As summer ends and fall beauty begins to blanket the estate, our dedicated garden crew is busy preparing the grounds for the change of season.
After Labor Day, crews are busy pulling all of the tropical plants. Elephant ears in the massive terra cotta pots lining the front of Biltmore House and other areas are stored for next summer.
Once they’ve faded, lilies and lily pads are gathered from the Italian Garden pools to be composted. Many of our guests ask what happens to the koi in the pools, but they actually remain in the ponds and hibernate during the cooler months!
Dahlia bulbs in the Walled Garden’s Victorian border are lifted out of the ground to allow the soil to dry naturally. The bulbs are placed in a cool dry place to store over winter to be replanted in the spring.
The gorgeous second-round blooms in the Rose Garden are pruned in preparation for the International Rose Trials, September 22–23. The historic garden has hosted the event since 2011, providing breeders from all over the world a place to trial and display their roses.
And of course, the seemingly never-ending task of blowing and raking leaves across the estate will soon commence. There will be several leaf clean-ups throughout the season to minimize final efforts at autumn’s end. Along with some of the tropical plants, all raked leaves are composted and eventually become part of Biltmore soil.
To say that decorating for Christmas at Biltmore is an enormous task would be an understatement. Of course, the amount of décor brought into the house is staggering, but have you ever wondered how exactly we make room for all of it?
Meg Schloemer of our collections team
That’s where Meg Schloemer of our collections team comes in. Meg is responsible for tracking every item moved in the house for the holidays. She was only about halfway through the process when we visited her, but we estimate her to have tracked more than 300 items by the end.
Some of the items are put into storage for the season. Others—like the Banquet Hall silverware set, for instance—are taken to our objects lab, where conservators preserve and repair pieces in the Biltmore collection.
“Biltmore House is a conservation anomaly,” explains objects conservator Renee Jolly. “Unlike traditional museums, our environment is not controlled and our displays are generally on-going, which can be tough on the collection.”
The Banquet Hall Silverware Set
As the Banquet Hall silverware set arrives in the objects lab, Renee first surveys the condition of each piece in the set, checking for discoloration and tarnishing. If you look closely at the salt cellar pictured below, you can see a small, darkened mark where the miniature spoon has scratched the protective lacquer coating and tarnished the dish.
As typical silver cleaners can contain damaging chemicals, Renee polishes the set with chalk, a basic calcium carbonate mixture, and cotton swabs.
The Candelabra from Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom
Renee is also in the process of repairing and treating a candelabra set from Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom.
A damaged decorative arm on one of the pieces is being repaired and reattached. The gold components of the pieces are cleaned—not polished, as that can actually remove the gold—with a gentle gold-specific solution.
The ceramic parts of the pieces are cleaned with human saliva. (Yes, you read that right.)
“The natural enzymes of saliva are nature’s gentle solution for breaking down solids without damaging the surface,” explains Renee. Artificial alternatives are available but don’t work as well, and commercial cleaners are often too concentrated and corrosive.
It seems that while there are some advancements in conservation methods, it is often best to keep it simple.
Vanderbilt was an avid print collector who purchased more than 1,400 prints in his lifetime. Not only did he have personal friendships with leading artists of the era, he even named some of the rooms in his home after artists where their work was on display. Below are just a few of the rooms inside Biltmore House with names inspired by artists and how guests can see these on their tour.
This room was named after one of George Vanderbilt’s favorite artists, the French painter Claude Lorrain. One of the masters of 17th-century landscape painting, Claude presented nature as harmonious, serene, and often majestic. The prints on this room’s walls are after Claude Lorrain’s paintings. (See it on the winter tour rotation.)
The striking wallpaper in the Claude Room, reproduced from the original, is the same pattern that is used in the Damask Room, but in a different color palette.
This room was named for the English engraver Richard Earlom. Vanderbilt purchased most of the prints in this room and in his collection from H. Wunderlich and Company in New York. (See it on the Upstairs-Downstairs tour.)
