Biltmore: The U.S. English Country House

Biltmore: The U.S. English Country House

On Sunday I was lucky enough to visit Biltmore Estate with my family. Located in Asheville, North Carolina, Biltmore is the largest private residence in the United States. Opening in 1895, it was constructed by George Vanderbilt as a retreat for his family and a place to entertain guests. As we walked through the opulently decorated rooms, I was struck by how much this grand American house resembled English Country houses like Chatsworth—or its fictional cousin Pemberley. The house itself is designed like a French chateau. The architecture is wonderful, and everything is tastefully decorated. You can imagine what it would be like to live as a member of the aristocracy (or the American equivalent), when money truly is no object.
The Biltmore library (below) housed 23,000 books, all selected by George Vanderbilt himself (something I could picture Mr. Darcy doing) —and was

Biltmore library

designed to accommodate a huge classically inspired painting on the ceiling. The house has a “bachelor wing” with a gun room, smoking room, and billiard room (with its own secret passage back to the guest quarters so single male guests could stay separate from single female ones). Each of the 33 (!) guest rooms had little name tags on the door so that guests would recognize their rooms.Biltmore Dining

The main dining hall (left) is seven stories high and boasts three fireplaces and a pipe organ. The “intimate” breakfast room looks like it could seat about 15 people. The words “sitting room” suggest something modest and cozy. However, at Biltmore the sitting room (below) between the master’s and mistress’s bedrooms could easily hold about half my house. The grounds include a formal walled garden, a conservatory, and trails to waterfalls—much like the estate of an English country house.

Biltmore Sitting Room

It wasn’t hard to picture a member of the Darcy family (or one of their guests) inhabiting such rooms. As I wandered through the house, I was easier to imagine such a lifestyle—dressing for dinner or to go riding, listening to instruments in the music room, writing letters in the enormous library, or enjoying a stroll through the gardens.
To be sure, there are many differences as well. The Vanderbilt family acquired its wealth from railroads, not from the land they owned. So Biltmore is surrounded by forest, not farmland. The basement houses a bowling alley, gymnasium, and a swimming pool; it’s hard to imagine something similar at Pemberley. And, of course, Biltmore was constructed in a much later era. It has 43 bathrooms (a huge luxury at that time), was wired for electricity, and has an elevator. It also enjoyed a much shorter life as a private residence, only a little over 30 years. In the 1930s, Vanderbilt’s descendants opened it to visitors as a way to help the local economy during the Great Depression.
Still, visiting Biltmore was a very visceral lesson in what it would be like to live surrounded by luxury and opulence every day. I’m not sure I could get used to such a lifestyle even if I had the opportunity, but it’s a lot of fun to imagine!

18 Responses to Biltmore: The U.S. English Country House

  1. Thanks for sharing this. We do have some treasures in the USA. The Internet lists a number on the east coast. But not any with the “ancient” history the UK has, of course.

  2. I can almost hear…visiting Biltmore is a hard business. I was exhausted by the time we only saw a small section of the grounds. The gardens were amazing. I went around with my mouth open half the time and could not believe what I was seeing. Such a place. I suppose Elizabeth felt like that the first time she saw Pemberley and said…of all this I might have been mistress. I cannot imagine Mrs. Vanderbilt approaching the front door to Biltmore and saying…of all this I am Mistress. Takes my breath away.

  3. What a beautiful place! I’d love to visit there sometime! I remember when I was in junior high and we had to design our own houses in home ec…mine had huge rooms and my teacher made me redo the project because “no one builds houses with rooms that big.” She was really old, so I kept my comments to myself. I’m happy to see that I was right and she was wrong! 😉 Thanks for sharing, Victoria!

  4. Quite lovely — and the grounds are beautiful too. Wasn’t too keen on the winery; the wines taste very sulphur-y. I found the bathrooms most fascinating — no runnng water in the sinks because servants brought hot water in pitchers for hand and face washing so nobody would have to go to the trouble of turning a faucet! This was one of the first places we visited when we relocated to the Southlands and I would love to go again. Either that or just move in to the library! Many thanks for posting this and bringing back such pleasant memories.

  5. I’ve always loved Biltmore House. My husband and I first visited there 54 years ago on our honeymoon. It’s fabulous to have such a place to visit so near to home. Can’t even imagine what it must have been to live that lifestyle!

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