Remembering our Christmas past

Christmas has always been celebrated in grand style at Biltmore, beginning with the opening of Biltmore House on Christmas Eve 1895 and continuing today with Christmas at Biltmore. The festivities have always included friends and family, plus a special party for employees of the estate.

Creating traditions

While George Vanderbilt was still a bachelor, he enlisted the help of Mrs. Charles McNamee, the wife of his friend who assisted in purchasing land for the estate, to provide Christmas gifts for 300–500 guests, including estate workers and their families. Mr. Vanderbilt greeted everyone in the Banquet Hall on Christmas afternoon, and members of his own family helped distribute the gifts which included Christmas trees and trimmings for estate employees to decorate their own homes.

In 1897, Biltmore’s Christmas celebration took place at All Souls Parish in Biltmore Village because George Vanderbilt was away from home. According to a report in the Semi-Weekly Citizen, there were “toys and candy and cakes and oranges for the little ones, and books and articles useful and ornamental, dress goods and jerseys, ties and gloves, for the older folk. As in previous and future celebrations, refreshments were served, including ice cream, cake, and bananas.”

Cornelia Vanderbilt and her cousin John Nicholas Brown in 1905

Cornelia Vanderbilt and her cousin John Nicholas Brown, 1905

Celebrating with friends and family

George Vanderbilt married Edith Dresser in 1898, and she took an immediate and active interest in the estate’s annual Christmas festivities. In 1905, when George and Edith Vanderbilt’s only child Cornelia would have been five years old, the New York Times reported the following details about the holiday cheer at Biltmore:

“Mr. and Mrs. George W. Vanderbilt this afternoon provided for nearly a thousand children of Biltmore estate employees a big tree in the banquet hall of the chateau. The little ones were loaded with useful gifts and toys…bought in Asheville in the last week…Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt welcomed each of the little guests, many of whom came twenty miles from the coves and mountain tops of the Vanderbilt forest domain, some walking, some by ox team and some mule back…. Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt…personally distributed all the gifts, aided by Mrs. Edith Wharton, Mr. Wharton, and Mrs. Ernesto G. Fabbri (George Vanderbilt’s niece].”

In her oral history, Edith Cauble, whose parents worked on the estate, recalls:

“Christmas parties where Mr. Vanderbilt stood on one side of the front door of the House in tails, and Edith stood on the other side wearing a long velvet dress giving out oranges and candy. In the Banquet Hall there was music and Cornelia would run around with the other children.”
 
Biltmore Employee Christmas party in 1916Employee Christmas party at Antler Hall, ca. 1916

Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt continued the employee Christmas parties even after George Vanderbilt passed away in 1914. In 1916, the event took place outdoors at Antler Hall—a large home originally located where The Inn on Biltmore Estate™ now sits. In the archival photograph featured here, you can see Edith Vanderbilt just to the right of center wearing a dark hat, and Cornelia to her left in a white hat.

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus at the entrance to Biltmore HouseSanta and Mrs. Claus welcome guests to Biltmore

The tradition continues

Today, more than a century after the first holiday festivities at Biltmore, we continue to host our annual Christmas party for employees. It is still a grand occasion with gifts for the children, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and delicious refreshments—and a wonderful opportunity to see America’s Largest Home® lit by the glow of candles and firelight during Candlelight Christmas Evenings.

Featured blog image: Photographs of George Vanderbilt’s parents (William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt) 

Preserving Generations of Biltmore China and Crystal

Preserving generations of Biltmore china and crystal is a delicate job.

If you have fine china or crystal handed down in your family, you can imagine the care it takes to clean and preserve all the fragile place settings and glassware in the Biltmore collection!

Generations of fragile china and crystal

Preserving generations of Biltmore china and crystal
Gevevieve Bieniosek opens the china cabinet in the Butler’s Pantry

There are three generations of china and crystal stored in Biltmore House, and much of it is more than 100 years old.

These fragile pieces of the collection are stored in glass-front cabinets in the two-story Butler’s Pantry, and a comprehensive inventory system helps our conservators keep track of each object.

A unique identification number is assigned to every dish and glass, the location of the piece is recorded, and a digital photo of it is included in an inventory database.

Cleaning generations of Biltmore china and crystal
Genevieve cleans saucers that bear George Vanderbilt’s monogram, while the floral patterned plates on the left were chosen by Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil, for Biltmore’s centennial celebration in 1995

Cleaning all the china and crystal in the Butler’s Pantry is a process that takes several weeks to complete. Each piece is dusted, wiped with a mixture of ethanol and water, and dried with lint-free cloths. All the objects are inspected for unstable cracks.