Highly detailed engravings after the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael Sanzio d’Urbino add interest to the room’s understated décor. (See it on the Upstairs-Downstairs tour.)
Named for the English painter George Morland, this bedroom attracts attention with exotic Indian-style fabrics. The bed draperies are exact reproductions of hand-painted originals that adorned the Italian villa where George and Edith Vanderbilt honeymooned in 1898. (See it on the summer tour rotation.)
Van Dyck Room
Decorated in the Colonial revival style of the late 19th century, this room features prints after paintings by the 17th-century artist Anthony Van Dyck. (See it on the summer tour rotation.)
This room was named for the engraver James Watson. A close-up of his 1769 mezzotint after a painting by Francis Cotesand is the top photo in this blog. Fun fact: This room is the only bedroom with twin beds. (See it on the summer tour rotation.)
Have you ever wondered how rosé wines are created?
Known as rosé in French, rosado in Spanish, and rosato in Italian, rosé is one of the oldest styles of winemaking because—in its simplest form—it involves leaving crushed red grapes together with their skins for a certain amount of time.
Rosés can range from palest pink to deep red, depending on the varietal and how long it stayed in contact with the skin.
3 main ways to create rosés:
When a red varietal is crushed, the first juice is drawn off and aged separately as a rosé. This process results in very fine rosés and also serves to intensify the flavor of the original red varietal.
A red varietal is crushed and the skins are left in contact with the fruit for up to 24 hours, depending on the desired color and flavor of the final product. This is the most common production technique for rosés and produces excellent wines, including our Biltmore rosés.
Red and white juices are blended to create a rosé. This process is used mainly for lower-quality wines, although some outstanding sparkling rosés are created in this manner.
Where did rosés originate?
The world’s earliest red wines were probably closer to rosé than modern red wines because it was not considered desirable to leave the grapes in contact with the skins for more than a day.
Over time, Europe would become the primary producers of rosé wines, but that changed in the early 1950s as rosés were successfully introduced into American markets and emerging California wineries began creating their own versions.
By the 1970s, rosé was often referred to as “blush” wine in the U.S., and though wildly popular, the style gradually became associated with sweeter, less-desirable blended wines. Enthusiasm for rosé began to wane.
Today, rosé wines are enjoying a renaissance as winemakers and consumers explore a range of options from traditional dryer varietals such as Grenache, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah to semi-sweet offerings including White Zinfandel and sparkling Moscato versions.
Designed to be served chilled, modern rosés are excellent for sipping on their own and they also partner surprisingly well with eclectic fare such as spicy Asian cuisine and pizza.
At Biltmore, we continue to explore new styles of rosés as our consumers’ palates evolve and new trends arise.
New for 2019, try our Biltmore Reserve North Carolina Rosé. Pale salmon in color, it features a delightful aroma with notes of strawberry, watermelon, honey, and lime. Semi-sweet and refreshing with flavors of kiwi and honeydew, it pairs well with spicy sausage, blackened chicken, and black bean burgers.
In addition, savor delicious options like our long-time favorite Biltmore Estate Zinfandel Blanc de Noir, which is vibrant and crisp with sweet tropical fruit aromas and delicate berry flavors, or our elegant and refreshing Biltmore Estate Dry Rosé with a subtle, fruit-forward bouquet followed by layers of delicate berry flavors.
For a sparkling wine as delicious as it is beautiful, try our coral-hued Biltmore Estate Blanc de Noir crafted from Pinot Noir grapes in the traditional méthode champenoise.
Chickens, turkeys, and other fowl have been strutting and clucking their way across the estate since its earliest days. Biltmore’s two original poultry sheds proved too limited, so in 1896, plans began for what would become the Poultry Yards, located up the hill from what’s now the Farm and Bike Barn.
