to care for the objects in Biltmore House,” Connie said, “and even then, it can be a little scary to start handling things on your own.”

Books on shelves in Biltmore's LibraryHousekeeping by the numbers

According to Connie, it takes three members of her seven-person team approximately four days to clean the books and shelves in the Library. We did the math: it works out to be about 833 books—plus shelf space—per person, per day! 

“We’re used to working at a fast pace and not getting in the guests’ way during their visit,” said Connie, “but lots of people are fascinated by the process, and they want to watch us work.”

Safety first

While hard hats aren’t the most common sight in Biltmore House, some cleaning projects require extra safety precautions. To reach the Grand Staircase chandelier or the arched doorways of the Banquet Hall, Engineering Services puts industrial scaffolding in place to help Housekeeping reach new heights in cleaning.

“It’s a strange feeling to have that enormous chandelier move slightly as you vacuum the cups around the lights,” Connie said, “but we have work to do, so we keep going. I can only imagine how difficult some of these tasks must have been for past housekeepers, without today’s safety controls and technology to make it faster and easier.”

Part of our preservation story

Although Connie has been a member of Housekeeping for nine years, she says she never gets tired of the work. 

“My team takes great pride in cleaning Biltmore House,” Connie explained. “We’re not only keeping it clean, but we’re also looking at things constantly to detect possible problems, and that makes us an important part of Biltmore’s preservation story.”

Plan your Biltmore getaway

Winter is a wonderful time to visit the estate, and you may catch Housekeeping “brushing up” on their deep cleaning projects!

Blog images
Featured image: Connie Dey uses a soft brush to dust an intricate clock in the Salon
First image: Connie cradles a lamp base close to her body
Second image: Freshly-dusted books and shelves in the Library
Third image: Mildred Florence of Housekeeping at work in the Banquet Hall
Fourth image: Connie checks to make sure no dust has settled on the linens in the Breakfast Room

Patron of the Arts: George Vanderbilt

As a patron of the arts, George Vanderbilt remains a remarkable example of the difference one man can make.

With his deep appreciation and understanding of arts and languages and his vision for a self-sustaining country estate, George Vanderbilt could easily be called a “Renaissance man;” a description given to individuals who possess many talents or areas of knowledge and are considered versatile and well-rounded in a number of fields.
 

Photographic portrait of young George VanderbiltPatron of the arts

George Vanderbilt did more than simply collect and appreciate art, however; he was also a passionate patron who befriended artists such as John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, commissioning their works for his home and corresponding with them far beyond the particulars of portraiture.

Literary authors including Edith Wharton and Henry James were welcomed at Biltmore, and George Vanderbilt’s close friend and author Paul Leicester Ford spent several weeks at the estate while working on his novel Janice Meredith: A Story of the American Revolution
 

George Vanderbilt's personal bookplate

Personal philanthropy

In addition to his personal friendships, George Vanderbilt was a great proponent of public access to the arts, using his philanthropic values to ensure that others could benefit from institutions such as free lending libraries.

While most libraries of that era required patrons to pay for the books they borrowed, Vanderbilt provided funding to build the Jackson Square Free Circulating Library of the New York Public Library System and filled it with books that he donated. This library was one of the first open to the general public.

Rhinocerous by Albrecht DurerOne of George Vanderbilt’s most significant donations was to The American Fine Arts Society in support of young artists. In 1892, Vanderbilt donated $100,000 to pay for the property and construct the building that the Society would use for exhibiting members’ work.

Named the Vanderbilt Gallery in his honor, the inaugural exhibition was a show of Rembrandt and Durer prints, plus prints based on the paintings of Sir Joshua Reynolds, all from George Vanderbilt’s personal collection. While the Rembrandt prints are no longer part of the collection, some of the Durer prints and those after the style of Reynolds remain at Biltmore today.

Living the legacy

We continue George Vanderbilt’s passion for the arts today by hosting exhibitions such as Legends of Art & Innovation at Biltmore featuring three different large-scale, multi-sensory events—created and produced by Grande Experiences using the very latest in immersive technology to illuminate the remarkable lives of Van Gogh, Monet, and Da Vinci and their timeless masterpieces of art and design.

Each individual component of this must-see series offers fascinating ties to Vanderbilt’s collection of treasures on display in Biltmore House, his magnificent family home, in Asheville, North Carolina.

