What to Wear to Biltmore: Insider Tips

You’ve booked your visit to Biltmore and are ready to explore, relax, and have fun in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Now it’s time to think about what to pack.

Here are a few Biltmore insider tips to help you plan what to wear to maximize your enjoyment as you visit our magnificent 8,000-acre estate any time of year.

Pack for your visit with these insider tips on what to wear at Biltmore!

What to wear for the occasion

Chances are, George Vanderbilt’s guests asked themselves the same questions as they planned their visits to Biltmore over a century ago. Luckily, today’s clothing differs quite a bit from the opulent glamour and elegance of the Edwardian-style silk and velvet gowns and dapper suits expected of Biltmore’s guests during the Gilded Age!

While there is no dress code for visiting Biltmore Estate (aside from dining at our four-star Inn), we recommend dressing for the occasion with photo ops, your comfort, your personal style, and of course, the weather in mind!

Biltmore admission includes access to explore our 8,000-acre estate!

What to wear for getting around

From exploring Biltmore’s 75 acres of formal gardens to touring the 175,000-square-foot home, you’ll want to be comfortable as you experience all the estate has to offer.

Comfortable shoes are a must! Loafers and stylish sneakers are great year-round options, walking sandals are perfect for touring the estate in spring and summer, and flat boots are comfortable for fall and winter.

Guests can expect to walk anywhere from half a mile to several miles depending on what they wish to experience while on the estate, all while navigating different types of terrain across the historic grounds, including uneven gravel and paved walkways and stairs.

Tip: Check our Accessibility page for helpful information about navigating the estate with a wheelchair or stroller. Want to bring a purse or backpack? Review our bag policy.

Dress for comfort, no matter the forecast.

What to wear for the Asheville weather

Blue Ridge Mountain weather is predictably unpredictable! It is not unusual to have blue skies give way to an afternoon shower, especially during spring and summer. No matter the weather, you’ll want to dress to enjoy your time on Biltmore Estate.

When there’s a chance of rain, plan to bring an umbrella or raincoat. During the fall and winter seasons, be sure to wear layers to be bundled up outdoors and comfortable indoors. Light, breathable layers are excellent year-round.

Tip: Check the local Asheville area weather forecast the day before your visit and arrive prepared. Watch for changing weather conditions.

Falconry is one of the more adventurous activities offered on Biltmore Estate.

What to wear for activities

“I thought it was just a house!” is often heard from first-time visitors, but a trip to Biltmore offers far more options beyond the historic home. Just as George Vanderbilt offered outdoor activities for his guests, we offer countless activities for our guests today!

Ranging from laid-back to adventurous, we recommend taking time to research which Biltmore activities you’d like to do while visiting, and be sure to keep that in mind while packing.

Tip: Enhance your visit with activities including horseback riding, biking, kayaking, hiking, falconry, and fishing as well as indoor pursuits such as shopping, dining, and tasting our handcrafted wines. Availability changes throughout the year and some activities require advanced reservations.

Stop and snap a selfie… and then tag @biltmoreestate. 😉

What to wear for the perfect picture

Trust us, you’re going to want to snap a few selfies and group photos while you’re here. You know that outfit people are always complimenting when you wear it? The one that makes you feel good as soon as you put it on? Bring it along! Biltmore is the perfect location for capturing moments that will last a lifetime.

Tip: Private photoshoots for engagements, graduation, maternity, and holiday cards for personal use are permitted on the estate. Please review the Biltmore Photo Policy before arrival.

Plan outfits that can be easily dressed up or down during your Biltmore getaway.

What to wear for your getaway

As a top destination, Biltmore’s award-winning winery, numerous restaurants, and luxury accommodations also make the estate perfect for romantic getaways, weddings, bridal showers, girlfriends’ weekends, family vacations, anniversaries, birthdays, and any excuse for a fun get-together!

Consider outfits that can be dressed up or down for a variety of activities during your getaway on the estate. For example, flowy dresses or skirts can be paired with walking sandals during the day and heels for dinner. Breathable, stretchy chino pants can be paired with stylish sneakers and a polo shirt during the day or loafers and a blazer at night.

Overnight stays at one of our private historic Cottages, our four-star Inn, or the more casual Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate will allow you to experience life as a guest of the Vanderbilts and it offers a chance to bring more outfits with you.

📷 by @goanniewhere explores the Conservatory
📷 by @camrynglackin takes a stroll near The Inn on Biltmore Estate
📷 by @naenoelle shares a fun family moment in front of Biltmore House
📷 by @welltraveledchild rolls by the Lagoon on bike
📷 by @veronicadaisy takes in the Loggia views
📷 by @travelingspud is ready to explore
📷 by @worldofawanderer heads out on horseback
📷 by @welltraveledchild takes in the views with her family

Show off your style

Share your favorite Biltmore insider tips, memories, and outfits with us by tagging #Biltmore @biltmoreestate on social media.

No matter what you wear, we look forward to welcoming you to Biltmore Estate!

Restoring the Past: The Smoking & Gun Rooms

For upper echelons during the Gilded Age, few things were more important than networking and maintaining social standing. Smoking and Gun Rooms were essential for many affluent families. At Biltmore, these two rooms have been used in various ways over the last century, yet always centered around hospitality.

In honor of National Preservation Month in May, we invite you to learn about the intricate layers of our preservation efforts to restore the Smoking and Gun Rooms of Biltmore House.

Hallway between Smoking and Gun Room
An archival photo of the hallway from the 1940s displays embossed wallpaper resembling leather, dating back to 1911.

