The House That Vanderbilt Built

America’s largest privately owned residential home happens to have some of Thomas Edison’s original light bulbs on display.

By Marilyn Nason

Inspired by magnificent French chateaux and their distinctive architecture, Biltmore® House is filled with some of the finest furniture, artwork, decorative accessories, home textiles, kitchen and serveware personally chosen by George W. Vanderbilt and his wife, Edith, during trips to Europe, Japan, and China.

Vanderbilt created the 8,000-acre Biltmore estate in the mountains of Asheville as an escape from everyday life. It has become one of North Carolina’s premier tourist attractions and is still owned by the Vanderbilt family today. Completed in 1895, it boasts 135,000 square feet and 250 rooms. As recently as 2007, it ranked in the top 10 of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) list of America’s Favorite Architecture.

Outside, acres of beautiful formal and casual gardens designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (who co-designed Manhattan’s Central Park) enrich the Biltmore estate experience. Biltmore’s lush landscape is carefully and continually cared for to preserve Olmsted’s original vision for the gardens and grounds. The stables, barns, the glass-walled Conservatory, the formal Walled Garden influenced by English and Italian designs, as well as numerous regional gardens, winding paths, and a winery are among the attractions and panoramic views around every corner of the estate.

Each year additional rooms and select areas within the 250-room mansion are opened for public viewing by the nearly one million people who visit annually. Through the years, countless domestic and international designers, decorators, and artists have spent time at Biltmore, studying not only the architecture and room décor but individual pieces of furniture, artwork, and accessories that depict the Old World craftsmanship and casual, at-home hospitality for which the Vanderbilts were famous.

According to historians, the Vanderbilt family made every effort to make guests feel comfortable and recognized that good lighting was important – especially when reading in the Vanderbilt library, which offers 10,000 volumes and enough diversity to appeal to every age.

When it comes to lighting, the Vanderbilts were at the forefront. Chandeliers and reading lamps are everywhere both inside and outdoors, representative of Vanderbilt’s focus on building a home his family and friends would enjoy with the latest comforts that the late 19th Century could offer. Since Biltmore House features one of the very first private indoor swimming pools in the country and includes a bowling alley as well as a decorated children’s party room, lighting was very important to each of these unique areas.

In fact, one of Thomas Edison’s original light bulbs is proudly on display at Biltmore House – and it still works! In a modern-day contrast, the current Vanderbilt descendants have repurposed one of the family’s extensive hillsides (formerly used for their prized cattle to graze) to house hundreds of solar panels employed to conserve energy while maintaining optimum lighting throughout the estate.

Although Biltmore is a popular attraction in every season, perhaps at no time is that more apparent than the holidays. With dozens of magnificently decked-out Christmas trees and other elaborate decorations recalling the Vanderbilt family’s traditions through the years, the fourthquarter tour dates are often sold out well ahead of time for the Christmas at Biltmore and the Candlelight Christmas Evenings tours.

Today guests are not only able to tour Biltmore House, Antler Hill Village & Winery, and all other venues on the estate, but they can also stay on the grounds at the four-star Inn on Biltmore Estate or Cottage on Biltmore Estate. In recent years, Biltmore has established a separate lifestyle company featuring beautiful Biltmore-inspired products for home and garden, including quality furnishings and accessories exclusively licensed to major manufacturers and suppliers. The Biltmore lighting license is held by Dimond Lighting, part of ELK Lighting Group.

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