Explore Our Favorite Outdoor Rooms

Every season offers a wonderful reason to explore our favorite outdoor rooms at Biltmore, but summer is an especially perfect time to do so.

Frederick Law Olmsted

Known as the “father of American landscape architecture,” Frederick Law Olmsted had definitive ideas about landscape design.

You can see many of his innovative ideas in New York City’s Central Park and here at Biltmore, which was his last professional project before his death in 1903.

Enjoy the outdoors, by design

View of the Approach Road in spring
The Approach Road, which Olmsted designed to achieve a “sensation passing through the remote depths of a deep forest,” only to have “the view of the Residence, with its orderly dependencies, to break suddenly, fully upon one.” Photo credit: The Biltmore Company.

For the magnificent estates he landscaped, Olmsted preferred longer-than-usual approach drives and separate garden spaces or “outdoor rooms” that were distinct from one another with no blending of styles.

The methods Olmsted used for creating special spaces are very noticeable in spring and when the gardens and grounds begin to bloom with color.

Explore our favorite outdoor rooms

When Biltmore employees were asked to share their favorite outdoor rooms around the estate, their answers were a tribute to all that Olmsted envisioned to enchant the Vanderbilts and their guests more than a century ago.

Italian Garden

Italian Garden at Biltmore
The Italian Garden is spectacular in summer

Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture, has a favorite spot tucked away in the Italian Garden.

“There’s a terra cotta cherub fountain in the last little turf area near the end of the garden,” said Parker. “Most people miss this treasure because they don’t walk all the way down there.”

Spring Garden

The Spring Garden at Biltmore
Some of the earliest blooms at Biltmore appear in the sheltered Spring Garden

Cathy Barnhardt, former Floral Displays Manager for Biltmore, is now retired and enjoying the estate as an Annual Passholder.

“The Spring Garden is like a little valley that opens up off the beaten path. The grass gets green there first and flowers bloom early,” said Cathy. “It’s a great place to spend time with your family.”

Azalea Garden

Kids in Biltmore's Azalea Garden
Guests of all ages love discovering Biltmore’s “outdoor rooms” like the Azalea Garden

Another special location mentioned by several staff members is a bench at the top of the Spring Garden. From this vantage point, you can look down into the Azalea Garden and also have a view of the distant mountains.

Another not-to-be-missed favorite outdoor room is the Azalea Garden with all its varieties, colors, and sweet fragrances of azalea to enjoy.

Explore our favorite outdoor rooms
Stone steps in the Azalea Garden invite further exploration

“Although the Azalea Garden wasn’t part of Olmsted’s original plan, it makes perfect use of a wooded space,” noted Parker. “The blooms are spectacular in late spring, so be sure to take time to walk down the stone steps—another technique Olmsted used to divide outdoor rooms—and stroll down the path there, noticing the stream lined with wild flowers and unusual conifers.”

Bass Pond Boat House

Boat House at the Bass Pond
The view of the Bass Pond from the Boat House is worth the walk!

Below the Azalea Garden, Hope Wright of A Gardener’s Place–one of the charming shops on the estate–loves walking down the path to the Bass Pond.

“I stop on the bridge going toward the Boat House and sit on the bench,” Hope said. “This is a favorite spot of mine in the spring and summer as I look back upon the stunning beauty I have just witnessed.”

Plan your getaway today!

Family activities for spring at Biltmore
Explore our glorious gardens and grounds during Biltmore Blooms this spring

Ready to explore our favorite outdoor rooms and discover which ones you like best?

Plan your summer Biltmore visit now to enjoy Biltmore Gardens Railway, a botanical model train display in Antler Hill Village, or consider becoming an Annual Passholder so you can return and discover something new in every season.

Solving a Mystery in the Kitchen Pantry

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry at Biltmore took some detective work, but our Museum Services staff finally cracked the case!