A home well-loved

Biltmore has been called home to many generations of Vanderbilts and Cecils throughout the years. And, just as we do in our own homes, we update, refresh, and alternate the use of space, the Smoking and Gun Rooms on the first floor of Biltmore House were no different.

During George Vanderbilt’s time, gentlemen primarily utilized these rooms to socialize, relax, and gear up for outdoor activities including hunting and fishing. After George’s death, Edith and Cornelia downsized, and used these rooms as office and living quarters, which they remained through the Cecils’ stay. Always evolving and reflecting the tastes of the time and lifestyles of their inhabitants.

Handwritten letter by George Vanderbilt from February 13, 1896. Letter says
A handwritten letter by George Vanderbilt in 1896 gives us a glimpse at the historic use of these rooms.

History writes itself

Through a combination of research, our own archival documents and photos, and those from repositories around the world, we can peel back the layers of time to bring Biltmore back to its roots.

Among the treasures uncovered in our archives are a series of letters that offer a glimpse into the past. One letter, dated to the 1890s, finds George requesting retrieval of a box stored in a desk in the Smoking Room—these little nuggets of information provide us with invaluable clues to the room’s furnishings and use.

“Dear Charles, With the enclosed key please open the desk in the smoking room. In the middle drawer is a box addressed to me at Biltmore about 14×7 inches + 2 inches deep… On the top of the desk are a lot of letters and some invitations. Please mail me these.” – George Vanderbilt on February 13, 1896

Herbert Noble in Biltmore Winter Garden c. 1930
Herbert Noble in Biltmore’s Winter Garden c. 1930

The Butler’s Log

Central to our research efforts is the Butler’s Log, meticulously maintained by Herbert Noble during the 1930s. This detailed account of the changes made within Biltmore House offers a treasure trove of information, from descriptions of room updates to insights into the removal and replacement of furnishings and décor that had been worn out, water damaged, or whatever the case may be. Often what he is moving out is the pieces of information that are most helpful.

Herbert recorded, “Leaks at some time had ruined the original paper which was dark green. As the blue draperies were so very faded and worn, I had new ones made for it of dark red damask…”

Edith standing in the Smoking Room
The wallpaper seen in this photo of Mrs. Vanderbilt matches a sample of wallpaper in storage, which assisted us in restoring the Smoking Room to its original state.

We took that information alongside a picture of Edith which shows a striped wallpaper on the wall behind her and found the same green striped wallpaper in our storage. This sample has since been sent off to be reproduced by Atelier D’Offard in Tours, France, who specializes in hand-blocked wallpapers as produced in the 18th and 19th centuries.. The same company who produced wallpapers for the Louis XV Suite.

Another entry states,”Mr. Cecil uses this room for a writing room.  He had the woodwork cleaned & oiled last year…Mr. Cecil had the backs of the cabinets painted yellow which shows up the birds so much more besides improving the appearance of the room.  The dark blue & red rug is from the Van Dyke room…  As this room had no draperies I hung a pair of velvet draperies in here.

A glimpse inside the Gun Room of Biltmore House as it undergoes preservation.

Digging deeper for information

While we had archival clues for the Smoking Room, the Gun Room required the team to start entirely from scratch. According to Lori Garst, Biltmore’s Curator of Collections, we had no archival drawings to use when planning the restoration of the Gun Room. Our research last summer focused on the function of late 19th  and early 20th-century gun rooms.  Based on the finishes in our gun room, we knew that the dirty work of cleaning the guns was done elsewhere.  Rather, Biltmore’s gun room, like others, was more of a gathering place where the men went to pick up their equipment for the afternoon’s shoot or fishing outing. 

Pardon our Preservation: Restoration of these rooms will be visible to guests through completion.

A mission of preservation

For Lori and the team, every preservation project is a chance to uncover and revive history. “Restoration projects at Biltmore uncover our past. Stories related to the spaces are revealed, and the original design details are uncovered. In the Smoking and Gun Room, we have both. When complete, the rooms will be completely transformed.”

We welcome you to see our ongoing preservation efforts of this National Historic Landmark for yourself during your next Biltmore visit.

Wedding Bells for John and Cornelia Cecil

Biltmore has witnessed countless celebrations over the last 129 years, but perhaps none so grand as the wedding of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s only child, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, to the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil.

April 29, 2024, marks the 100th anniversary of this monumental event. To celebrate, let’s take a look at John and Cornelia’s wedding by the numbers!

Escorted by her mother Edith, Cornelia Vanderbilt follows her bridesmaids into All Souls Church. April 29, 1924
Rachel Strong insisted on wearing a white organdy Lanvin gown with a full skirt, accented with a large white hat.
The bridesmaids wore green flowered crepe-de-chine dresses cut straight, accented by black and white hosiery and small white straw hats.
The flower girls wore white dresses with full skirts, ballet slippers, and butterfly necklaces gifted to them by Cornelia.
John Cecil’s groomsmen wore dark tuxedos with tails and could opt to wear spats.

Wedding bells are ringing

Cornelia Vanderbilt had eight bridesmaids. Among them were her school friends from Miss Madeira’s, cousins, cousins-to-be, and her best friend, Rachel “Bunchy” Strong, as maid of honor.

John Cecil had a matching eight ushers, including Hugh Tennant, his best man and superior officer at the British Embassy in Washington, DC. Several of his groomsmen were men he lived with upon arriving in the United States in 1923, a group known as the “British Bachelors.” Others included his cousin Robert Cecil, childhood friend Benjamin Bernard, and Cornelia’s cousin John Nicholas Brown.

The wedding party also included two flower girls: Helen Raoul and Peggy Morgan, both daughters of family friends in Asheville.

