It stands over 5 stories tall. It has a footprint of over 178,926 square feet of floor space that includes 135,280 square feet of living area. It is the largest privately owned house in the United States. It has been owned by the same family since the first day it opened on Christmas Eve, 1895. It is commonly known as the Biltmore House.
Any visitor arriving at the Biltmore House today will still be just as awe inspired as visitors were a hundred years ago. Upon entering the three-mile-long approach road, visitors are faced with the massive brick and pebbledash lodge gate standing almost 4 stories tall. This structure alone should set you up for what you are getting ready to experience. As you snake your way up the approach road, you’ll find you anticipation of seeing the house heightened (almost a sense of mystery) by the magnificent forest all around you. Finally, visitors pass through the iron gates and pillars that are topped by early 19th-century French stone sphinxes and enter the expansive court of the house.
You may think you have arrived in Loire Valley of France. The magnificent French Renaissance chateau with intertwined features of a 16th century castle stands in front of you. But wait, I thought we were in Asheville North Carolina? Builder/owner George Vanderbilt loved to travel and crossed the Atlantic more than 60 times in this lifetime. After finding the beauty of the southern Appalachians in 1888 on a trip with his mother, Vanderbilt bought up over 125,000 acres of land and picked out this location for his grand house. Now that the land was purchased, he was ready to travel to Europe for inspiration. With his architect, Richard Morris Hunt, at his side, Vanderbilt visited the castles and lands of European estates. The end result, of course, was The Biltmore Estate.
Upon entering the massive vestibule, you will be greeted in the entrance hall. This was the first thing guests would see once inside the house. Here the floors are paved with marble, and the walls and arches of Indiana limestone will take your breath away. As you look around and see the Winter Garden, gaze up at the Grand Staircase, and hear the music of the organ pipes, you will enter sensory overload. We highly recommend purchasing the audio tour for your time in the house. This handheld device allows you to press a number for each room, hallway, and area of the house you enter and hear a recording from actual family members and estate historians explaining the area you are in. Otherwise, you will start to the right and you are on your own in this 250-room house!
As you pass the Winter Garden, you will see the exotic bamboo furnishings that Vanderbilt brought back from France as well as the original sculpture in the center called, Boy Stealing Geese. On the outside walls of this area, you will find copies of the Parthenon frieze that Vanderbilt had executed in Paris. As you wind your way down the hall, you will soon find yourself in the largest room of the house. The banquet hall with its seventy-foot tall barrel vaulted ceiling arches stretches seventy-two feet long and forty feet wide. The room has two built in gilt-trimmed throne chairs, and an oak dining table with sixty-four chairs. Around the room hang five Flemish tapestries that Vanderbilt purchased in Paris in 1887. These intricate textiles, woven of silk, wool, and metallic thread between 1546 and 1553 tell the story from Roman mythology of Venus, Mars, and Vulcan. At one end of the room is a triple fireplace large enough to walk into and the other end holds a massive pipe organ with hundreds of pipes.
Beside the banquet hall is the more intimate breakfast room. Although much smaller than the grand banquet hall, this room still had hand tooled leather covered walls, Italian marble wainscoting and door trim. The ceiling has ornate plasterwork and is highlighted with gold-tinted glaze and heavy pendants with tiny acorns that are symbols in the Vanderbilt family crest.
Other notable rooms on the first floor include the Billiard Room with custom handmade billiard and pool tables. The smoking and gun rooms adjacent to it are where the men would retreat in the afterhours for talking. Here also Vanderbilt would show off his latest gun or trophy kills. On the other end of the house, is one of our favorite rooms, the two-story rich walnut paneling library room. With over 23,000 books in his personal collection, you will find over 10,000 in this one room. The ceiling is lined with the painting by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini that was in the Pisani Palace in Venice called, The Chariot of Aurora. It was taken apart in panel and installed in the Biltmore House; it is the most important work by the artist still in existence. The two-story oak and marble fireplace hides a staircase that leads to the second floor living area and completes the second level walkway around the room. Vanderbilt was an avid collector of books and had his entire collection custom bound.
Off from the library room you will enter the 90 feet long Tapestry Gallery. This room provides a colorful setting for three 16th-century Flemish tapestries representing, The Triumph of Virtue Over Vice, that were woven in 1530. Above these are stenciled ceiling beams and a painted limestone fireplace hood modeled after those in the Chateau de Pierrefonds in France.
You may not believe it, but we have only covered mostly the first floor of this “Castle in America”. We will be dividing up this trip into several articles to ensure that we can do justice to everything you need to know and see from this wondrous museum of history. Make sure to come back next week to read about more rooms and gems you’ll find as you explore, The Biltmore House.