How a first-timer helps deck Biltmore’s halls
Estate History 11/11/15
Written By Jean Sexton
For the past decade, Tracy Ross has enjoyed Christmas at Biltmore from the sidelines, first as a host in Biltmore House and then as a member of the Reception & Ticketing Sales Center team. This year, however, Tracy has stepped into a new role with Biltmore’s Floral department, and she’s got her hands full of Christmas—literally!
“I’ve helped Floral over the years with things like fluffing trees,” Tracy said, “but this is the first time I have a personal stake in it, and I can say ‘I did that.’”
Tracy joined the team just a month before Floral began decorating for Biltmore’s most-anticipated season of the year. The theme—A Gilded Age Christmas—had already been decided and plans made for the decorative style featured in each room. That meant that Tracy jumped in wherever she was most needed, assisting her new co-workers in bringing holiday magic to life in America’s largest home and all across the estate.
“They are so incredibly organized,” said Tracy of her teammates. “Day-by-day, step-by-step, they’ve worked out all the details so that nothing falls through the cracks. And even though everything is planned, individual personalities shine through in the decorations!”
One aspect of decorating Biltmore that surprised Tracy is the research Floral conducts to ensure that their designs are historically accurate and connected to Vanderbilt stories and traditions. “A member of Floral wanted to include vintage ice skates in her room decorations,” Tracy said, “so she went through archival material until she discovered a photograph of Cornelia Vanderbilt skating on the ice-covered fountain pool on the Front Lawn of Biltmore House.”
The photograph gave her the historic tie with Biltmore and the Vanderbilts that she needed to feature ice skates. “Her effort makes the décor in the Music Room that much more special and meaningful,” said Tracy.
Another thing that surprised Tracy? How much behind-the-scenes preparation work it takes to create the decorative elements for each room. “The garland for the Winter Garden took eight separate steps to complete,” Tracy explained. “We started with a thick garland that was beautiful on its own, and then we added layers of permanent botanicals like ivy, dusty miller, and pine branches. Then more layers of icy sparkles to achieve a true Gilded Age look and feel. When it was finished, it was unbelievably rich and luxurious—exactly what you’d expect the Vanderbilts to have in their home!”
While Tracy works with this season’s Christmas at Biltmore decorations, she’s already planning ahead for next year. “I feel very blessed and very lucky to be around all these talented people,” she said. “They’ve welcomed me to the team, and they trust me to begin putting my creative personality and ideas into the mix. I’ve always loved Biltmore and the holidays, but this year, that love has really been revitalized!”