Guests wait for Cornelia and John Cecil wedding
Guests wait to enter All Souls Church. April 29, 1924

Quantifying the guest list

The Cecil wedding was a high-profile event celebrating the union of not only two individuals, but two countries.

The guest list reflected the prominence of both the Vanderbilt and Cecil families. It included aristocracy, diplomats, politicians, and socialites of both the United States and United Kingdom—all mingling with the estate’s residents and employees, for whom a section of All Souls Church was reserved.

In total, 500 people were invited to the ceremony held at All Souls Church, while another 2,500 received a separate invitation to attend just the reception at Biltmore. While many invitations were respectfully declined, the Cecil’s welcomed more than 1,000 attendees!

Biltmore House stands ready for wedding guests. April 29, 1924
Biltmore House stands ready for wedding guests. April 29, 1924

Renovations for accommodations

Although many guests stayed at Grove Park Inn, Biltmore Country Club, and Kenilworth Inn, those closest to Cornelia were invited to stay in Biltmore House. A group of 43 family members and friends occupied the 35 bedrooms—including the Oak Sitting Room, where members of the bridal party stayed together.

Because the wedding marked the most guests ever accommodated in the house at one time, preparations began as early as March 15, 1924—before the Cecils formally announced their engagement. Some rooms were renovated, while others were extensively cleaned before being furnished. That the house was ready for a record number of guests in just six weeks is a testament to the skill of Biltmore’s domestic staff.

Pollyann Foster greets John and Cornelia Cecil following their wedding. April 29, 1924
Pollyann Foster greets John and Cornelia Cecil following their wedding. April 29, 1924

Cupid’s innocent greeting

Following the wedding ceremony, 44 children of Biltmore Estate employees lined up outside All Souls Church. The newlyweds recessed from the church down an aisle formed by the children, each of whom held spring blossoms that they crossed to form an arch. At the end of this receiving line, they were greeted by Pollyann Foster, one of the estate’s youngest residents, dressed as Cupid.

Crossed flags, representing the bride and groom's nationalities, greeted guests in the Main Hall. April 29, 1924
Crossed flags, representing the bride and groom’s nationalities, greeted guests in the Main Hall. April 29, 1924

Two become one

As guests entered for the reception, they were greeted by two flags hanging in the Entrance Hall: an American Flag and a British Union Jack. During the wedding breakfast served at the reception, both God Save the King and The Star-Spangled Banner were played. The couple turned toward their respective flags as the national anthem of each country rang out, signifying the union of two countries through their marriage.

Keepsake cake with monogram details.
Keepsake cake with monogram details. “CVC” for Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and “JFAC” for John Francis Amherst Cecil.

Gifts of generosity

Guests of John and Cornelia Cecil celebrated the couple in style, lavishing them with thoughtful gifts. Among the wedding gifts were 70 pieces of silver, 53 pieces of china, 25 pieces of jewelry, 20 books, and two pieces of Tiffany glass.

Several notable gifts include a Jade Vanity Case, Jade Hatpin, and Amethyst Pendant. Not all gifts were opulent; servants of Biltmore House gifted heartwarming, homemade gifts–and even a puppy!

In return, Cornelia and John gifted their guests a sweet treat from Maison Rauscher of Washington.

Biltmore’s floral team displays a recreation of Cornelia and John’s wedding bell in the Tapestry Gallery.
The Honorable and Mrs. John F.A. Cecil pose beneath a large wedding bell displayed in the Tapestry Gallery.
Close-up view of the recreated wedding bell.

See a piece of history re-created!

In honor of the 100th anniversary, our Floral team re-created the massive floral wedding bell under which John and Cornelia Cecil stood in the Tapestry Gallery to receive their guests.

Covered in carnations and sweet peas, the decorative bell was on display, as part of our Spring at Biltmore celebrations.

Featured image: John and Cornelia Cecil leave All Souls Church under an arch of floral branches carried by estate children.

Sylvester Owens: Biltmore’s “Azalea King”

A significant and often overlooked employee in Biltmore’s past is Sylvester Owens: chauffeur, “Azalea Hunter,” and head gardener trained by Biltmore’s nursery manager and later estate superintendent Chauncey Beadle. It is because of Owens’ passion and expertise that Beadle’s vision for the Azalea Garden was completed, creating the stunning landscape that we know and enjoy today.

Learn about this important figure in Biltmore’s history and his lasting contributions to our renowned garden landscapes.

Sylvester Owens. Photo courtesy of Eugenia (Gena) McCleary.
Sylvester Owens. Photo courtesy of Eugenia (Gena) McCleary.

Sylvester Owens at Biltmore

Owens was born in Rutherford County, NC, in 1897. He received little formal education during his youth and began helping on his family farm at a young age. By his early 20s, he had been married and widowed with two young children, at which time he moved to Asheville to live with his uncle, Jim Owens.

He began his employment at Biltmore as a chauffeur and companion to Chauncey Beadle in 1920. His brother Frank was also employed on the estate, performing maintenance and supplying firewood to Biltmore House.

Sylvester Owens tagging an azalea at Biltmore, photographed by Elliot Lyman Fisher for Ebony magazine, August 1951.
Sylvester Owens tagging an azalea at Biltmore, photographed by Elliot Lyman Fisher for Ebony magazine, August 1951.

The Azalea Hunters

Under Beadle’s mentorship, Sylvester Owens progressed to become an assistant gardener and one of the so-called “Azalea Hunters,” traveling around the Southeast with Beadle and several others collecting unique specimens of azalea plants.