Blog images:
Featured: Bronze bust of George Vanderbilt by Mary Grant
First image: Photographic portrait of young George Vanderbilt
Second image: George Vanderbilt’s personal bookplate
Third image:
Rhinocerous print by Albrecht Durer in Biltmore’s collection

And the Winner is… Titanic

Please enjoy this archived content from 2018.

Our newest exhibition, Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie, features costumes from the iconic production, which holds the record for the most Academy Award® nominations and the record for the most Oscars® won by a single film.

The 1997 movie was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, tying All About Eve (1950) for the most Oscar nominations. Additionally, it won 11 of those awards, tying Ben Hur (1959)—and later matched by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)—for having won the most Oscars.

Titanic’s Academy Awards include:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Original Dramatic Score      
  • Best Original Song
  • Best Sound        
  • Best Sound Effects Editing           
  • Best Visual Effects

Needless to say, the award we’re most excited about is “Best Costume Design”—which means that each and every costume on display in our exhibition is a true Academy Award-winner!

Here’s a sneak peek at the detailing on a few of those fabulous pieces:

1. Rose DeWitt Bukater’s yellow Breakfast Dress will be on display in the Oak Sitting Room.Rose DeWitt Bukater’s yellow “Breakfast Dress”

2. Rose’s red shoes, along with the famed Jump Dress, will be on display in the Library.Rose’s red shoes

3. Rose’s iconic Boarding Hat from the start of the film will be on display near the Winter Garden.Rose’s iconic “Boarding Hat”

Join us February 9–May 13 to discover the first large-scale exhibition of fashions from Titanic on display in the grand rooms of Biltmore House

Remembering the Headlines Twenty Years Ago When “Titanic” Made Cinematic History

Please enjoy this archived content from 2018.

It has become a tradition that movie buffs look forward to in December: A bevy of major motion pictures arrive in theaters in time to be considered as Oscar® contenders when the Academy Awards® are announced soon thereafter. In December 1997, one word seemed to sum up the collection of movies that year: “Titanic.” 

As Biltmore gets ready to exhibit more than 40 stunning costumes from the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, in its newest exhibition Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie, we look back at a few of the reactions from film critics when it was released 20 years ago.  

The well-known film critic Roger Ebert declared that James Cameron’s film “is in the tradition of the great Hollywood epics. It is flawlessly crafted, intelligently constructed, strongly acted and spellbinding…” 

“A Spectacle As Sweeping As The Sea”
The headline atop critic Janet Maslin’s sparkling review in the The New York Times on Dec. 19, 1997, cued readers in a not-so-subtle manner of her delight.   

Ms. Maslin wrote: “What a rarity that makes it in today’s world of meaningless gimmicks and short attention spans: a huge, thrilling three-and-a-quarter-hour experience that unerringly lures viewers into the beauty and heartbreak of its lost world. Astonishing technological advances are at work here, but only in the service of one spectacular illusion: that the ship is afloat again, and that the audience is intimately involved in its voyage.”

Titanic went on to become the most Oscar-winning film ever, raking in a record 11 Academy Awards, including the trophies for Best Picture and Best Costume Design.

Titanic is a fantastic voyage,” wrote Dave Kehr in his review for the New York Daily News. “But Titanic is not merely good. It is a magnificent object, a feat of engineering and an overwhelming visual, aural and emotional experience …”

We look forward to showcasing the luxurious costumes designed by Deborah L. Scott, and worn by actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and many others. Seeing them throughout the rooms of Biltmore House, our guests will experience perfect examples of the wardrobes favored by transatlantic travelers like George and Edith Vanderbilt in the early 1900s.

Titanic soars with charismatic performances, spectacular effects.” – Margaret A. McGurk, Cincinnati Enquirer, Dec. 19, 1997.

Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie begins on February 9, 2018, and will remain on display until May 13, 2018.

Featured image: Rose and Jack (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) in the dining scene in “Titanic.” @1997 Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

Second image: Rose admires Jack’s artistic talents while aboard the Titanic. @1997 Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Uncorked: Meet Biltmore’s Sommelier

If you’ve ever wondered how to choose the perfect wine to accompany your meal, a professional sommelier can help you uncork the “secrets” of selecting something special.

Speaking from experience

Artur Loli, sommelier for The Inn on Biltmore Estate™, knows that great wine is part of what makes fine dining so memorable.  

Guests at The Dining Room at The Inn on Biltmore Estate

“The Dining Room of The Inn is world-class,” said Artur, “and Chef Eckman’s culinary skills are legendary, so the wines we offer must also be outstanding enough to elevate the entire experience.”