“Most of the cleaning and dusting is done in the Butler’s Pantry, because the less we move such fragile pieces, the better,” said Genevieve Bieniosek, Furniture Conservator.

Preventing problems

Caring for a fragile part of Biltmore history--crystal glassware
Delicate crystal glassware with George Vanderbilt’s monogram in the Butler’s Pantry

During a recent cleaning project, the conservators noticed that some of the crystal on display was suffering from ‘glass disease.’ According to Genevieve, this is a condition where components in the glass structure leach out over time, causing the glass to appear cloudy.

“If left untreated,” Genevieve explained, “it will eventually create a fine network of cracks over the piece.”

The glasses were treated by washing them with mild soap and water, drying them with soft towels, and letting them air dry for several hours.

“By treating them now, we avoid permanent damage from the glass disease,” said Genevieve.

Improving the process of storing crystal and china

China cup with Cornelia Vanderbilt's monogram
This fluted cup and saucer bear Cornelia Vanderbilt’s monogram

In addition to careful cleaning of these fragile pieces, our conservators are always looking for ways to improve the overall process for preserving the china and crystal.

“We recently looked into different types of padding material to keep the china safer, and placed sheets of polyethylene foam between each dish. The material is very stable, so the sheets don’t break down and create chemicals that could harm the china,” noted Genevieve.

Take a behind-the-scenes guided tour

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

Plan a visit to America’s Largest Home today, and treat yourself to The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour. You’ll experience an in-depth look at servant life at Biltmore with this 60-minute guided tour, including rarely-seen areas such as the Butler’s Pantry as you hear fascinating stories of those who worked and lived on the estate in the Vanderbilts’ era.

Featured blog image: Biltmore conservators Genevieve Bieniosek and Renee Jolly clean china and crystal in the Butler’s Pantry of Biltmore House

The Art of Biltmore’s Open-Air Museum

Frederick Law Olmsted selected the major plantings at Biltmore with the utmost attention. Each had a specific purpose: to provide a certain color, texture or function, such as shade or height. But the manmade features of the gardens−statuary and planters−are more like the icing on the cake, hitting graceful notes throughout the landscape. So, what do we know about the artwork in Biltmore’s open air museum?

“To our knowledge, Olmsted did not specify any statuary at Biltmore,” says Bill Alexander, Biltmore’s Landscape and Forest Historian. Research shows most of the statues were purchased in the late 1800s in France and Italy by George Vanderbilt and Richard Morris Hunt, Biltmore’s architect. It’s likely that Olmsted did play a role in the placement of the statues because the three men worked so closely on every aspect of the design of Biltmore House and Gardens.

Classic Influences

Walking through the gardens, you’ll notice a number of statues featuring characters from Greek myth. The four terra cotta figures on the South Terrace—Faun, Adonis, Venus, and Hamadryad—are modeled after originals created by Antoine Coysevox, a prolific sculptor from the 17th century. If you look closely at the figure at the far right end of the Terrace, you’ll see Coysevox’s maker’s mark.

In the Italian Garden, you’ll find several variations of late-19th-century putti—winged figures that were popular in both statuary and painting during the Italian Renaissance. The small terra cotta angel located at the end of the Italian Garden is based on a work of art that’s housed in the Louvre. Although there’s a fountain bowl in front of this putto, Kara Warren, Preventive Conservation Specialist, says there is no record that water was ever used in the fountain.

Aging Naturally

Whether made from bronze, marble, limestone, granite, or terra cotta, each outdoor statue has to weather the elements. Storms and environmental pollutants have taken their toll of them over the last century. According to Kara, some repairs and restorations date back to 1934.

“Reading the descriptions of repair work from our archival records is like having a mini history lesson. Each repair documents the care the statue received over the year. Today, we occasionally need to repair the repairs, replacing corroded iron elements with stainless steel or replacing mortar that has crumbled over time,” she continues.

Near the stairway leading from the house to the Italian Garden, you’ll notice the Italian white marble statue that’s known as “The Dancing Lesson.” The original, made of terra cotta, was replaced by this copy in the 1970s after it was damaged in a storm.

Perhaps Biltmore’s most famous statue, Diana, goddess of the hunt, located on the hill overlooking the house, met a similar fate. The original terra cotta work, based on a marble housed in the Louvre, was replaced with today’s marble version carved by H. Whinery Oppice in the 1970s.