According to a 1997 oral history conducted with Owens’ daughter Mabel Owens Hoskins and widow Franklyn Owens, he grew to have a genuine friendship with Chauncey Beadle. When traveling together to gather azaleas, Beadle would not stay or eat at any place that would not also accommodate Owens due to his race.

Excerpt from a newspaper supplement produced by Biltmore featuring Sylvester Owens, April 14, 1968.
Excerpt from a newspaper supplement produced by Biltmore featuring Sylvester Owens, April 14, 1968.

When Chauncey Beadle died in 1950, Judge Junius Adams, president of The Biltmore Company, asked Sylvester Owens to take over Beadle’s work. Judge Adams stated upon his appointment that “His interest in the garden is sincere. He knows more about the plants, their origins, and their characteristics than anyone around and he is thoroughly familiar with Mr. Beadle’s plan.” Owens’ daughter Mabel later said that:

“I believe that he was able to handle Mr. Beadle’s death better because he was able to complete something that they had started together. Otherwise, he probably would have not felt as good about the ending of their relationship because they were very close. As I said, he was not only his chauffeur, but he was his companion too and they were more like friends…the respect that the Beadles had for my father and his family was encouraging, and the kind of thing that makes for a better person.”

Sylvester Owens photographed by Elliot Lyman Fisher for Ebony magazine, August 1951.
Sylvester Owens photographed by Elliot Lyman Fisher for Ebony magazine, August 1951.

Azalea King

Owens was recognized for his work in several newspaper articles as well as in Ebony magazine in 1951 with an article titled “Azalea King.” According to the article, Owens was considered “one of the greatest authorities on azalea culture today.”

An article in The Charlotte Observer from July 1950 quotes Owens’ response to his appointment to carry on Beadle’s work: “I plan to make this spot the most beautiful garden in the world…Like Mr. Beadle, I love the plants—all of them—and I can picture the whole valley in bloom when the work is completed. Mr. Beadle was the finest, kindest man I ever knew. I was surprised and happy to be the one to carry on.”

Sylvester Owens and William Cecil with a truck in front of Biltmore House
Sylvester Owens with William A.V. Cecil in front of Biltmore House, photographed by Toni Frissell in May 1964. In the collection of the Library of Congress.

Sylvester Owens’ Legacy

Today, the Azalea Garden spans around 15 acres, but Owens’ purview extended beyond its current boundaries. He eventually oversaw many of the landscaping crews on the estate. He would travel with them to exhibit their work in Charlotte, and in 1961 they won the President’s Award from the Southeastern Rhododendron Show, which was a great point of pride for Owens, according to his family.

Sylvester Owens retired in 1964 after almost 44 years of service to the estate and after completing Beadle’s plans for the gardens at Biltmore. Owens lived in the Shiloh community until his death in 1989, and some of his descendants remain in the area. He is buried at the Shiloh AME Zion Church Cemetery, and his legacy lives on today through the beauty of Biltmore’s gardens.

Azaleas in bloom at Biltmore
The Azalea Garden offers a spectacular variety of colors each spring.

The Lasting Beauty of Biltmore’s Azalea Garden

Beautiful any time of year, the Azalea Garden at Biltmore puts on a spectacular show each spring and is a testament to the lasting impact of this important figure in Biltmore’s history. From the hearty flame azalea native to the Blue Ridge Mountains to some of the most rare varieties in the world, thousands of vivid blooms provide a kaleidoscope of color for you to enjoy when you visit Biltmore Estate.

Special thanks to Explore Asheville and the Black Cultural Heritage Trail for collaborating with Biltmore to share these stories throughout historically Black neighborhoods in Asheville.

Live “La Dolce Vita” at Biltmore

Live la dolce vita–the sweet life–at Biltmore this summer, just as the Vanderbilts and their guests did more than a century ago.

Inspiration from Italy and Europe

Family taking a selfie in front of Biltmore House
Capture each memorable moment of the sweet life at Biltmore this summer!

“The idea of la dolce vita is Italian, and it translates to ‘the sweet life’,” said Lauren Henry, Curator of Interpretation. “It embodies the idea of living each moment as it unfolds, and enjoying it for itself. It’s an inspirational way of life that George Vanderbilt experienced during his travels in Italy and other delightful destinations, and it helped him envision Biltmore as a place where his family and friends could enjoy the same timeless feeling.”

The Conservatory at Biltmore surrounded by summer gardens
Biltmore’s historic grounds, including the Conservatory in the English-style Walled Garden, are the perfect place to experience the sweet life.

From the French Renaissance-style architecture of Biltmore House, designed by famed architect Richard Morris Hunt, to the glorious gardens and grounds created by legendary landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, Biltmore Estate brought classic European sensibilities to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.

“George Vanderbilt assembled a real ‘dream team’ to bring Biltmore to life,” Lauren said. “Together they created a distinctly European-style estate, but with an expansive feel and modern technologies that were hallmarks of the American Gilded Age.”

Discover la dolce vita at Biltmore

Painted ceiling of the Library at Biltmore
The Chariot of Aurora by Italian artist Giovanni Pelligrini graces the ceiling of the Library in Biltmore House

You can still capture the magic of la dolce vita as you explore Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, touched at every turn by inspiration from the Vanderbilts’ journeys around the world.