In fact, The Dining Room of The Inn was recently named a new Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Restaurant. According to Charles Thompson, General Manager of The Inn on Biltmore Estate, these illustrious stars are a remarkable achievement.

“The award speaks to the dedication of our talented staff who truly offer our guests an exceptional travel experience” Charles noted.

Rigorous training

Training to become a sommelier is not an easy process, and often requires years of study to understand and appreciate the nuances of the world’s wines.

Some would-be sommeliers opt for courses through organizations such as the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) to gain a solid foundation in wine knowledge before pursuing further certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers, the American Sommelier Association, or hospitality schools. Others choose to work in the industry, seeking a combination of hands-on experience and mentorship by working in vineyards, wineries, and wine-driven restaurants.

“You can certainly learn a lot in the classroom,” Artur said, “but there’s no substitute for working in the hospitality industry where you discover what real guests like and dislike. 

Good listener

Artur, who began working in the hospitality field in Santorini, Greece, 25 years ago and has spent the past 16 years with The Inn, knows that good listening skills are one of the most important tools a sommelier can offer.

“Helping someone choose a wine that complements their meal is as much about listening to them as it is about knowing which varietal has good acidity or which vintage is preferable. All our Biltmore wines are outstanding,” he said, “so it’s never about selling more wine or pushing the most expensive wines we offer. What really matters is earning a guest’s trust with wine selections that appeal to their palate, even when that means non-traditional pairings.”

For Artur, the most rewarding thing about being a sommelier is that he become part of the guests’ experience–especially when they choose to celebrate a special event at The Inn

“It is my pleasure to offer a warm welcome to all our guests, from those who have never joined us before to those who have spent more than 500 nights at The Inn. Helping guests select a bottle of wine, for me, is more than a service standard and a job requirement–it is a passion of mine. Countless times, uncorking a bottle of wine sparks a conversation that is the beginning of creating loyal guests for decades to come.”

Plan your getaway today

Ready to experience the four-star elegance of The Inn on Biltmore Estate? Reserve your special getaway today, and be sure to include The Dining Room–with its impressive new Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Restaurant designation–in your plans so that Artur Loli and other members of The Inn’s knowledgeable staff can help make your visit more memorable!

Blog images
— Featured image: Artur Loli serves sparkling wine to guests at The Inn
— First image: Guests enjoying wine at The Dining Room of The Inn
— Second image: Artur brings wine to guests at an outdoor event at The Inn
— Third image: A sommelier is an expert at opening wines as well as choosing them

Explore Our Favorite Outdoor Rooms

Every season offers a wonderful reason to explore our favorite outdoor rooms at Biltmore, but summer is an especially perfect time to do so.

Frederick Law Olmsted

Known as the “father of American landscape architecture,” Frederick Law Olmsted had definitive ideas about landscape design.

You can see many of his innovative ideas in New York City’s Central Park and here at Biltmore, which was his last professional project before his death in 1903.

Enjoy the outdoors, by design

View of the Approach Road in spring
The Approach Road, which Olmsted designed to achieve a “sensation passing through the remote depths of a deep forest,” only to have “the view of the Residence, with its orderly dependencies, to break suddenly, fully upon one.” Photo credit: The Biltmore Company.

For the magnificent estates he landscaped, Olmsted preferred longer-than-usual approach drives and separate garden spaces or “outdoor rooms” that were distinct from one another with no blending of styles.

The methods Olmsted used for creating special spaces are very noticeable in spring and when the gardens and grounds begin to bloom with color.

Explore our favorite outdoor rooms

When Biltmore employees were asked to share their favorite outdoor rooms around the estate, their answers were a tribute to all that Olmsted envisioned to enchant the Vanderbilts and their guests more than a century ago.

Italian Garden

Italian Garden at Biltmore
The Italian Garden is spectacular in summer

Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture, has a favorite spot tucked away in the Italian Garden.

“There’s a terra cotta cherub fountain in the last little turf area near the end of the garden,” said Parker. “Most people miss this treasure because they don’t walk all the way down there.”

Spring Garden

The Spring Garden at Biltmore
Some of the earliest blooms at Biltmore appear in the sheltered Spring Garden

Cathy Barnhardt, former Floral Displays Manager for Biltmore, is now retired and enjoying the estate as an Annual Passholder.

