Sunday, August 28, 2011
Yesterday, we made the decision to visit the Biltmore Estate, located about two hours north of us in Asheville, NC. Biltmore Estate is the summer home of the Vanderbilts and is the largest private home in the United States with the house featuring 175,000 square feet (250 rooms) of interior and 8,000 acres of land (initially 125,000 acres). We really had no idea what to expect when we arrived at the front gate and were amazed that the drive was 3 miles long to reach the house. You can't see the house from the parking lots and there is a shuttle to take you to the house because it's still a decent bit from the lots.
When we finally came into view of the house from the shuttle, it took our breath away. It's modeled in the European chateau fashion and I have never seen anything like it before. I look forward to seeing many castles and houses like it in Europe. The house is only one of the many attractions at the estate. There are vast gardens, lakes, trails, an entire village 3 miles from the house, and an elaborate inn (pictured below and looks like a chateau from the other side).
Admission to the estate includes a self-guided tour of the house (unfortunately no pictures allowed inside the house) and I couldn't wait to dive right in. They have preserved many rooms to be exactly as they were when George Washington Vanderbilt II completed the house in 1895. The first floor included the entrance hall, the winter garden, billiard room, banquet hall (complete with organ loft), breakfast room, salon,music room, tapestry gallery, and the library (which could easily fit our 1600 square foot home inside of it). These are the types of rooms that are always described in historical romances and until now I could never really picture them. I've always wanted to travel back in time to Victorian England and it was like I got that chance.
We went up the sweeping spiral grand staircase to the second floor which featured the family's private rooms. The preserved rooms that we were able to view were the second floor living hall, Mr. Vanderbilt's bedroom, the oak sitting room, and Mrs. Vanderbilt's bedroom. I had to explain to Andy that it was common in that time for the husband and wife to have separate bedrooms.
The third floor contained the guest quarters. The rooms we viewed included the third floor living hall, the third floor hallway, the guest bedrooms named the Damask room, the Claude room, the Tyrolean chimney room, Louis XV room (where are all the Vanderbilt children and grandchildren were born), and the Louis XV bathroom (one of 43 bathrooms in the house). In addition to each room in the house being beautifully furnished and decorated, the ceilings in ever room were elaborately molded and there was crown molding around each room. Every room had different designs and the details were amazing. It's no wonder that the house took 6 years to complete.
Once we were done with the first three floors, we took the Grand Staircase (pictured from outside above) down the first floor and headed to the basement. Once we reached the basement, we walked down an amazing and long stone hallway. This led us to the Halloween room (an original storage room converted to show pictures and descriptions of the house's construction), the bowling alley, the dressing rooms used for when guests would come to swim (there were easily 15 side by side), the indoor swimming pool, and the gymnasium.
Also located in the basement were the servants quarters. This area included a vegetable pantry, walk-in refrigerators (the side of modern refrigerators), servants' bedrooms (the size of modern bedrooms that aren't the master bedroom), pastry kitchen, rotisserie kitchen, main kitchen, kitchen pantry, servants' dining room, service entrance, work rooms, brown laundry (hand washables), main laundry (they had a washing machine), and drying room.
We then took a set of stairs to a corner of the first floor that served as the bachelors' wing. This wing included a smoking room for after dinner, a gun room, and the bachelors' wing hallway. Although we saw so much of the house, there were more than 3 floors above ground and the only floor we saw in its entirety was the ground floor. Of the second and third floors, we only saw 1/3 of what is there. The Vanderbilts still own the house, though it's been open to the public since 1930 and a permanently opened as a house museum in 1956.
Once our tour of the house was complete, we decided to take a look at the gardens. The gardens cover several acres, so it's near impossible to walk it all (especially with a toddler), so we decided to walk to short distance to the walled garden and the conservatory. As we were heading that way, I mentioned to Andy that when we were at Boone Hall Plantation in Charleston, they said they get booked solid for weddings and that this estate would be a gorgeous place to get married. Not long after I said that, we saw what looked like a groom in a tuxedo near the conservatory. On our way back to the house area, sure enough, we saw the bride posing for pictures.
The last thing we did was check out the shops. I am a sucker for Christmas stores and of course they had one. I must not be the only one who loves those stores because there was a dad in there telling his kids to hurry up past it before their mom noticed it. I found a beautiful snowflake ornament with the year and the house on it. Andy also immediately noticed several crystal ornament trees. There was one that I really liked and Andy told me to get it, which is very unlike him. I'll be very excited to display it this Christmas.
Andy being the former film major, kept saying that he recognized the house and initially thought it might be Wayne manor from the Christopher Nolan series of Batman movies. I told him I didn't think so, and he looked it up and the house was used as the house in Richie Rich starring Macaulay Culkin when we were kids. The highlight of Andy's day was when he claimed he saw actor Damian Lewis from the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers." The man was wearing sunglasses and Andy said he got several good looks at him and is convinced it was him. Later he looked him up and said that the actor is married to the actress who played Draco Malfoy's mom in the Harry Potter movies and I think I would have noticed if the woman he was with was her.
We caught the shuttle to the parking lot and headed out. We didn't realize how vast the estate was until we were leaving. It took us 30 minutes to get out!