In Harmony with Nature

As you walk through the gardens, statuary sometimes plays a supporting role to the ever-changing natural beauty that takes center stage. But each garden element is an important part of this living landscape that has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

National Historic Landmark Designation Illustrates U.S. Heritage

Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina was officially nominated as a National Historic Landmark on May 23, 1963.

The original landmark designation was based on the theme “Conservation of Natural Resources.” The description for Biltmore was:

At Biltmore, the George W. Vanderbilt estate near Asheville, Gifford Pinchot demonstrated for the first time in the United States that scientific forest management could be profitable and was, thus, good business practice. Another ‘first’ in forestry occurred here in 1898 when the first forestry school in the United States was opened, the Biltmore Forest School, headed by Dr. Carl A. Schenck. Nearly 87,000 acres of the estate’s forest land is now included in Pisgah National Forest. The building in which the school was conducted is owned by the city of Asheville and used today for offices.

Dr. Carl A. Schenck with Biltmore Forest School students, 1900*
Dr. Carl A. Schenck with Biltmore Forest School students, 1900. Image courtesy of National Forests of North Carolina Historic Photographs, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, Asheville, NC.

Beginning in 2000, Biltmore began an effort to expand the landmark designation beyond conservation to include the themes of architecture, landscape architecture, and social history, and to extend the period of significance to 1950 to include the contributions of Chauncey Beadle, estate superintendent, and improvements and significance of the Biltmore Dairy during those years. The Secretary of the Interior approved this expansion on April 5, 2005. 

Estate Superintendent Chauncey Beadle, 1948
Estate Superintendent Chauncey Beadle, 1948

Bill Alexander, Biltmore’s former landscape and forest historian and participant in the five-year project of gathering additional documentation for the expanded designation, said that Biltmore has to submit periodic reports to the National Park Service to describe any changes occurring to the property, including natural disasters and damage such as the floods and tree loss caused by Hurricanes Frances and Ivan in 2005. 

He also noted that the building referenced in the original nomination is located in Biltmore Village.

“The office building at 1 Biltmore Plaza was where the Biltmore Forest School held its fall and winter classes for a number of years,” Bill said. “It was the first new, permanent structure completed in Biltmore Village after George Vanderbilt purchased the village in 1894, followed by the passenger train depot in 1895 and All Souls Church in 1896, all designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt.”

1 Biltmore Plaza in Biltmore Village, 1895
1 Biltmore Plaza in Biltmore Village, 1895

“Biltmore sold the office building to the City of Asheville in 1929, and leased the downstairs for corporate offices while the upstairs was used as a substation of the Asheville Fire Department.”

Biltmore eventually repurchased the building and currently uses it for office space.

The National Park Service lists more than 2,500 historic properties “that illustrate the heritage of the United States.” National Historic Landmarks include historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts, with each landmark representing an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.

Plan your visit to Biltmore today and enjoy the splendor of this National Historic Landmark.

Etched in stone: the façade of Biltmore House

George Vanderbilt and his architect Richard Morris Hunt put careful consideration into each material used to construct Biltmore House. While the underlying walls are brick, the architect chose to add a striking warm stone façade of the house: a layer of limestone from the Hallowell Quarry in Indiana, the country’s richest quarry at the time and the same source for the stone used in Chicago’s 1885 City Hall.

Between February 1891 and February 1892, 287 train cars left Indiana carrying the limestone that would become Biltmore’s façade. Once it came into the depot in Biltmore Village, the stone was transported to the construction site by a narrow-gauge railroad track built specifically for that purpose. The first shipment arrived at the house on March 16, 1891.

Limestone blocks were stored in sheds and protected from the weather until they were ready 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 stonecutters cut shallow grooves into the surface of the stone, resulting in a fine, pebble-like surface that looks more elegant and reflects light more dramatically than unaltered limestone.

Once ready, the limestone blocks were 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.

Although there’s no exact final count, estimates indicate that when the construction was complete, around 60,000 cubic feet of limestone adding up to 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.

Archival photo of some of the workers and a steam engine that built America's Largest Home

Top: Stonemasons’ shed, 1892, with Biltmore House under construction in the background.

Bottom: Workers and a steam engine on the Esplanade, 1892. Indiana limestone was shipped by rail directly to the Biltmore House building site.

A special bond

Chauncey Delos Beadle began working at Biltmore as nursery supervisor under the direction of Frederick Law Olmsted in 1890—five years before Biltmore House and its surrounding gardens were completed. Beadle, who said he came to Biltmore for a month and stayed for a lifetime, lovingly supervised the estate grounds until 1950.

Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1906
Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1906

Ten years after arriving at Biltmore, Beadle and the other staff members helped George and Edith Vanderbilt welcome the arrival of their only child—a daughter named Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt. Later that same year, a cucumber magnolia tree (Magnolia acuminate) was planted in the child’s honor in the area of the estate that would come to be known as the Azalea Garden. According to one newspaper account,

The spot selected is in a beautiful grassy dell near Biltmore House. The tree itself, now but a sapling of twelve feet in height, is expected to be 60 feet above the ground when little Cornelia reaches the age of 20 years. A few years after that event, it is expected that it will reach a height of 100 feet. It lives centuries, and is one of the prides of our beautiful southern forests. 

A special bond

As a young girl, Cornelia developed a special bond with Beadle. He had become estate superintendent and was now responsible for the overall business management of the estate, as well as many of the Vanderbilts’ personal affairs—but he was also a trained botanist and horticulturalist who encouraged Cornelia to take an interest in plants and flowers from a very young age. Together, they undertook such activities as planting a flower garden for the child to tend.

When Cornelia was away travelling with her parents, Beadle wrote letters detailing the garden’s growth and often included pressed flowers for her enjoyment.

Here are excerpts from the charming letters Beadle wrote to Cornelia just before her sixth and seventh birthdays:

August 17, 1906 – To Cornelia in Paris, France:

“I promised you just as you were leaving Biltmore to send you some pressed flowers from your garden, that you may see some of the results of the seeds we planted last spring. Almost all of the seeds grew and thrived and, in particular, I wish you could have seen some large double sunflowers as large as breakfast plates … They were so large that I could not press them and I fear that before your return they will have faded and gone. The little package which I am sending you, however, contains some of the smaller flowers that were easily pressed and, perhaps, before your home-coming, I can send you another lot so that you may be able to enjoy the garden even though you were in Europe…”

August 14, 1907 – To Cornelia at Point D’ Acadie, the Vanderbilt’s home in Bar Harbor, Maine:

“I have sent you by mail a package containing a number of pressed flowers from your garden which you painstakingly planted and watered. Very many of the plants have made a splendid showing… In the package you will find handsome Larkspurs of various shades and mottled colors… and several other flowers that were in blossom…. You will find the names of the flowers written on the inside of the sheets of paper which contain them, and I am very sure that you will soon know them all by name and will be able to recognize them wherever you may see them growing…”

Keeping up a correspondence

George Vanderbilt passed away unexpectedly in 1914, and Edith and Cornelia began spending more time in Washington, DC where Cornelia attended The Madeira School. Beadle continued corresponding with the pair through the years, bringing Edith up-to-date on estate business and describing the gardens in great detail so both ladies could enjoy them even when they were far from home.

In a letter dated April 14, 1922, Beadle wrote to Cornelia,

“The tulips in the walled garden are so glorious that we are trying out an experiment of sending you a box today by express for Easter. We shall hope they will bring you something of their original beauty and charm to make Easter even more wonderful. Spring is very much advanced here, even the yellow rambler roses are opening.”

Beadle’s gift

In 1923, Cornelia met the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil, a British diplomat who had been transferred to Washington, DC after posts in Egypt, Spain and Czechoslovakia. John Cecil came from a very prominent British family, and was a direct descendant of William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley, who served Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Cornelia and John announced their engagement later that year, and set a wedding date for April 29, 1924. Although Beadle was in Florida and unable to return for their wedding, he sent a very special gift that commemorated their mutual love of the natural world: fresh orange blossoms from his own garden. Our archival records indicate that Cornelia placed some of the fragrant flowers on her veil and also decorated the toe of each of her wedding slippers with a single, perfect blossom.

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding portrait upon her marriage to John Francis Amherst Cecil, April 1924
Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding portrait upon her marriage to John Francis Amherst Cecil, April 1924

Images

Top: Chauncey Beadle at Biltmore in 1906

Middle: Cornelia Vanderbilt photograph; 1904

Bottom: Cornelia in her wedding dress at the bottom of the Grand Staircase in Biltmore House

Guastavino’s architectural influence in Asheville

When Spanish architect Raphael Guastavino came to the U.S. in 1881, he already had a reputation for creating grand arches, domes, and vaults in Europe. Within a few years, his work caught the attention of Richard Morris Hunt, head architect for Biltmore House.

“Guastavino had introduced an impressive and inexpensive alternative to iron beam construction in the U.S. that resulted in interiors with soaring arches and open spaces,” said Leslie Klingner, Curator of Interpretation. “His tile work was low maintenance, fireproof, and functional.”