Richard Howland Hunt, son of Richard Morris Hunt, designed the Poultry Yards, which included the Brooder House, plus the Chicken Tender’s House: the residence for the poultryman and his family. A variety of breeds were raised at Biltmore, including Brahmas, Cochins, Cornish game hens, Leghorns, Minorcas, Plymouth Rocks, and Wyandottes. In addition to chickens, ducks and drakes, Bronze turkey toms and hens, wild turkey, quail, squab, and pheasant were found on the estate. Photo courtesy of National Forests of North Carolina Historic Photographs, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, 28804.
From the start, Biltmore Farms produced award-winning poultry used for eggs as well as meat. In May of 1897, an advertisement in the Asheville Citizen announced the sale of dressed Biltmore broilers at 30 cents each, table eggs at 15 cents a dozen, and “dated and extra selected” eggs at 25 cents a dozen. By the end of that same year, enough eggs were being produced to supply the Kenilworth Inn with eight to 15 dozen a day as well as provide for the needs of Biltmore House.
When the Vanderbilts were in residence and entertaining guests, demand for eggs skyrocketed. According to a June 8, 1896 memo, Biltmore House required nearly 30 dozen eggs a week. Poultry and eggs were served almost daily according to the 1904 Menu Book for Biltmore House. Luncheons and dinners often began with chicken broth or consommé. For second luncheon, eggs were served stuffed, creamed, and fried, and included in cutlets, omelets, timbales and croquettes. Chickens were prepared broiled, roasted, fricasseed, fried, creamed, braised, and in casseroles, potpies and mousse. Other poultry dishes included roast and barbequed duck, braised quail and squab, and roast partridge and goose. Leftover poultry frequently went into salads.
If the 1904 Menu Book is any indication, the poultry most frequently served in Biltmore House was turkey. The Vanderbilts ate roast turkey with cranberry sauce, roast Biltmore turkey, broiled spring turkey, roast wild turkey, turkey soup and croquettes, creamed turkey, chipped turkey and cold turkey in salad. In fact, they ate turkey in one form or another 35 times during one span of 14 weeks, or on average every three days. A recipe for turkey and cornbread dressing was said to be one of Mr. Vanderbilt’s favorite foods.
The Poultry Farm closed down not long after Mr. Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, but the buildings continued to be used for other purposes. The original Chicken Tender’s House functioned as a residence until it burned in 1931. The Brooder House still stands behind the Inn on Biltmore Estate and can be seen on the Legacy of the Land tour.
Chicken remain a vital part of our farm-to-table program. In the past twelve months, Biltmore’s mostly brown egg-laying flocks (which include heirloom and historic Vanderbilt breeds) have produced 16,080 eggs.
All of Biltmore’s egg layers are free range and are part of our intensive grazing rotation. The eggs are laid, collected, handled and packaged here and never leave the estate. All eggs are processed and incubated in the historic Brooder House. Look for our mobile chicken coops in the fields near the Farm, one of the creative measures our farmers put in place to promote sustainable agriculture on the estate.
Flowers are as much a part of a wedding celebration as the music or the cake. So when plans began for our Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film exhibition, our Floral Design team got right to work coming up with inspiring designs to set the tone for this delightful affair.
The exhibition includes costumes from 19 films, spanning hundreds of years and far-flung locations starting in 18th-century England and stretching into 1930s Germany. Using the costumes and the rooms where they’ll be located as a starting point, the designers began sketches.
The Entry Hall sets the tone for the exhibition with a dramatic four-tier floral cake under fabric swags lit from the inside with party lights. A floral chandelier in shades of pink dripping with crystal pendants hangs above it. Molly Reed created the design, which includes the 6.5 x 3’-cake form (seen below, in progress) decorated with 450 roses and 150 lilies, both silk and fresh, surrounded by fresh arrangements.
In the Banquet Hall, costumes from the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice called for a loose, English country garden look. A flower dangles from each of the three “love knots” in the ribbons hanging from the room’s two chandeliers, a nod to Regency and Victorian tradition. The three knots represent the three words “I love you,” says Cristy Leonard who designed the room’s florals. Cornelia Vanderbilt had these knots in her bouquet at her 1924 wedding to the Honorable John F.A. Cecil.
