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GardenSMART Episode

Show #41/7402. Biltmore Lights

Summary of Show

First Thing One Sees
George loved gardening and he loved gardens. And thinks it's apropos that one of the FIRST THING ONE SEES when walking into this beautiful home is the atrium that's full of beautiful, exotic plants. That, of course, was very, very important to him. Lizzie agrees, yes, it was. George was an avid collector of palms, which were popular at the time, thus included in his house this beautiful space to display them. This would have been a space where he was able to enjoy plants year round.
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Intent Of Designers For This Space
Eric feels this must be a super fun room to decorate for Christmas and would like Lizzie to discuss the design and the INTENT OF DESIGNERS FOR THIS SPACE. This is a room that designers are either intimidated to take on or they're really excited about it. They all really love this room because of the number of plants. Lizzie has a lot of plant lovers on the team. Callan Charron designed the room this year. She wanted to use a lot of rich jewel tones and very specifically wanted to include the draped garland in the ceiling.
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The Team
How many designers are working on the house and how many rooms are under your care every season? Well, they have 10 designers on THE TEAM, but Lizzie wants to acknowledge it takes so much more than that. Just within the house this year they put up 67 trees in the 250-room house. They do not decorate every single room, but a large majority of them. Beyond the 10-person team, they receive help from - the housekeeping team, the engineering team, the horticulture team, all are involved. For example, a lot of the poinsettias are grown by their horticulture team.
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Enormous Live Christmas Tree
Lizzie thinks one of the most amazing Christmas features at Biltmore House is the ENORMOUS LIVE CHRISTMAS TREE in the banquet hall. Eric thinks it's probably the largest indoor Christmas tree he has ever seen, anywhere. Tell us how this happens. Lizzie feels this is probably the most important tree in the house. It is a fresh tree and the last tree to come into the house. They have a big, special day they call tree raising day, when the tree comes in. But it really begins out on a mountaintop in Newland, North Carolina. Andrew's Nursery has been growing Christmas trees for Biltmore for 40 years at least.
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Ornaments And A Lot Of Lights
Eric would like talk about the design for this tree. There are a lot of ORNAMENTS AND A LOT OF LIGHTS that it takes to make this look right. Lizzie agrees, with a large tree, it takes quite a bit to fill it. Importantly, they do have various archival descriptions, often from newspapers, of the tree that was in this room. George hosted a Christmas party every year, and it was very buzzed about. George's presence here in Asheville was a really big deal and was often in print. So it's helpful to have that documentation. There are different descriptions over the years, one specifies that the tree had 500 ornaments and 500 lights.
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Everything Changes, Every Year
EVERYTHING CHANGES, EVERY YEAR in all of the rooms. Lizzie tells us a little bit about the inspiration behind the design for this tree. This room, this year was designed by Don Holloway. Each room has a specific designer responsible for that room. Don's inspiration this year was "The Night Before Christmas," a very traditional poem. Thus the colors are classic rich reds, greens, golds.
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Triple Fireplace
Everything at Biltmore House is so grand, when one walks into this room and sees the amazing TRIPLE FIREPLACE - wow, it's incredible. There are 65 fireplaces in the house. The largest is actually in the library. But this scale-wise, just because there are three, is the most beastly mantle to install. This garland is a double garland and double swooped which definitely requires scaffolding. But everything is to the scale of the rooms.
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Masculine Rooms
When Biltmore House was constructed, George Vanderbilt was still very much a bachelor, so we find many MASCULINE ROOMS in the house. And the billiard room is a great example of that, it’s a space where the guys would hang out. And we see that reflected in pretty much every aspect of the design of this room. Eric thinks what the designers did here as far as the Christmas decorations was really, really clever. They're playing off a lot of the deeper rich wood tones and leather and really did a wonderful job.
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Rooms More Individual This Year
Eric agrees, he's been through the house many times over the last 20 years, and it seems like this year every room really has its own unique personality and they're all very well integrated with the rest of the designs. But it seems a little MORE INDIVIDUAL this year. Lizzie explains, typically, for Christmas, they have a theme, that is an overarching concept for the designers to kind of develop their design inspiration around.
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Ribbon A Huge Part Of The Look
Eric would like to talk about some of the unique aspects of this design, some of the elements. Lizzie would love to point out the RIBBON. She thinks that's always a huge part of developing the look and the design of the tree. The ribbon in here is two-sided. It's a plaid on one side and leather on the other side and kind of has that dual contrast. The colors that were pulled out of that plaid are - lots of coppers, rusts, even touches of red. But you'll see this has a natural touch to it.
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Tapestry Gallery An Amazing Place For Entertaining
The Tapestry Gallery would've been AN AMAZING PLACE FOR ENTERTAINING, Eric loves the energy that's here. This really, really feels like Edith. Lizzie agrees. There's a lot to point out in this room. Callan designed this room and she really wanted to highlight Edith Vanderbilt who was not here for that very first Christmas, but later on she was definitely a big presence and a big force, not just at Biltmore, but in the community of Asheville and in the Blue Ridge Mountains. So that is really what Callan wanted to highlight, kind of her contributions, her accomplishments here in the Blue Ridge.
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Library & Warmth Of The Wood
One of Lizzie's favorite rooms in Biltmore is the library with all the WARMTH OF THE WOOD and, of course, the enormous fireplace. Eric also loves the tree. It's so different from anything we see in the home. Lizzie agrees, this is a favorite room for a lot of people, thus it's always an important room when decorating. This year though, it's kind of a little twist. They are usually focused on the late 1800s, early 1900s time period, the time that George first lived here.
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Beautiful Tree Beside The Ground Stairway
We end our tour with one of the first things one would actually see when entering the home. This is a BEAUTIFUL TREE that's right beside the ground stairway. It's a magical space. What an amazing holiday tour this has been. Visiting Biltmore, looking at these wonderful decorations is a holiday tradition that literally everyone should enjoy.
For More Information Click here