He was commissioned by Hunt to create the decorative tile vaulting at Biltmore House, including the hall ceilings around the Winter Garden. His tile work in the Swimming Pool is reminiscent of the vaulting in New York City’s earliest subway stations, another Guastavino design.

“The herringbone pattern on the ceiling of the Porte Cochere as you exit the house is remarkable,” Leslie said.“He also created the beautifully patterned vaults at the Lodge Gate—the acoustical effects when horses passed through there must have been amazing.”

St. Lawrence BasilicaAfter his work on Biltmore House, Guastavino also remained in the area, focusing on two projects near and dear to his heart. His masterpiece—St. Lawrence Basilica in downtown Asheville—is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the architect is buried there.  Guastavino finished the plans, including a dramatic freestanding elliptical dome, and gave them to the church but died before construction was complete.

Guastavino built a modest estate known as Rhododendron in Black Mountain. His home, called the Spanish Castle, was a rambling three-story wood structure built with timber from his property. Outbuildings included wine cellars, chapel, bell tower, and kilns where he experimented with tile and glazes.

Unfortunately, the home burned in the early 1940s. Some ruins remain, mostly the kilns and wine cellars, on property which is now part of Christmount Christian Assembly. A walking tour on the property offers a view into this working estate from the late 1800s into the 1940s, including photographs and information from historical sources. The Christmount Guest House hosts a temporary exhibit displaying relics from the house and kiln areas found over the years; the exhibit is open to the public.

Around the country, more than 1,000 buildings feature his designs, including his signature vaulting, including the Boston Public Library, New York’s Grand Central Terminal, Carnegie Hall, and the Elephant House at the Bronx Zoo.

Photos

Main: Swimming Pool in Biltmore House, with tile vaulting created by Raphael Guastavino

Left: St. Lawrence Basilica in Asheville, ca. 1909, designed by Raphael Guastavino. Photo courtesy of St. Lawrence Basilica.

Biltmore’s hidden garden

Nestled in the heart of Biltmore’s landscape is a secret garden. Well, maybe not “secret” since it’s contained in the Conservatory, which sparkles as the centerpiece of the Walled Garden.

But it can certainly be considered an “overlooked” garden, because so many guests walk or drive past it without ever opening its lovely arched doors.

When you do venture inside, you are transported to another world—a tropical jungle of ferns, palm trees, and exotic blooms that rivals any South Beach hotspot. No matter the weather, the climate indoors welcomes you with a heady perfume that combines fragrant flowers and damp earth to create a treat for your senses.

Exhibition Room door displayThe transition is quite deliberate, and is based upon George Vanderbilt’s original vision for the Conservatory. In the late 1800s, vast glass structures like Biltmore’s Conservatory were the ultimate statement of luxurious living, exhibiting hundreds of blooming flowers, exotic plants, and delicate orchids in abundance.

At the turn of the 19th century, gardening was widely viewed as a healing pastime as well as an opportunity to showcase collections of rare and unique plants. A generation of wealthy collectors dotted the nation with lavish conservatories inspired by similar structures found on Europe estates, including Longwood Conservatory in Pennsylvania and Lyndhurst Conservatory in New York.

While serious gardeners were determined to provide optimal growing conditions for their plants, many owners chose to entertain friends and family amid giant palms and luscious orchids, A few commissioned plant hunters to travel the world’s most remote locations to seek out rare specimens.

Tree fernArchival records indicate George Vanderbilt furnished his Conservatory in a more typical manner—by ordering plants from nurseries around the country. A report in the 1894 issue of American Gardening titled “George W. Vanderbilt’s Palms” mentions he fitted out his new conservatory with some of the largest palms under cultivation in the country. The collection included 15 tree ferns imported from Australia years earlier and described the “long dark green leaves of the finest specimens reach twenty feet into the air.” Additional plants included sago palms and several “immense Palmetto palms from South Carolina.”

Today, the Conservatory continues to bring a taste of the tropics to western North Carolina despite winter’s chill. To help Mother Nature, our gardeners have coaxed spring bulbs into early bloom. Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths brighten the central Palm House and the Cool House now, with Asiatic and oriental lilies adding their intoxicating scent in mid-April. The Cool House also hosts plants who call the subtropics home, including Australian tree ferns like the ones Vanderbilt obtained (although not the same plants), accompanied by banana trees and the evocatively-named Lollipop plants and Shrimp plants.