In the Music Room, designer Kyla Dana came up with the lush look for the florals accompanying the costumes from the 1988 film The Deceivers, set in early 19th-century British India. Dana used the film’s setting as inspiration for her lush design, featuring silk marigolds—a traditional Indian wedding flower—and purple bougainvillea.
A wedding dress worn by Helena Bonham-Carter in the 1994 film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is on display in the Library. The theme here is silk roses, mostly in deep red with touches of hot pink. Eight heart-shaped medallions will be affixed to the balcony railings, referencing not only the film’s wedding but one of the more dramatic scenes. In total, there will be around 700 roses in the room.
But the Fashionable Romance exhibition extends beyond Biltmore House. The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village has been transformed into a stylish gallery featuring stories and objects from Vanderbilt family weddings. While there are no photos of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s wedding, photos allowed designers to re-create both Cornelia Vanderbilt’s dress and bouquet. Designer Lucinda Ledford recreated the stephanotis bouquet held by Mary Lee Ryan at her wedding to Cornelia’s son William A.V. Cecil in 1957, seen below in progress.
Biltmore Floral Department manager Cathy Barnhardt estimates that there will be approximately 3,200 fresh and faux roses in the planned displays throughout the exhibition, with around 1,500 fresh flowers being replaced each week. As you walk through the exhibit, be sure to pay attention to the lovingly designed florals, which add charm and beauty to the exquisite costume displays.
Biltmore’s Curator of Interpretation Leslie Klingner was anticipating the arrival of a special delivery when we met recently to talk with her about a unique collaboration that would result in the re-creation of a Vanderbilt family heirloom.
Due in the very next day from England was the result of that collaboration: a replica of the wedding gown and veil Cornelia Vanderbilt wore in her 1924 wedding to John Frances Amherst Cecil. The gown is part of our new exhibition opening on Feb. 12, “Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film.”
Because the new exhibition contains a section devoted to wedding stories about the Vanderbilt and Cecil families, Leslie and team decided to have the ensemble recreated for our guests to enjoy. The original gown and veil are not in Biltmore’s archival collection, yet many photographs exist of Cornelia in the dress including one of her standing on the Grand Staircase in Biltmore House.
Leslie and members of Biltmore’s Museum Services Team joined forces with John Bright and his team at London-based Cosprop, Ltd., a respected costumier to film, television and theater. Biltmore has enjoyed a friendship with Bright and his company since working together on bringing their costumes from “Downton Abbey” to Biltmore for an exhibition in 2015. And of course, Bright’s team is responsible for creating the gorgeous film costumes to be featured in “Fashionable Romance.”
Leslie, staff archivist Jill Hawkins, and curator Lori Garst set about scouring the archives for every photo of Cornelia in her wedding gown they could find. They gathered newspaper clippings about the wedding and descriptions of her dress. They made copies of the material, packed it all up and sent it overseas to Bright. (Back in 1924, news of Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding was akin to coverage of what a modern-day celebrity receives when getting married.)
With all of that information, Bright’s team would create a straight satin foundation with long sleeves and a shortened hemline; and an antique lace stole that forms the lace outer layer of the dress. They would also make Cornelia’s dramatic voluminous veil and its lengthy train.
“The silhouette of the dress was very elegant and its unique structure was more common in the 1920s. It’s modern, and closely cut with an undersheath made from very luxe materials. The draping and length were very much in keeping with the changing fashion of the Jazz Age,” Leslie said.
Before any sewing took place, the teams spent many hours planning by conference call. Fabric and lace samples traveled between Asheville and London. In all, the planning process took one year. Actual construction of the dress took a five-person team at Cosprop seven weeks.
Lessons in ingenuity
That an ocean was between the two teams was but a small technicality in recreating Cornelia’s dress. Issues more challenging presented themselves along the way:
Cornelia’s exact measurements were unknown. Leslie and team employed their research skills and came up with a composite for Bright. They knew she was tall, and her 1922 passport application confirmed that she was about 5 feet 10 inches tall. For the remaining crucial details, Biltmore Conservator Anne Battram measured one of the few pieces of Cornelia’s clothing in the archives: her French Renaissance page costume she wore during her 21st birthday masquerade party in 1921.
