Last week we left you after only completing the first floor of this astonishing house. Even with this second issue further exploring the home, we are still not going to be able to cover every detail that we feel you need to know. So this is going to be a whirlwind tour of the basement, second and third floors.
Now remember, we told you last week that the Biltmore House has 135,800 feet of living space between a total of 5 floors. That’s a lot of stepping to do on a daily basis and if you are only traversing the 3 main living floors, the grand staircase has 102 steps of its own! So let’s get moving and start this week’s tour in the sub-basement.
When most people think of the basement, they immediately see the floor directly below the main floor of the house. We are going to go another floor below that. Yes, that’s right, this castle extends two stories below ground! The sub-basement is where all the workings of the house’s mechanics are found. The boiler rooms, the electrical boxes, the elevator gears (yes, the Biltmore house actually has a working elevator that is over 100 years old!). Moving up to the actual basement level of the house, here you will find some of the fascinating amenities that were never heard of in a home over 100 years ago, or even today for that matter! Mr. Vanderbilt didn’t want his guests or family to leave the Estate for any reason if they didn’t have to. Here on this level, guests would find things such as the Halloween Room. This brightly-painted room would have been used for storage during the first 30 years of the house and then as a party room during the wedding of Vanderbilt’s daughter, Cornelia.
Guests will also find a full-size bowling alley with two lanes. Balls were returned by rolling them down a center track, and pins were reset by hand. The next thing guests would come to is a long hallway of dressing rooms. What were these dressing rooms used for? Well none other than the indoor 27,000-gallon heated and lighted swimming pool. Here guests could relax in the luxurious pool any time of the year. The luxury measured 53 feet long by 27 feet wide, 8 and a half feet. The pool included underwater lighting and diving boards. What’s good for the body after a nice swim? Working out in the underground gymnasium using the parallel bars, chain-driven rowing machine, medicine balls and other up-to-date apparatuses.
The basement was also the center hub for the house. Here the three kitchens were found, along with the pantries, walk-in refrigerators and laundry rooms. Every meal cooked during the day, be it a main meal such as breakfast or dinner or just a midnight snack, came from the basement in one of the kitchens. Kitchen servants were on hand until the last guest was asleep and then the fires were roaring again at 5am to start the next day. From the main kitchen, there are two dumbwaiters, one manual and one electric to take food to any level that was needed during the day or night. Here you will also find the servants dining room and sitting room. While there were much more modest than the grand dining hall just above, they were more than what was found in most homes for the day. Cold walk-in refrigerators were unheard of during this time, and the Vanderbilts pulled it off by running pipes filled with cold water through the room to chill it.
After leaving the basement, we will now take you to the 2nd floor of the house. This floor housed the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt and several guest bedrooms. Walking into Mr. Vanderbilt’s bedroom, you can surely see this is the bedroom of a king. His bedroom was filled with heavily carved and turned walnut pieces including a dressing table, chaise lounge and chairs in the grand Baroque style. Mr. Vanderbilt filled his room with items he loved such as fine engravings and bronze sculptures from the 19th century France. It was common to have bathrooms in early homes of the 1800’s, but not one with hot water at the touch of the tap as in Mr. Vanderbilt’s bathroom. These hot water pipes were fueled by two coke furnaces in the sub-basement.
Between the Vanderbilt’s bedrooms is the oak sitting room. This room was used for the couple to spend time together talking and planning events. It was also used by Mrs. Vanderbilt to sit with her head maid and plan daily activities and meals for the estate guest.
Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom is next in line down the row and fit for a queen. Decorated in the Louis XV style, originated in France around 1700 and adopted by affluent American’s in the 1800’s. This room has luxurious styles as silk wall coverings, fancily trimmed mirrors, Savonnerie carpets and cut-velvet draperies on the windows and bed.
The second floor also included a massive living hall that included several hundred books of Mr. Vanderbilt’s 23,000 volume collection. There was a hidden staircase that went from this room behind the fireplace in the Library where guest could come and go to fetch new reading materials. It also has a piano and table games to entertain guests on this floor.
The third floor of the Biltmore House was reserved for guest rooms and a few of the house maid rooms. This level also included a living hall for guest on this level to have entertainment such as the second-floor guest. Here rooms such as the Madonna Room, Morland Room, Van Dyke Room, and Watson rooms were lavishly decorated in early pieces from the 1700’s and early 1800’s such as the French Empire style.
This concludes the inside of the Biltmore House. Make sure to come back next week for a full review of the 8,000 acres that make up the “Estate”.