Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Magnificent Homes of America - Biltmore House - Part One


"My little mountain escape"
George Washington Vanderbilt


George Vanderbilt first described his summer retreat, the Biltmore Estate,
in a very unassuming way, to say the least.  His "Gilded Age" mansion is anything but!
In fact, Biltmore is THE largest privately owned home in North America.

learnnc.org
I've visited this grand estate many times but it never ceases to amaze me.
Pulling up to the front entrance is always a thrill!  The sheer size and grandeur is breathtaking.
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Through his numerous European tours,
Vanderbilt crystalized his vision for the Chateauesque-style mansion,
using several Loire Valley chateaux as reference.
Richard Morris Hunt, noted architect to the wealthy, formalized the design into reality.
And in 1889, construction finally began on the Biltmore.
Six years later, the doors opened for the first time
to Vanderbilt's new bride, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, on Christmas Eve.
Can you imagine her "gasp" moment?

Considered today as one of the most prominent remaining examples of the
GILDED AGE
the Biltmore exemplifies the extreme excesses of the super rich during this period in American history.
The main house, with over 178,000 total square feet, contains 250 rooms, 43 bathroom, 85 fireplaces,
3 kitchens, an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley!

Needless to say, with its massive scale, finding my "design take" on the interiors, was not easy!
So much material to choose from...
But as I moved from room to room, it became more clear.
"The magnificence of Biltmore from a designer's perspective, 
is the attention to details"
So follow me on the tour as I point out some of my favorite design hot spots...



The Winter Garden says it all. This is my favorite room in the house.
 Who wouldn't want to spend time in here, especially when it's cold and snowy outside.
The details are everywhere!
With the soaring 34ft glass ceiling,elegant lanterns punctuating the space,
exotic orchids and ferns, and combination of limestone, mahogany and iron,
it's a spectacular visual feast of proportion and texture!



 via romanticasheville.com
Designed to impress and intimidate, the Great Hall certainly has the credentials.
What I love about this space is it's gigantic scale.  It's 40' x 70' with a ceiling that is 7 stories high!
But what's even more amazing is that the acoustics are so perfect
that two people sitting at opposite ends of the banquet table
do not have to raise their voices to be heard.
Notice the size of the fireplace. It spans the entire wall and is in perfect proportion to the space,
as are the windows, arched openings and those fantastic chandeliers.
Every element is in harmony, even on such a grand scale.




In the Family Dining Room, which was considered more "casual" by their standards,
my attention focused on the elaborate ceiling detail.  Incredible isn't it?
Add the Jasperware mantel and Spanish leather walls, and you see why this room is a jewel.


Design Hot Spot: gorgeous silk cut velvet damask on the chairs, which was
custom woven specifically for the Vanderbilts.



As I listened to the description of the loggia,
I got a better sense of why this site was chosen for the Biltmore House.
This view must be spectacular every season!


I caught this detail on the opposite end of the loggia.
A simple entry door became magical with the addition of elaborate ornamentation.

 via romanticasheville.com
Once again the ceiling takes center stage -this time in the library!
"The Chariots of Aurora" ceiling painting by Giovannie Pellegrini (1675-1741)
was brought to America by Mr. Vanderbilt from the Pisani Palace in Venice.
He is actually credited with saving this important 18th century masterpiece
since most of Pellegrini's works were destroyed during World War II.

I can't leave this room without pointing out the clever passageway.
Tucked behind the fireplace on the second floor, it provided access for guests to
discreetly enter the library to select a favorite night time "read".

Design Hot Spot: the large blue and white porcelain urn in the foreground.
This is one of pair from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that now stand in the room.

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The Biltmore House is a huge treasure trove for design inspiration.
The architecture, furnishings and decorative arts are all noteworthy,
which makes it that much more exciting for me.
But because of this massive amount of inventory,
it takes more time to soak it in.
So, I'm stopping here on the first floor, for today.
Check back for PART TWO
as I head upstairs and then into the lower level where
the design details are even more facinating!



"EMBRACE THE JOYS OF GOOD DESIGN!"