Textiles used in the original dress are no longer made. Despite the absence of the same satin weave fabric used for the sheath of the dress, Bright knew where he could find the closest thing that would match the lustrous sheen of Cornelia’s gown. “He did a fabulous job,” Leslie says.
The silk tulle required to create the veil’s volume is no longer available in the original width. Bright is an Oscar-winning costumer designer, so his expertise and experience informed his ability to take the widest silk tulle available and work with it to create the right proportions.
The silk tulle is ethereal and light making it subject to wilting in humid conditions. To ensure the veil remains as airy and voluminous as it was on Cornelia’s wedding day for the duration of the exhibition, Bright added a layer of nylon tulle underneath to help maintain the body of the fabric.
The dress indeed arrived the day after our talk with Leslie. We checked back in with her about the results.
“We are absolutely ecstatic with the outcome,” says Leslie. “This was a complex project, particularly since many of materials were antique originally and impossible to source, so we knew we would never be able to create a perfect facsimile. But, John Bright and Cosprop created an astounding likeness of the gown – down to the orange blossoms on Cornelia’s veil.”
Featured image: John Bright and his team at Cosprop, Ltd. in London worked from archival photography and newspaper accounts of Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 1924 wedding to John F.A. Cecil to replicate her gown for Biltmore’s new exhibition.
Also featured: Biltmore’s Leslie Klingner compares lace and silk fabric samples sent to her in Asheville, N.C., from Bright in London.
Bridges are a functional and necessary part of getting around Biltmore, and most of us simply drive or walk right over them without really noticing many details. But enormous thought and care went into the planning and construction of these bridges, which are more than a century old.
The bridges were designed as a collaborative effort between Biltmore’s architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Brick bridges were typically constructed by the Hunt firm, while the stone bridges were created under Olmsted’s direction.
The first bridges were wooden structures built in the early 1890s prior to the completion of Biltmore House. Although many of the bridges are in areas not now open to guests, there are several that are used and admired every day.
Standing the test of time
You’ll see an enduring example of Olmsted’s stone bridge design about halfway up the Approach Road to Biltmore House. It was created as a horse-ford bridge with a pull-off so that carriages could stop and allow the horses to drink without blocking the road. This bridge once had a semi-circular balcony with a stone bench built into it so that guests could enjoy the scenery and the pond while waiting for the ride to resume.
The iconic brick bridge over the Bass Pond is one of the most beautiful spots on the estate. Its sweeping curve and high archway reflected in the water below made a stunning backdrop a scene in the film Last of the Mohicans—one of many feature films shot at Biltmore–as two central characters rode across it in a horse-drawn carriage.
“We know that the Hunt firm designed the Bass Pond bridge, and that it includes brick made at Biltmore Brick and Tileworks,” said Bill Alexander, Landscape and Forest Historian. “Archival records show that it cost $9,570 to complete.”
Another lovely bridge that is often overlooked includes a tunnel allowing pedestrians to cross from the Shrub Garden to the Spring Garden. As you walk or drive between the iron gates in front of Biltmore House, follow the road to the right toward the Conservatory. You’ll cross this bridge just before entering the Walled Garden.
“Olmsted used the same technique in Central Park so that people walking didn’t have to worry about vehicles,” said Bill. “Although it was Olmsted’s idea and plan, Hunt designed and built it. Reading between the lines, we think that Hunt, Olmsted, and Vanderbilt probably planned those important details together.”
Featured photo: Bass Pond Bridge
Righ photo: (L-R, standing) Edward Burnett, Richard Morris Hunt, George Vanderbilt; (L-R, seated) Frederick Law Olmsted, Richard Howland Hunt
An outdoor sculpture comes clean, with help from the expert conservators at Biltmore.