LINKS:

Biltmore Estate
Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina

Christmas At Biltmore
Christmas at Biltmore

Show #41/7402. Biltmore Lights

Transcript of Show

In this episode GardenSMART visits the largest privately owned residence in the US where they embrace holiday cheer like no other. Biltmore Estate has been celebrating the holidays in style since George Vanderbilt opened the home in 1895. The attention to detail in each room is stunning and a labor of love that takes a team of designers most of the year to pull together. So many elements are taken into consideration when capturing the spirit of each room while accentuating the history and personality that dates back to the original owner.

We have the pleasure of meeting with Lizzie Witcher, the floral display manager, who takes us on a tour of Biltmore in all its holiday splendor as we celebrate the incredible efforts of her team of designers. Eric thanks Lizzy so much for joining us. Lizzy thanks GardenSMART and its’ audience for visiting at this beautiful time of year.

Eric opines - George loved gardening and he loved gardens. And thinks it's apropos that one of the FIRST THING ONE SEES when walking into this beautiful home is the atrium that's full of beautiful, exotic plants. That, of course, was very, very important to him. Lizzie agrees, yes, it was. George was an avid collector of palms, which were popular at the time, thus included in his house this beautiful space to display them. This would have been a space where he was able to enjoy plants year round. That was its purpose. It's a very dominant feature in the home. He was able to change things out, bring things up from the conservatory and take things back down there. This was an ever-rotating permanent display of his collection. From pictures we know this room was even fuller than what we see today. They maintain quite a few large plants in here today, but know that George had even more. Biltmore likes to make sure the site view for guests today is visible all the way around, but know that it was quite full in his time. And a lot of these plants, because of their size, are quite old. Lizzie's team is in here every single day watering and caring for the plants and making sure that they continue to look great for guests.

Eric feels this must be a super fun room to decorate for Christmas and would like Lizzie to discuss the design and the INTENT OF DESIGNERS FOR THIS SPACE. This is a room that designers are either intimidated to take on or they're really excited about it. They all really love this room because of the number of plants. Lizzie has a lot of plant lovers on the team. Callan Charron designed the room this year. She wanted to use a lot of rich jewel tones and very specifically wanted to include the draped garland in the ceiling. Callan was on scaffolding for two days putting this up, with the engineering team assisting, hardwiring the lights into the chandeliers. It's turned out beautifully and has been getting a lot of attention this year. What a lot of people don't know when they tour Biltmore and see these beautiful decorations is it takes a lot of people to make this happen. And Lizzie has an amazing team behind her.