“Among the many place settings of china in the Biltmore collection, one set had remained a mystery for many years,” said Lori Garst, Curatorial Assistant.

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry
A cup, saucer, and plate from the collection of unidentified china

While the set was often referred to as “the Christmas china” because it was used during a 1931 holiday party, or “the employee china” because it was later used by staff members, the origin of the china—and its original purpose in Biltmore House—remained unclear.

Cup, saucer, and teapot featuring George Vanderbilt's monogram
Cup, saucer, and teapot featuring George Vanderbilt’s monogram

“Most of the china in Biltmore House was chosen by George Vanderbilt,” Lori said. “He selected an elegant white china with a burgundy and gold pattern, manufactured by both Minton and Spode-Copeland. It features his monogram and was used every day for family and guest meals.”

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s china matches her father’s pattern but includes her own CSV monogram.

China featuring Cornelia Vanderbilt's monogram
While Cornelia Vanderbilt’s china closely matches the pattern her father selected for use in Biltmore House, their monograms distinguish one set from another

“We know that Edith Vanderbilt ordered Cornelia’s china in 1923,” said Lori. “And Mrs. Vanderbilt requested that Cornelia’s monogram be in the same style as her father’s.  I think it is sweet that her service blended in with the style her father had chosen.”

But what of the mysterious china collection on the shelves of the Kitchen Pantry in the Basement?

Museum Services began to look for clues about its history. While not as fine as the monogrammed Vanderbilt china, the gold-trimmed white pattern rimmed in crisp navy was definitely elegant and the amount of it suggested it had been purchased with a large number of people in mind.

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry of Biltmore House
Trimmed in gold and rimmed in navy, this china is elegant, but more sturdy than the monogrammed family china in the collection

“We began with the manufacturer’s mark on the bottom of each piece,” said Lori. “Kniffen & Demarest Co. manufactured hotel and steam ship supplies, so the china was well-made and rather sturdy to stand up to use by guests and passengers in public settings.”

Biltmore conservator shows manufacturer's mark on the bottom of a china saucer
A conservator shows the Kniffen & Demarest Co. name on a piece of the so-called mystery china

While Museum Services was researching details for our Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film exhibition, they finally discovered written references to the china in conjunction with Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil’s wedding. 

“This set was also sometimes referred to as ‘the wedding china,’ but we never knew which of its three names was correct until recently,” said Lori. “The pieces came together at last, and we realized that this was the china that had been ordered for the buffet at Cornelia Vanderbilt and John Cecil’s wedding breakfast.”

After the ceremony at All Souls Church in Biltmore Village, the wedding guests and additional reception guests (500 people were invited to the ceremony and reception; another 2500 were invited only to the reception) arrived at Biltmore House.

John and Cornelia Cecil wedding party at breakfast in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House
John and Cornelia Cecil and their attendants at the wedding breakfast in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House

The newlyweds and their attendants were served at a table in the Winter Garden, and all the other guests enjoyed a buffet in the Banquet Hall, which featured this china.

As the years passed, the Kniffen & Demarest china was still used, but its original purpose was forgotten.

Today, it’s stored in the Kitchen Pantry where it receives the same care and attention as all the other china in Biltmore’s collection.

Enjoy your own Vanderbilt china service

China pattern based on an original set used by the Vanderbilt family
Porcelain tea set from the Vanderbilt Service

Whether you prefer a tea service or an entire place setting, this beautiful porcelain serveware is based on a Sevres pattern, circa 1888, that the Vanderbilt family once used at Biltmore. The original is on display in the Oak Sitting Room, but you can now enjoy the reproduction set in your own home.

An outdoor sculpture comes clean

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.

Lion sculpture in front of Biltmore House
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:

An outdoor statue comes clean
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.

An outdoor sculpture comes clean
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.

One of four outdoor sphinx statues at Biltmore
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. 

Learn more about our extensive process to document, clean, and preserve our outdoor sculpture collection.

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

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.