Bachelors, Babies, and Buttons: Biltmore’s Old Rose Room

From bachelors to babies to buttons, the Old Rose Room on the second floor of Biltmore House has a long and interesting history, and has been used in a number of different ways throughout the last century.

From bachelors to babies to Being There

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and her husband John Francis Amherst Cecil with their oldest son George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil as an infant, ca. 1925.
Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and her husband John Francis Amherst Cecil with their oldest son George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil as an infant, ca. 1925.

On the original house plans, the Old Rose Room, located in the Bachelor Wing, is named for its style of décor and noted as one of several guest bedrooms for single gentlemen who visited Biltmore.

In the late 1920s and early 30s, the room was repurposed as a day or night nursery for Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil’s two sons, George and William Cecil.

After the boys grew up, the room became an office for estate employees. In the late 1970s, it was updated with new wallpaper to support filming of the iconic movie Being There.

Repurposing the Old Rose Room for storage

Vintage clothing in the Old Rose Room at Biltmore
Clothing and accessories stored in the Old Rose Room at Biltmore

Today the Old Rose Room has become an important storage area for many of the intricate costumes that have been recreated for estate exhibitions.

“As Museum Services planned for future costume exhibitions, it became clear that existing storage did not support the department’s goals,” said Lenore Hardin, Associate Collections Manager. “Before we created this new system, we had a closet in a bedroom where we kept original costumes. Now we have an amazing space to help us store things properly, including 11-foot shelves.”

Much more than a costume “closet”

Top hats and casual hats stored in the Old Rose Room at Biltmore
A selection of hats stored on shelves in the Old Rose Room; photo by LeeAnn Donnelly

The primary costumes stored in the room now were part of A Vanderbilt House Party: The Gilded Age, displayed in Biltmore House in 2018. That exhibition involved 26 costumes designed specifically for Biltmore from archival photographs and portraits of the Vanderbilt family and their guests.

A total of 59 costumes were on display during A Vanderbilt House Party, with accessories such as hats, socks, shoes, and jewelry sourced for all of them. The grand total? More than 600 separate pieces were included in the exhibition—with storage required for each of them!

A place for everything

Woman in the Old Rose Room at Biltmore
Lenore Hardin at work in the Old Rose Room; photo by LeeAnn Donnelly

According to Lenore, the space resembles a very organized, giant walk-in closet. Each piece of clothing and each accessory is catalogued and placed in its own spot. A large table in the middle of the room offers ample space for viewing items and processing them for storage.

“We designed the storage system around the room, taking advantage of its high ceilings, using textile boxes and building around architectural features in the room, including a unit built around a fireplace mantel,” said Lenore.

Preservation meets storage in the Old Rose Room

Clothing stored in dust bags on padded hangers in the Old Rose Room; photo by LeeAnn Donnelly
Clothing stored in dust bags on padded hangers in the Old Rose Room

Preservation techniques are always incorporated into storage at Biltmore, and costumes are carefully protected for future use. The costumes are placed on padded hangers and placed under dust covers that are waterproof.

Some delicate costumes such as evening dresses are stored flat, in archival-safe, acid-free boxes with the folds carefully padded to prevent wrinkles. Shoes and boots stored on open shelving are filled with acid-free tissue to help keep their shape.

A lengthy process

Woman with gloves handles clothing
Lenore carefully prepares a beaded dress for proper storage; photo by LeeAnn Donnelly

Items in storage range from spectacular beaded dresses and feathered hats to cufflinks, buttons, and jewelry. One of Lenore’s favorite pieces is a reproduction of a lovely Boucheron brooch that George Vanderbilt gave to Edith as an engagement gift.

It took about two years to complete the design and creation of this storage room, from clearing it out and deciding how it should be arranged to building the necessary elements.

Determining what types of archival materials were needed to protect the costumes and getting those materials was another three months, while storing the clothing and materials took nearly a year—and the process continues.

The value of preservation

A collection of goggles and glasses; photo by LeeAnn Donnelly
A collection of goggles and glasses stored in the Old Rose Room

“Preservation has always been something that the George Vanderbilt’s descendants have valued, and as William A.V. Cecil once noted, ‘we don’t preserve Biltmore to make a profit; we make a profit to preserve Biltmore.’ That principle is continued by the family and reflects their vision through the years,” said Lenore.