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Celebrating a Gilded Age Christmas

Written By Jean Sexton

Posted 11/10/15

Updated 11/10/15

Estate History

Each year, our floral department selects a theme inspired by the Vanderbilt era, and they interpret it throughout the entire estate, from Biltmore House to Antler Hill Village & Winery, plus The Inn on Biltmore Estate, our new Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, and all our shops restaurants. For 2015, the theme reflects all the style and splendor associated with ‘A Gilded Age Christmas.’

But what does “Gilded Age” really mean? We turned to Laura Overbey, Collections Manager, for a helpful definition.

“Gilded Age refers to the time period in which the Vanderbilts and their peers lived,” said Laura. “It is a unique time in American history that included the construction of grand and elegantly decorated estates filled with high society and glittering parties.”

Chandelier detailTo reflect the shimmering splendor of a Gilded Age Christmas inside Biltmore House, Floral concentrated on highlighting the stunning interior details like mantels, carvings, and light fixtures complemented by dozens of beautifully decorated trees, miles of fresh greenery and wreaths, and ornaments.

“We’ve created an elegant holiday statement that reflects the luxury of that time,” said Cathy Barnhardt, Floral Displays Manager. “The emphasis is on rich layers of color accented with metallic touches of gold, silver, and platinum.”

The Banquet Hall is always a guest favorite during Christmas. This year, the traditional 40’ fresh-cut Fraser fir is decorated with Edison-style white lights, tinsel, brightly-wrapped gift boxes, vintage toys tied on with bows, and enormous, colorful ornaments in keeping with the size of the tree. Also included in the charming display is a bright red, child-sized one-horse sleigh that dates from the turn of the century.

Decorations and wrapped packages on the Christmas treeThe tree and the packages are reminiscent of the first Biltmore Christmas when the children of estate workers gathered in the hall to receive presents chosen especially for them. In December 1895 the Asheville Citizen noted that “A beautiful Christmas tree that stood in the Banquet Hall causing the loveliest anticipation of the little folks was then stripped of its heavy trimming of gifts. Each guest was remembered.”

In the Salon, a stately tree decorated with feminine details that suggest ladies hats, feathers, and jeweled pieces was inspired by Edith Vanderbilt’s use of the space as a sitting room where she entertained her friends with afternoon tea.

A quartet of trees in the Tapestry Gallery feature dozens of cherubs peeping out from the branches in honor of the Nativity, the centerpiece of the longest room in Biltmore House. The Tapestry Gallery trees and those in the Third Floor Living Hall also feature globe-shaped German wax ornaments decorated with floral patterns.

“These are my favorite ornaments, and ones I used to decorate during my first Christmas here nearly 40 years ago,” said Cathy. “They are very traditional and so fitting for this year’s Gilded Age theme.”

Sparkling Christmas ornamentsThere’s nothing quite as special celebrating the holidays at Biltmore, and since George Vanderbilt chose to open his home to his friends and family at Christmas 1895, it’s only fitting that we continue that tradition today. We hope you’ll join us for both our Christmas at Biltmore daytime celebration and our magical Candlelight Christmas Evenings.

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