How many designers are working on the house and how many rooms are under your care every season? Well, they have 10 designers on THE TEAM, but Lizzie wants to acknowledge it takes so much more than that. Just within the house this year they put up 67 trees in the 250-room house. They do not decorate every single room, but a large majority of them. Beyond the 10-person team, they receive help from - the housekeeping team, the engineering team, the horticulture team, all are involved. For example, a lot of the poinsettias are grown by their horticulture team. It takes an army. Everyone at Biltmore is really connected to this house. There's a deep sense of history here and there's a deep sense of wonderment. And the holidays are really a celebration of the sights and the sounds and the smells of Christmas. One thing Eric notices with this room is it almost has an amphitheater kind of feel to it. One can easily imagine there might be musicians playing Christmas carols in here for guests. It just would be such a spectacular way to be greeted upon entering the estate. Lizzie agrees and it does have great acoustics. At Christmastime they have choirs, musicians, pianists in here playing Christmas songs expressly for that multi sensory experience. The fresh, the beautiful decor, it's all-around experience. Eric totally agrees, wow, it really is a magical place. But we've got so much to see, let's take a tour of the house.

Lizzie thinks one of the most amazing Christmas features at Biltmore House is the ENORMOUS LIVE CHRISTMAS TREE in the banquet hall. Eric thinks it's probably the largest indoor Christmas tree he has ever seen, anywhere. Tell us how this happens. Lizzie feels this is probably the most important tree in the house. It is a fresh tree and the last tree to come into the house. They have a big, special day they call tree raising day, when the tree comes in. But it really begins out on a mountaintop in Newland, North Carolina. Andrew's Nursery has been growing Christmas trees for Biltmore for 40 years at least. And, not just the banquet hall tree, but fresh trees they use across the property. One thing Eric noticed about this tree, that he finds really fascinating, is that it's more of a whimsical, sprawling tree whereas many of the modern Christmas trees that we see are super, super sheared. He's assuming that was the way Christmas trees would've looked back in the time of George and Edith. Correct. They do specifically ask for an unsheared tree. They know that when George was planning Christmas, he had just moved into Biltmore House in October of 1895, it was still kind of a construction zone. There was still a train track on the front lawn. But immediately there were preparations that were being initiated for Christmas. And one of the things that he was very specific about was having a very large tree in the banquet hall. Of course, because of the scale of this room, he insisted on a very large tree. This room has a 70 foot ceiling. So what they have today is a 35-foot tree. So it's halfway to the ceiling in this room.

Eric would like talk about the design for this tree. There are a lot of ORNAMENTS AND A LOT OF LIGHTS that it takes to make this look right. Lizzie agrees, with a large tree, it takes quite a bit to fill it. Importantly, they do have various archival descriptions, often from newspapers, of the tree that was in this room. George hosted a Christmas party every year, and it was very buzzed about. George's presence here in Asheville was a really big deal and was often in print. So it's helpful to have that documentation. There are different descriptions over the years, one specifies that the tree had 500 ornaments and 500 lights. So that is what they often go off of and that is what is on this tree - 500 lights, 500 ornaments. It’s worth noting that these are electric lights. And the very first year, 1895, George had electric lights. Most people in their homes at that time were probably still using candles, but George was ahead of his time and had the greatest and best he could get.

Eric also notices that because it's an enormous tree the ornaments are the biggest ornaments of any of the ornaments in the house. Of course they would have to be to be to scale with this wonderful tree. Lizzie concurs, that is what they do because with a big tree they're filling a lot of space. Thus have extra large ornaments on the extra large tree. And not just ornaments, but gifts as well. And that is also from documentation that the tree was laden both on the branches and beneath with gifts that were given to staff and employee's children.

EVERYTHING CHANGES, EVERY YEAR in all of the rooms. Lizzie tells us a little bit about the inspiration behind the design for this tree. This room, this year was designed by Don Holloway. Each room has a specific designer responsible for that room. Don's inspiration this year was "The Night Before Christmas," a very traditional poem. Thus the colors are classic rich reds, greens, golds. When thinking about the design for this room they drew from the memories of the Christmas Eve dinner that the Vanderbilt family had which would've been the night before Christmas. They hope to convey that anticipation to their current day guests, the feeling of being ready for Christmas and looking forward to it.