Inside Biltmore House you’ll discover paintings, sculptures, and objets d’art to delight your mind and buoy your spirits in true la dolce vita fashion, including these highlights:

  • Salon—look for two original landscapes by French Impressionist artist Claude Monet. Both Strada Romana à Bordighera and Belle-Île, le chenal de Port-Goulphar have recently been restored to their late-19th-century vibrance.
  • Tapestry Gallery—Study the three Renaissance-era silk and wool tapestries that this 90-foot-long room was designed to display. Woven in Brussels circa 1530, the set was originally part of the The Triumph of the Seven Virtues.
  • Library—the ceiling was created to showcase Chariot of Aurora by Giovanni Pelligrini, an 18th-century painting comprised of thirteen separate canvases that depict the Roman goddess of the dawn.

Fresh air gives fresh perspectives

Couple in the Conservatory at Biltmore
The Conservatory at Biltmore is a a wonderful way to experience a tropical getaway while visiting the estate!

Explore miles of scenic trails across the estate by walking, hiking, or biking at your own preferred pace. Here are some of our favorite spots:

  • Conservatory—this elegant, glass-topped greenhouse captures the historic and modern balance of the estate as exotic botanicals popular in the Vanderbilt era overlap with plants we propagate for seasonal displays.
  • Bass Pond—walk down from the gardens to view the newly restored island that was part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s original landscape design.
  • Lagoon—spend some time at this scenic spot on the road to Antler Hill Village—it’s perfect for picnicking and for admiring the reflection of Biltmore House in the water.

Savor la dolce vita

Mother and daughter enjoying ice cream cones at Biltmore
The sweet life is even sweeter with ice cream treats from the Creamery in Antler Hill Village.

Whether you’ve worked up a bona fide appetite or simply need a refreshment respite, there are choices to please every palate when you dine at Biltmore:

Ice cream—indulge in a scoop (or two!) of fresh-churned ice cream and other sweet treats from The Biltmore Dairy Bar® adjacent to Biltmore House or the Creamery in Antler Hill Village.

Biltmore wine—Savor a complimentary tasting at Biltmore’s Winery to sip award-winning vintages, then pair your favorites–including Italian varietals like our Biltmore Estate® Pinot Grigio and Biltmore Estate® Limited Release Sangiovese–with charcuterie, cheeses, and chocolates next door at our relaxing Wine Bar. Choose outdoor seating to make la vita as dolce as possible!

Field-to-table freshness

Couple dining outdoors at Biltmore
Enjoy a wide range of fine and casual dining options while visiting Biltmore.

Enjoy fine and casual dining options featuring estate-raised and locally sourced dishes. Favorites include our European-style Bistro at the Winery, English pub far at Cedric’s® Tavern in Antler Hill Village, and four-star, white-linen luxury at The Dining Room at The Inn on Biltmore Estate.

Discover la dolce vita at Biltmore for yourself!

Woman in a bathrobe admiring the view at The Inn on Biltmore Estate
Embrace la dolce vita at The Inn on Biltmore Estate or one of our other properties.

Come to Biltmore this summer to create your own memories of living la dolce vita, and make your visit even sweeter with an overnight stay at The Inn on Biltmore Estate®️, Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate®️, or one of our private historic Cottages on Biltmore Estate.

Featured blog image: A Biltmore guest enjoys la dolce vita with a flute of sparkling wine on the terrace of The Inn on Biltmore Estate. Photo courtesy of @georgia_sheffield.

Painting Conservation For A Landmark Destination

A painting conservation project for two original landscapes by Impressionist artist Claude Monet is just one of many preservation-related efforts that help make Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, such a landmark destination.

Creating an impression

Claude Monet's signature on an original oil painting
Along with his signature, Claude Monet’s paintings show the characteristic style of his brush strokes.

“From 1860–1905, a dynamic group of Paris-based artists led by Claude Monet challenged the norm and began painting in a much less formal manner than the Old Masters who came before them,” said Meghan Forest, Associate Curator.

Monet’s work followed the textures of his subjects; the length of his brush strokes mimicked flowers and foliage, rippling water, and boats and structures. It was his 1872 painting Impression, Sunrise that sparked the term “Impressionists” from an art critic who felt this new style had an unfinished look.

The trailblazing group of artists took the name as their own, arousing even more interest and curiosity about the new way of creating and viewing art.

George Vanderbilt collected Impressionist art

Two paintings of children by Renoir
(L-R) “Young Algerian Girl” and “Child with an Orange” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Both are on display in the Breakfast Room of Biltmore House.

True to his visionary approach, George Vanderbilt was an early adopter of the new Impressionist movement. His affinity for the style ultimately resulted in a collection of 16 Impressionist paintings by Monet, Renoir, Maufra, Manet, and Whistler.

Strada Romana a Bordighera
“Strada Romana a Bordighera,” an Italian landscape by Claude Monet, is installed in the Salon at Biltmore House.

“Mr. Vanderbilt purchased three paintings by Claude Monet, and two of them remain in the Biltmore collection,” said Meghan. “One is a landscape entitled Strada Romana à Bordighera. Monet captured this colorful Italian scene in 1884 and Vanderbilt purchased it from Durand-Ruel, a noted dealer of Impressionist art, in 1892.”

Belle-Île, le chenal de Port-Goulphar seascape painting by Claude Monet
“Belle-Île, le chenal de Port-Goulphar” by Claude Monet is part of the Biltmore collection and is now displayed in the Salon of Biltmore House.

In addition, Vanderbilt acquired a Monet seascape entitled Belle-Île, le chenal de Port-Goulphar, painted in 1886.

“When we examined the paintings for display in Biltmore House, we found that they were structurally stable, but there was a layer of varnish that was added in the early 1980s that had grayed and dulled over time and there were a few areas where paint had begun to flake off,” Meghan said.

The process of painting conservation

Meghan Forest, Associate Curator with Biltmore’s Museum Services team, gives an overview of George Vanderbilt as a collector and shows highlights of the painting conservation process for the two Monets in the collection.