In the Hot House, you’ll find plants that originate in tropical climes and are familiar as houseplants, such as the philodendron and colocasia (or elephant ear)—but in larger sizes than you’d ever typically see. Among the canopy of foliage, be sure to look for the large Mexican breadfruit.

OrchidsThe orchids are mesmerizing this time of year, brightening even the dreariest of days with amazing colors and forms. The Orchid Room is filled with blooms both recognizable and unusual, from the corsage and lady slipper varieties to more rare examples.

“The lady slipper orchids have lips that look like shoes,” said Marc Burchette, who tends the collection. “We also have small yellow-flowered dancing lady orchids.”

Less common varieties include a large orchid species from Southeast Asia with clusters of red and yellow flowers on a long pendant, and a particularly fragrant orchid with crystalline green blooms from Papua New Guinea

Exotic blooms aside, you really can’t miss the most dramatic plants in the Conservatory, since they are right in front of you! As you enter the Palm House, where the glass roof rises 38 feet high, the towering specimens of Madagascar palm, Bottle palm, and Bismarck Fan palm create a tropical escape in the middle of winter.

Frame Your Travels

Looking for a fabulous way to showcase your travels? The framing professionals at Larson-Juhl suggest creating a custom-frame shadowbox to display collections of photos and treasured keepsakes that bring the journey to life all over again.

Shadowboxes are perfect for this purpose because they add depth to your collections, allowing you to add dimensional objects rather than just flat photos, maps, or postcards. A knowledgeable framer can help you choose the right height to make the most of the items you want to highlight. Professional framing and glass choices can also keep special items from further deterioration and damage. Here are a few ideas we love:

Exotic Travel Adventure

  • Photos from your excursions
  • Foreign currency
  • Special items purchased at a market
  • Ticket stubs or copies of passport travel stamps

Family Beach Vacation

  • Use a map of the beach as the background
  • Family photos taken on the beach
  • Seashells, sand, or driftwood
  • Postcards

Big City Getaway

  • Use the subway system map as the background
  • Tickets from shows, museums or any special place
  • Photos taken in the city
  • Small items purchased in the city

Biltmore Vine To Wine Tour

  • Use the map of the vineyard as the background
  • A bottle of wine from the vineyard
  • Photos of the vineyard
  • Tasting notes you jotted down along the way

Orange Tree Centerpieces from Biltmore House Breakfast Room

Breakfast Room in Biltmore House.

 These vibrant centerpieces bring a hint of traditional elegance and timeless style to your holiday table or buffet, just as they do for the Breakfast Room in Biltmore House.

Molly Hensley, Biltmore Floral Designer, gives us some of her insight:

 We chose oranges to compliment and draw attention to the two Renoir paintings—Young Algerian Girl and Child with an Orange—that hang in the room.

 To add a bit more texture and richness to the look, place the finished centerpiece on a decorative flat plate or a raised cake stand. We chose Cake Stands from Belk’s Biltmore for Your Home Collection to give our centerpieces an extra bit of height plus a hint of metallic silver detailing.

Materials needed

  • Hot glue
  • Wooden floral picks
  • Small knife
  • Artificial oranges (amount needed depends on size of centerpiece you want to create)
  • Artificial leaves, orange blossoms
  • Ribbon (optional)

  Assembling the centerpiece

 If using ribbon in your design, wrap the ribbon once around the orange and attach it with hot glue.  Do this with all oranges you are using for the centerpieces.  We used a bright citrus green ribbon for a seasonal pop of color against the oranges.

 Lay out a first layer or base of oranges in a circular/wreath-type pattern on your work surface.  Make a small hole on opposite sides of each orange, insert a wooden pick* in the hole, and use the pick to attach each orange to the next.  For extra support, fill the hole with hot glue before inserting a pick.  Work with care and protect your hands from hot glue!

 *Note:  depending on the size of your picks, you may need to cut them so all oranges rest flush against each other once picks are inserted.

 Once the base is completely dry, begin building the rest of the centerpiece in a “pyramid” fashion.  Using hot glue, affix the oranges on the top part of the base where the picked oranges attach. Continue building upward, gradually decreasing the amount of oranges you are using.  This can be accomplished by affixing the oranges slightly to the back of the layer you are attaching it to (almost in a stair step manner). 

 When the desired height is reached, put the last orange on the very top with a bow attached.  To fill in open spaces, glue an assortment of leaves or orange blossoms in the gap. 

  Make the look your own

 Consider using limes rather than oranges, or rich, red apples to enhance your holiday décor.