“From the iconic marble lions in front of Biltmore House to terra cotta figures, bronzes, and more, the estate features 37 pieces of outdoor sculpture and historic plaques,” said Kara Warren, Preventive Conservation Specialist.
One of the two grand marble lion sculptures that guard the Front Door of Biltmore House
According to Kara, each piece of outdoor sculpture is carefully examined and photographed every six months to determine its “health” and what type of cleaning, stabilization, or repairs might be needed.
There are four sphinx sculptures atop stone pillars guarding the massive iron entry and exit gates through which guests pass to get their first glimpse of Biltmore House.
The sphinx appears in Egyptian and Greek mythology as a creature with a human head and torso–usually female–and the hindquarters of a lion. Egypt’s massive Great Sphinx of Giza sculpture is probably the best-known example in the world.
The following photos illustrate how important Biltmore’s process is and what a difference cleaning and preservation make:
This elegant sphinx guards the right side of the iron gates adjacent to Biltmore House
This sphinx is turned as if to watch the Approach Road while the sphinx on the opposite side of the gates looks toward Biltmore House. The sculpture was in need of a thorough cleansing to rid it of biological growth. Scaffolding was built around the sphinx so our conservators could clean it in place.
Conservators carefully cleaned half of the sphinx to show a remarkable difference
Biltmore’s preservation experts worked on half of the sculpture at a time to illustrate different stages of the cleaning process. Note how much detail is revealed when the dark biological growth was removed from the hindquarters of this sphinx.
The sphinx sculpture cleaned and restored to her full glory
After a thorough cleaning, the classic sphinx sculpture once again welcomes guests to Biltmore House in regal style.
Heather Haukaas and Roman Harper
April 18, 2015 Photography by Parker J. Pfister (Above: South Terrace of Biltmore House)
Rother: Heather Haukaas and Roman Harper are so close that their friends refer to them in a single name that combines both of their first names. The couple met in high school when Heather caused a splash as the new girl in town in Prattville, Alabama. Their love story spans 16 years as they went together to the University of Alabama, spent time apart, and reunited in New Orleans where Roman was a safety for the New Orleans Saints, and finally to Charlotte, where he now plays for the Carolina Panthers.
The couple knew they wanted a destination wedding and they wanted it to be fun for their guests with a touch of glamour. While at a bridal expo, Heather discovered Biltmore, visited, and fell in love with the beauty of the surroundings. With so many friends and family coming in for the wedding (especially from the East Coast), it was the ideal location, Heather says.
The Big Day
Getting ready at the Cottage on Biltmore Estate
Heather and her bridesmaids stayed in The Cottage on Biltmore Estate, where they spent quality time together preparing for the big day. The private two-bedroom cottage offers a cozy sitting room, full kitchen, and beautiful views of the estate’s farmland. The bride wore Shin Bu of Los Angeles and the groom wore a suit by Fellow suits.
In the courtyard at Deerpark
Rain on your wedding day? It’s good luck! “We had every kind of weather,” says Heather, but the down pours held off during the touching ceremony, performed in front of 200 guests in the courtyard at Deerpark by “Pastor Rob” (Rob Wilton), the chaplain for the New Orleans Saints, a long-time friend of the couple. When it came time for the vows, Heather led the guests in a chant. “When I say I, you say do, I do, I do!”
The happy couple; a pose with their daughters Londyn and Sydney at Biltmore House
The reception was held at Deerpark, with pink accents in the flowers and on the tables, each of which had a place marker in honor of special places in the couple’s life, such as the street where they now live and the street on which they got engaged.
Members of the bridal party did a football-style run out to the reception, with each member imitating the style of their favorite players (the bridesmaids were the clear run-out winners, Heather says). The couple followed them, with football jerseys over their formal wear. An evening of dancing and many tearful toasts followed.
We’re thrilled that Heather and Roman chose to start the next chapter of their life together at Biltmore and wish this beautiful couple the best of everything!
Contact us about having your own dream wedding at Biltmore.