Biltmore worked with painting conservator Ruth Cox who has treated a number of works in our private collection.

Based in Durham, North Carolina, Ruth offers a wide range of professional services for the conservation of easel paintings in museum and private collections.

“Ruth worked in stages to carefully remove the synthetic varnish and add paint to the areas where there was paint loss so that the paintings could look as close as possible to how they would’ve looked when Monet completed them in the late 1800s,” said Meghan.

In addition, the materials Ruth used for painting conservation are readily distinguishable by scholars and reversible so that future conversation can be accomplished more easily.

“The total conservation process for each painting took about 4-6 months, so it was nearly a year before both were ready for display,” Meghan noted.

See the results for yourself

Two men handle a landscape painting by Claude Monet
Trip Hudgins and Greg Schmidt carefully lift Monet’s “Strada Romana a Bordighera” painting in its ornate frame.

Plan a visit to Biltmore so you can see the results of this painting conservation work for yourself. Both paintings are displayed in the Salon on the First Floor of Biltmore House. Take time to see Monet’s process up close, including his brushwork, atmospheric effects, and study of light.

Featured blog image: (L-R) Trip Hudgins, Engineering Operation Manager; Lori Garst, Curator; Nancy Rosebrock, Director of Conservation and Collections; and Greg Schmidt, Engineering Services, examine Belle-Île, le chenal de Port-Goulphar by Monet before hanging it in the Salon at Biltmore House.

George Vanderbilt: A Passion For Italy

George Vanderbilt–traveler, collector, and patron of the arts–appreciated the finer things in life, but had a special passion for the culture and creativity of Italy. His trips there and other regions he visited across Europe helped shape his appreciation for art, architecture, and fine wine.

“Throughout his life, George Vanderbilt traveled the world, first with family and friends, and after he married, his wife Edith and their daughter Cornelia often accompanied him,” said Meghan Forest, Associate Curator.

George Vanderbilt’s first Italian visit

Archival image of the Colosseum, 1887. Rome, Italy
Archival image of the Colosseum, 1887. Rome, Italy.

Based on correspondence in our archives, Italy seems to have been a favored destination for George Vanderbilt. He first visited the country in 1880 when he was 18 years old, taking in notable sites such as Rome and Vatican City.

The visit included a stop in Milan where the church and Dominican convent of Sante Maria della Grazie was of particular interest as its refectory contains The Last Supper fresco painted by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci.

Further travels in Italy

The Last Supper fresco painting by Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper fresco painting by Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1495–1498.

In 1887, George Vanderbilt took an extended trip to Italy, taking in some of the well-known sites including Pisa Cathedral with its famously tilted bell tower, better known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

He also visited Venice with its winding canals and Florence, the city long considered the epicenter of Italian Renaissance art and culture. Florence offers some of the most iconic treasures of the era, including the Uffizi Museum and the Cathedral de Santa Maria dell Fiore, generally referred to as the Duomo because of its two free-standing domes.

Archival photo of three passengers and two rowers in a gondola in Venice, Italy
George Vanderbilt (seated, far right) with unidentified men riding a gondola in Venice, 1887

Seven years later, George Vanderbilt returned to Italy with members of his family including his niece Adele Sloan. They visited Taormina and the ruins of the Taormina Amphitheatre built by the Greeks and renovated 600 years later by the Romans. Such sites were popular destinations during the American Renaissance of the late 19th century as travelers sought to understand the ancient world.

Honeymooning in Italy

Villa Vignolo near Stresa, Italy, c. 1898.
Villa Vignolo on the shores of Lake Maggiore near Stresa, Italy, c. 1898.

“Another reason we believe George Vanderbilt had a passion for Italy is because he chose to take his new bride Edith there after they were wed in Paris in 1898. The Vanderbilts spent the first six weeks of their four-month honeymoon at Villa Vignolo on the shores of Lake Maggiore near Stresa, Italy,” Meghan said.

While there, the Vanderbilts took short trips to various museums and galleries, taking in sights such as the iconic Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice. In Edith, George found a partner who shared his passion for history, literature, and the arts.

In a letter to artist James McNeill Whistler, George wrote of their time in Italy, “It was Mrs. Vanderbilt’s first visit… It has been an added pleasure of course to see her delight and interest… “ *

Italian Renaissance wellhead, c. 1500
Made of Rosso di Verona marble, this fountainhead was likely originally used to decorate and protect an active well in Venice during the Italian Renaissance, c. 1500. It has become known as the “Hunt Fountain” as it is depicted in the John Singer Sargent portrait of Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt.

Featured blog image: George Vanderbilt (seated, far right) with unidentified men riding a gondola in Venice, 1887

*George Washington Vanderbilt to James McNeill Whistler. 10 Jul 1898. The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler. Glasgow University Library, University of Glasgow: 05919.

Create A Biltmore-Inspired Spring Centerpiece

Create a Biltmore-inspired spring centerpiece with easy ideas from our Floral team and the glorious arrangements they design for Biltmore House during our annual Biltmore Blooms celebration!

Spring is a favorite season at Biltmore

Spring centerpiece in Mrs. Vanderbilt's Bedroom at Biltmore
See stunning spring arrangements like this in Biltmore House during Biltmore Blooms

“I think spring is a favorite season for many of us at Biltmore,” said Lizzie Borchers, Floral Manager. “We love to celebrate the season by creating spring centerpieces and arrangements that harmonize with the décor in Biltmore House, and we also love to highlight special features with our designs.”

