ASHEVILLE, NC – This year, springtime at Biltmore takes on a whole new meaning when a suite of four never-before-seen bedrooms opens to visitors for the first time on April 4, 2009. These rooms provide a deep and revitalized connection between the two generations born at Biltmore and the visitors who come here to see George Washington Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre estate, a National Historic Landmark.
Coinciding with the start of Biltmore’s 24th annual Festival of Flowers (April 4-May 17), the opening of the new rooms represents a major milestone in Biltmore’s history, and one of the most revealing opportunities to date for Biltmore to tell the Vanderbilt family story.
Restored to its original splendor, this suite offers visitors the first opportunity to fully see the house as a family home and the Vanderbilts as parents. The Louis XV Room itself is perhaps the true heart of Biltmore. It served as birthplace of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s only daughter, Cornelia, in 1900. Years later, it was where Cornelia delivered her own two sons, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil in 1925 and 1928, respectively.
When guests tour through the suite, they will realize like never before that Biltmore was much more than a magnificent house when Vanderbilt opened it on Christmas Eve 1895. It was a home, alive with family, friends and children.
Biltmore’s team of curators, conservators and craftsmen spent years researching and sourcing materials from around the globe to authentically restore a part of Biltmore House that’s been closed to visitors for nearly 100 years.
The 250 furniture pieces and decorative objects in the suite are part of George Vanderbilt’s collection, but have been tucked away in storage since the 1930s, away from public view. Liberal doses of gold and silk make these rooms literally shine on a sunny morning, said Leslie Klinger, curator of interpretation, which she suspects was the reason Edith Vanderbilt chose to deliver her daughter in the suite’s Louis XV Room. “Seeing this incredibly beautiful furniture reunited with the rest of Vanderbilt’s collection is really spectacular,” Klinger said.
Biltmore’s experts engaged in extensive detective work throughout the restoration process. This included:
• Piecing remnants of original wallpaper found underneath door moldings and drapery brackets to determine wallpaper patterns for the reproduction process;
• Traveling to France to collaborate with fabric and wallpaper company designers to ensure the original fabrics were reproduced exactly;
• Hours of cleaning and repairing the objects form George Vanderbilt’s collection;
• Hand mixing of paints to match the original colors.
With the opening of the suite, interpretation of Biltmore House itself is now expanded to focus on the people who once lived and visited in the home, in addition to the architecture and art collection. The visitor experience will be enhanced by the placement of lifestyle elements – items of the period – to achieve a lived-in feeling, more authentically portraying the day-to-day living that once took place in Biltmore House.
Biltmore’s Museum Services staff members studied biographies of the people who visited the Vanderbilts and stayed in Biltmore House to populate the rooms with antique objects that represent their interests and lifestyles. “Many of the Vanderbilts’ guests enjoyed horseback riding, so period riding gear will be placed in at least one of the guest bedrooms,” Klinger said.
When in original use, the suite was thought to have housed close friends and family who visited the Vanderbilts, including Willie Fields, George Vanderbilt’s best friend who played a major role in George’s courtship of Edith. During one of his visits, Willie wrote to his mother that he suspected Edith was “in a family way.”
This story and many others like it reveal the Vanderbilt family’s life at Biltmore. Members of the Museum Services staff spent years researching Vanderbilt history to include tidbits like this on Biltmore’s new self-guided audio tour, available when the suite opens.