“The Spring Garden is like a little valley that opens up off the beaten path. The grass gets green there first and flowers bloom early,” said Cathy. “It’s a great place to spend time with your family.”

Azalea Garden

Kids in Biltmore's Azalea Garden
Guests of all ages love discovering Biltmore’s “outdoor rooms” like the Azalea Garden

Another special location mentioned by several staff members is a bench at the top of the Spring Garden. From this vantage point, you can look down into the Azalea Garden and also have a view of the distant mountains.

Another not-to-be-missed favorite outdoor room is the Azalea Garden with all its varieties, colors, and sweet fragrances of azalea to enjoy.

Explore our favorite outdoor rooms
Stone steps in the Azalea Garden invite further exploration

“Although the Azalea Garden wasn’t part of Olmsted’s original plan, it makes perfect use of a wooded space,” noted Parker. “The blooms are spectacular in late spring, so be sure to take time to walk down the stone steps—another technique Olmsted used to divide outdoor rooms—and stroll down the path there, noticing the stream lined with wild flowers and unusual conifers.”

Bass Pond Boat House

Boat House at the Bass Pond
The view of the Bass Pond from the Boat House is worth the walk!

Below the Azalea Garden, Hope Wright of A Gardener’s Place–one of the charming shops on the estate–loves walking down the path to the Bass Pond.

“I stop on the bridge going toward the Boat House and sit on the bench,” Hope said. “This is a favorite spot of mine in the spring and summer as I look back upon the stunning beauty I have just witnessed.”

Plan your getaway today!

Family activities for spring at Biltmore
Explore our glorious gardens and grounds during Biltmore Blooms this spring

Ready to explore our favorite outdoor rooms and discover which ones you like best?

Plan your summer Biltmore visit now to enjoy Biltmore Gardens Railway, a botanical model train display in Antler Hill Village, or consider becoming an Annual Passholder so you can return and discover something new in every season.

The Legacy of John Cecil

Of all the romantic celebrations held on the estate, none has been quite as spectacular the April 29, 1924 wedding of Cornelia Vanderbilt to British diplomat John Francis Amherst Cecil. Hundreds of invitations were extended to friends and family, and the guest list included many well-known public and diplomatic figures of the time.

The Honorable John Francis Amherst CecilThe couple first met in Washington, D.C. where Cornelia and Edith Vanderbilt spent a great deal of time in the years following George Vanderbilt’s death. The Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil was a career diplomat stationed at the British Embassy, and was the third son of Lord Cecil and the Baroness Amherst of Hackney. He was a descendant of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was lord high treasurer to Queen Elizabeth 1. Ten years older than Cornelia, John Cecil was one of a group of eligible gentlemen known as the “British bachelors” in the capitol’s social circles.

Cecil grew up in the English countryside of Norfolk. He studied history and international law at the New College of Oxford University before becoming a member of the British diplomatic corps. Cecil served in Egypt, Spain, and Czechoslovakia before being posted to Washington where he rose to the position of first secretary at the British Embassy. Shortly before his marriage to Cornelia Vanderbilt, he resigned his position, announcing that after the wedding he would make Biltmore his primary residence and would take an active role in managing the estate.

Cornelia Vanderbilt (front center) and John Cecil (back right) at party with friends in front of Biltmore House, 1925

The couple lived at Biltmore, continuing the legacy of hospitality for which the estate was known, as well as managing the property and farming operations. During the Great Depression, in a bid to boost the local economy and bring tourists to the region, the Cecils worked with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to open Biltmore House to the public. 

Although the Cecils divorced in 1934, John Cecil remained at Biltmore, enjoying the life of a country gentleman as well as taking an active role in the management of Biltmore House and becoming involved with several community organizations from the Biltmore Hospital to All Souls’ Church. Together with Edith Vanderbilt Gerry and Judge Junius Adams, John Cecil provided leadership for The Biltmore Company, which was organized in 1932 to manage the estate. He returned to his native England during World War II as Minister of Information, but took up residence at Biltmore again when the conflict ended.

According to an excerpt from the book Lady on the Hill, John Cecil “had a deep appreciation for the treasures in the house and entertained his guests by translating the Old Latin woven into the tapestries. He brought a sense of British propriety to the chateau’s new role as tourist attraction with an approach that was both Old World and Madison Avenue. For example, he insisted that the staff place fresh-cut flowers in the rooms opened to visitors to discount the appearance of a dusty museum. His philosophy became a standard throughout Biltmore’s public life.”