Spring arrangement in the Library at Biltmore House
Lovely blooms, including early spring branches, add interest to any spring centerpiece

Each year during Biltmore Blooms, Lizzie and her team delight guests with lush floral arrangements that highlight some of the priceless portraits and fantastic furnishings in America’s Largest Home®.

Ready to create your own spring centerpiece inspired by Biltmore?

Blue and white spring blooms
Create a stunning centerpiece that’s perfect for spring!

With some helpful suggestions from our Floral team, you can create a stunning design that evokes the fresh feeling of spring with a classic blue-and-white theme.

“Although we’re used to making arrangements that suit the grand scale of Biltmore House, you can use our techniques to achieve a spring centerpiece that works for your space,” said Lizzie. “Just choose a smaller container as your starting point!”

In addition to the blue-and-white blooms recommended below, try adding pretty pops of color with unexpected touches like peacock feathers or a decorative egg-filled bird’s nest as a special nod to spring.

Suggested Materials:

  • Neutral-colored container
  • Floral oasis foam
  • Dutch iris
  • Caspia (white and lavender varieties)
  • Cream-colored stock
  • Pittosporum (potted version used in this arrangement)
  • White roses
  • White hydrangea
  • Peacock feathers (optional)
  • Decorative bird nest with eggs (optional)

Begin by cutting a piece of floral oasis foam to fit snugly inside your container. Soak it well, then begin adding the larger flowers first. Step back from time to time to see the overall effect. Once you’re satisfied with the placement of the larger elements, begin filling in with smaller flowers and greenery.

Tips from Biltmore’s Floral Team:

  • Try letting some floral elements hang over the sides of the container to create movement and interest.
  • Create an equally pretty spring centerpiece by using small potted plants (or permanent botanicals) rather than freshly cut flowers.
    • Choose green and flowering plants of different heights for texture and interest, and add pieces of Styrofoam to lift some pots higher than others.

Plan your spring visit today!

Family activities at Biltmore
Explore our glorious gardens and grounds all year long!

Hosts in Biltmore House: A Brief History

Our Interpretive Hosts are integral to visits to Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. Whether you’re enjoying the main tour route of America’s Largest Home® or exploring via one of our more in-depth, behind-the-scenes tours, these trained storytellers strive to offer an accurate and entertaining interpretation of Biltmore’s history and collections.

But did you know that Interpretive Hosts weren’t always part of the Biltmore House experience? Let’s take a look back at the history of touring Biltmore, which began before the house was even opened.

Archival estate admission ticket, ca. 1920
Archival estate admission ticket, ca. 1920.

Visiting the Gardens & Grounds of the Estate

According to archival correspondence, George Vanderbilt allowed the public to drive on estate roads as early as 1894—before the construction of Biltmore House was even completed!

But it wasn’t until October 1903 that a formalized pass system was developed, which included an admission cost for everyone, except select guests of the Vanderbilts.

The reverse side of these original estate tickets included the following regulations:

  1. The plucking of flowers or breaking of trees or shrubs is forbidden.
  2. It is forbidden to drive over planted areas or the borders of roads.
  3. The taking of photographs anywhere on the Estate is prohibited.

And the admission rates at this time were as follows:

  • 25c for a vehicle drawn by one horse and carrying 1 or 2 persons, or for a person on horseback.
  • 50c for a 2-horse vehicle carrying not over five persons. For each additional person 10c; for each additional horse 25c.
  • 10c for a single person on foot or with a bicycle.

According to our records, not much changed in terms of regulations or pricing for the first 18 or so years after this initial pass system was developed. In 1921, charges for admission were updated as follows: 5 passenger car (4 passengers & driver) $1; 7 passenger car (6 passengers & driver) $1.50.

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and John A. V. Cecil (center) at the public opening of Biltmore House, 1930
Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and John A. V. Cecil (center) at the public opening of Biltmore House, 1930.

Visiting Biltmore House

In 1930, George Vanderbilt’s daughter Cornelia and her husband John A. V.  Cecil opened Biltmore House to the public. This decision was made in response to requests to increase tourism in the Asheville area during the Depression and to generate income to preserve the estate.

This milestone was a fundamental shift in the way the public was able to experience Biltmore. Previous to this, only select guests of the Vanderbilts were fortunate enough to see the interiors of America’s Largest Home® and the invaluable collection it housed.

“Mr. Cecil and I hope that through opening Biltmore House to the public, Asheville and Western North Carolina will derive all the benefit they deserve and that the people who go through the house and the estate will get as much pleasure and enjoyment out of it as Mr. Cecil and I do in making it possible. I also want to say that we both feel in doing this, it is a fitting memorial to my father. After all, it was his life’s work and creation.”

— Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil’s welcome speech at the opening of Biltmore House, March 15, 1930, as quoted in the Asheville Citizen

One of our Biltmore Interpretive Hosts leads a small group tour in the Winter Garden
One of our Biltmore Interpretive Hosts leads a small group tour in the Winter Garden.

Hosts in Biltmore House

In the late 1980s, hosts were introduced to the Biltmore House experience. For the first time, guests were offered accurate information about the collection, the Vanderbilt family, and the house itself.

Today, our Interpretive Hosts undergo extensive training to ensure they have knowledge about every object on display—yet they do not follow a script, making each of their interactions with our guests truly unique.

We invite you to discover all of our wonderful tour offerings at Biltmore House, and enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience every time, thanks to our talented Interpretive Hosts.

Our Holiday Gingerbread House Was Built To Last

Biltmore’s holiday gingerbread house was built to last–mostly because it’s not really made from real gingerbread!

