May 5, 2009

Blue Ridge Memories, Part 3

Our house in the Valley was built in about 1905. Biltmore opened in 1895. We have multiple gardens. Biltmore has multiple gardens. And that’s about where the similarities end.

Biltmore, one of the homes of George Washington Vanderbilt,
is a 250+ room mansion set on 8000 acres just outside the city of Asheville. According to the guide we had on our carriage ride, there were some 600 individual land purchases just in the Asheville area, and who knows how many others were required to amass the original 125,000 acres that made up the estate back in the day.

It’s hard to put the house into perspective; it’s so vast, and so imposing from the outside,
and yet inside some of the rooms actually seem to normal scale, if that’s possible. Some are ornate, some are simple; some clearly feel as if they were well-lived in, and others look like they’re only for show. There’s a huge triple fireplace in the dining room, with a small table (for ten or so) set up in front of the fireplace for intimate family dinners, and a huge dining room table that seats 66 people in the main part of the room, along with a multi-story pipe organ at the other end. By comparison, when we have both families over for Thanksgiving, we have to use two rooms and borrow chairs from Mare and John. And we listen to the stereo in the living room.

We have the plantatarium, a room with generally southern exposure that’s filled with rattan furniture, lots of plants, and a cool ceiling fan with wooden blades shaped like leaves. Biltmore has the Winter Garden, my favorite room in the house, a glorious sunken room with a glass-and-wood ceiling to die for, sculpture, and huge plants. The room overflows with warmth and happiness; I don’t know any other way to describe it.

The basement is another great part of the house – swimming pool, bowling alley, the kitchens and laundry rooms – pretty cool to see all of that. But for us, the piece de resistance was the roof tour. Four stories up, high above all of the visitors; patting gargoyles on the fanny for luck; looking down on the Winter Garden room; checking out the servant’s quarters and some of the unrefurbished rooms, and getting to check out all of the craftsmanship in the house was amazing. The view is indescribable.

More pictures. Sadly, we were not allowed to take any inside – and the bulk of my house and surrounds shots were on the 35 not the digital, so these are mostly from the roof tour. Enjoy!


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