John Cecil changing a tireToday, we honor John Cecil’s contributions to the legacy of Biltmore with the John Francis Amherst Cecil Scholarship established in his honor. His great contributions to the estate after the war enabled the property to remain private and intact. This scholarship is a tribute to his devotion to the preservation and well-being of Biltmore and its employees, and the scholarship helps assist the dependents of Biltmore employees with the rising costs of higher education.

Featured image: John Cecil driving in front of Biltmore House
Above right: John Cecil photographic portrait
Above left: John & Cornelia Cecil with unidentified friends in front of Biltmore House
Right: John Cecil changing a tire

Solving a Mystery in the Kitchen Pantry

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry at Biltmore took some detective work, but our Museum Services staff finally cracked the case!

“Among the many place settings of china in the Biltmore collection, one set had remained a mystery for many years,” said Lori Garst, Curatorial Assistant.

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry
A cup, saucer, and plate from the collection of unidentified china

While the set was often referred to as “the Christmas china” because it was used during a 1931 holiday party, or “the employee china” because it was later used by staff members, the origin of the china—and its original purpose in Biltmore House—remained unclear.

Cup, saucer, and teapot featuring George Vanderbilt's monogram
Cup, saucer, and teapot featuring George Vanderbilt’s monogram

“Most of the china in Biltmore House was chosen by George Vanderbilt,” Lori said. “He selected an elegant white china with a burgundy and gold pattern, manufactured by both Minton and Spode-Copeland. It features his monogram and was used every day for family and guest meals.”

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s china matches her father’s pattern but includes her own CSV monogram.

China featuring Cornelia Vanderbilt's monogram
While Cornelia Vanderbilt’s china closely matches the pattern her father selected for use in Biltmore House, their monograms distinguish one set from another

“We know that Edith Vanderbilt ordered Cornelia’s china in 1923,” said Lori. “And Mrs. Vanderbilt requested that Cornelia’s monogram be in the same style as her father’s.  I think it is sweet that her service blended in with the style her father had chosen.”

But what of the mysterious china collection on the shelves of the Kitchen Pantry in the Basement?

Museum Services began to look for clues about its history. While not as fine as the monogrammed Vanderbilt china, the gold-trimmed white pattern rimmed in crisp navy was definitely elegant and the amount of it suggested it had been purchased with a large number of people in mind.

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry of Biltmore House
Trimmed in gold and rimmed in navy, this china is elegant, but more sturdy than the monogrammed family china in the collection

“We began with the manufacturer’s mark on the bottom of each piece,” said Lori. “Kniffen & Demarest Co. manufactured hotel and steam ship supplies, so the china was well-made and rather sturdy to stand up to use by guests and passengers in public settings.”

Biltmore conservator shows manufacturer's mark on the bottom of a china saucer
A conservator shows the Kniffen & Demarest Co. name on a piece of the so-called mystery china

While Museum Services was researching details for our Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film exhibition, they finally discovered written references to the china in conjunction with Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil’s wedding. 

“This set was also sometimes referred to as ‘the wedding china,’ but we never knew which of its three names was correct until recently,” said Lori. “The pieces came together at last, and we realized that this was the china that had been ordered for the buffet at Cornelia Vanderbilt and John Cecil’s wedding breakfast.”

After the ceremony at All Souls Church in Biltmore Village, the wedding guests and additional reception guests (500 people were invited to the ceremony and reception; another 2500 were invited only to the reception) arrived at Biltmore House.

John and Cornelia Cecil wedding party at breakfast in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House
John and Cornelia Cecil and their attendants at the wedding breakfast in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House

The newlyweds and their attendants were served at a table in the Winter Garden, and all the other guests enjoyed a buffet in the Banquet Hall, which featured this china.

As the years passed, the Kniffen & Demarest china was still used, but its original purpose was forgotten.

Today, it’s stored in the Kitchen Pantry where it receives the same care and attention as all the other china in Biltmore’s collection.

Enjoy your own Vanderbilt china service

China pattern based on an original set used by the Vanderbilt family
Porcelain tea set from the Vanderbilt Service

Whether you prefer a tea service or an entire place setting, this beautiful porcelain serveware is based on a Sevres pattern, circa 1888, that the Vanderbilt family once used at Biltmore. The original is on display in the Oak Sitting Room, but you can now enjoy the reproduction set in your own home.