Although the fanciful replica of America’s Largest Home® appears to be constructed from freshly baked gingerbread that’s been decorated with swirls of snowy icing and old-fashioned candy details, it’s actually an incredibly detailed work of art from our friends at Applied Imagination.

Gingerbread house version of Biltmore House
Once finished, the faux gingerbread version of Biltmore House had to be carefully transported from Applied Imagination’s workshop in Alexandria, KY, to Asheville, NC

These talented artists specialize in handcrafting architectural models, sculptures, and garden railways out of natural materials. They created all of our Biltmore Gardens Railway displays and Ciao! From Italy Sculptural Postcards in Antler Hill Village now through February 19, 2024.

In past years, our talented Biltmore Estate pastry chefs created real confectionary replicas of Biltmore House, but it was always a monumental task that took weeks to complete and needed a lot of space to assemble. It was also challenging to transport the finished gingerbread house to the Main Kitchen without losing some wreaths and roof tiles along the way!

A firm foundation

Wooden model of Biltmore House
Jason Pleva puts finishing touches on his scale model of Biltmore House

In 2017, Jason Pleva, a member of Biltmore’s carpentry team, used the plans of Biltmore House to build a wooden scale model that could be used as a base for a gingerbread house. It was a good solution that shaved off a lot of construction time, but unfortunately, our chefs found that decorative icing doesn’t cling to wood as well as it does to gingerbread.

Because we’d had so many wonderful experiences with Applied Imagination and the amazing structures they’d created for our Biltmore Gardens Railway displays, we asked if the artists could tackle this Christmas conundrum for us, using Jason’s model as a base for a gingerbread house that would be as long lasting as it was beautiful.

In September 2021, Stephanie Winters, Creative Director/Lead Sculptor, and Ava Roberts, Assistant Sculptor, of Applied Imagination finished their version of America’s Largest Home®. The results were breathtaking, and our “gingerbread house” now takes place of pride in our Main Kitchen during Christmas at Biltmore.

Fun facts from the gingerbread construction project:

  • Time to complete: 1200 hours over the course of five months
  • Measurements: 78½” wide x 32” deep x 32” high (including spires)

Building materials

Detail of gingerbread house version of Biltmore House
Applied Imagination created wonderful details, right down to the beloved marble lions at the Front Door of Biltmore House
  • Gingerbread Cookie Base
    • Tile grout mixed with Mod Podge® Matte and sponged onto 3/16” Gatorboard shapes
  • Wavy Shingled Roof
    • Wooden fan handles covered with tile grout and Mod Podge
  • Windows and Mullions
    • Window panes created with modeling dowel rods and architectural modeling materials (bass wood).
    • Windows created with poured casting resin sprinkled with clear glitter.
    • Textured windows (exterior staircase) have the addition of large, granular, clear beads mixed with resin.
    • Windows backed with gold shimmer paper to resemble the effect of being lit within.
  • Spires on Roof, Staircase Facade, Window Tops, Railing Tops
    • Antique glass headpins; large and small twist shapes in dark green, light green, purple, and pale ice; top spires painted antique gold
  • Piped Icing Shapes
    • All piped icing that makes up the majority of detail on the Biltmore House model was created completely by hand with Liquid Sculpey® (polymer clay). Shapes were formed using latex cake-decorating molds.
  • Snow Blanket
    • Spackling paste to create a base for sculpting and building shapes
    • Clear glass diamond glitter was sprinkled on wet paste to give snow drifts and mounds the look of fresh powder
  • Trees and Bushes
    • Dry floral design cones and spheres, further sculpted by hand to resemble pine tree shapes. Finished with paint and landscape modeling greenery.
  • Biltmore Lions
    • Paper clay and white acrylic paint with a small amount of gold tinted glitter/mica.
  • Garland
    • Thin and flexible English faux pine rope
    • Faux miniature boxwood/bay leaf roping
    • Feathery evergreen (lions’ necks)
    • Floral accents: faux red and gold berries; red velvet and gold-backed ribbon hand-fashioned into miniature bows
Gingerbread house in the Main Kitchen at Biltmore
The gingerbread house takes place of pride in the Main Kitchen during Christmas at Biltmore

Candy decorations

  • Faux Candy Decorations
    • Resin gumdrops and gummies (edge and facade details)
    • Sculpey clay chocolate swirls (base of the spires)
    • Chocolate shavings, glass glitter (soot/embers in chimney tops, base of lions, base of spires, front facade details)
    • Resin chocolate pretzels (fancy railings)
    • Resin chocolate chips (spires inset)
    • Small sugared gum drops, glass/plastic headpins (main detail throughout in purple, orange, yellow, red, green)
    • Variety of candy colored balls of various sizes (beads and headpins)
    • Sculpey clay swirled balls (small detail elements)
  • Cut Cinnamon Sticks
    • Facade details, small railings, wrought iron base for spires
  • Peppermint Sticks
    • Small (vintage paper hand-rolled on dowel rods)
    • Large sticks on main facade (decorative paper on dowel rods)
    • Peppermint balls on main facade (vintage spun cotton and thread)
  • Gumballs, Gingerballs, Round Bulb Ornaments
    • Green and red faux floral berries, gold- and silver-painted floral berries, painted beads

Celebrate Christmas at Biltmore

The Banquet Hall Tree: A Christmas at Biltmore Tradition
The Banquet Hall Christmas Tree is a favorite holiday tradition

To see this marvelous piece of eye candy displayed in the Main Kitchen, make reservations for a holiday visit during our annual Christmas at Biltmore celebration, November 3, 2023–January 7, 2024, in Asheville, NC.