Everything at Biltmore House is so grand, when one walks into this room and sees the amazing TRIPLE FIREPLACE - wow, it's incredible. There are 65 fireplaces in the house. The largest is actually in the library. But this scale-wise, just because there are three, is the most beastly mantle to install. This garland is a double garland and double swooped which definitely requires scaffolding. But everything is to the scale of the rooms. This room's definitely a good example of that. The trees in this area are 16-foot trees and are the perfect size for in front of this fireplace. And throughout the house, everything they do, they do so it fits and suits the room. But they find that when in their warehouse when preparing a lot of these things, something may look big and you're like, "Oh, I've just made a really huge arrangement.” But when they bring it up here it looks tiny and they're like, "Oh, I should have gone bigger." Scale is a big consideration with everything they do.

Eric loves the way that everything ties in so well, this feels like almost like a classic painting. And there are so many things that the design team must keep in mind, like the stories behind what would happen around the holidays with the family and the history of the room. Talk about some of those elements in this room and how it impacted the design for the Christmas decorations. Lizzie thinks the special thing about this room is they probably have the most documentation about it. They know this is where George hosted an employee Christmas party. They know that he distributed gifts and fruits, specifically apples and oranges, so they have baskets of apples and oranges in this room just to be part of that storytelling. Storytelling is just such a big part of everything that they do. Eric is taken by the details, everything is thought through. Each designer has a specific vision. And as everything comes into the room to be installed, it may look like a bunch of boxes and bins, but they have specific directions for the team that will be working in here to let them know exactly what ornaments they want where, which ornaments they want deeper into the tree and therefore go on first versus what to save to the end and to be on the outer tips of the branches. That's typically often garland and smaller ornaments or finials that have to hang down. They are very particular about their trees, Lizzie almost challenges guests who come here to find a crooked ornament because everything should be perfect and straight. And that's important because they know that so many people are going to be viewing it and appreciating it. And, sometimes for some people, one crooked ornament will just throw everything off. Eric feels the attention to detail is evident in every single aspect. There's nothing that we look at in any of the rooms where it doesn’t feel thoughtful, where it doesn't feel intentional. And the fact that all of these designs are redone every single year is fascinating. Lizzie makes the point they don't just pack all this up and put it back up exactly the same next year. And that is really why their planning process starts so early. It enables her team to put things away in a way that is helpful for the next year.

When Biltmore House was constructed, George Vanderbilt was still very much a bachelor, so we find many MASCULINE ROOMS in the house. And the billiard room is a great example of that, it’s a space where the guys would hang out. And we see that reflected in pretty much every aspect of the design of this room. Eric thinks what the designers did here as far as the Christmas decorations was really, really clever. They're playing off a lot of the deeper rich wood tones and leather and really did a wonderful job. Joslyn Kelly designed this room and her inspiration was the Null leather furniture, which is throughout the space. It's definitely something they are very careful around. It's very fragile today. Elements like that through time are very delicate. But just to highlight that and bring out that rich chocolate brown, there are lots of leather details in her tree. There are leather stockings at the mantle, almost a little Ralph Lauren touch, but definitely very masculine. And really, the curating of all the elements and decor on this tree, that process began early this year as Joslyn identified and went through the design process of coming up with what she wanted to do and what colors she wanted to pull out and identify anything that she might need to add to their inventory to be able to pull off the look that she wanted in here. And, she did it very well.

Eric agrees, he's been through the house many times over the last 20 years, and it seems like this year every room really has its own unique personality and they're all very well integrated with the rest of the designs. But it seems a little MORE INDIVIDUAL this year. Lizzie explains, typically, for Christmas, they have a theme, that is an overarching concept for the designers to kind of develop their design inspiration around. But this year they kind of threw that out the window a little bit. Lizzie wanted to do a designer’s choice year and really give the team more creative freedom to really look around the room, maybe find something that they really wanted to highlight with how they decorated and that is what a lot of the designers did. Some designers chose to pull that inspiration from some archival stories or history. There are a lot of different things throughout the house that are highlighted with the Christmas decor.

Eric would like to talk about some of the unique aspects of this design, some of the elements. Lizzie would love to point out the RIBBON. She thinks that's always a huge part of developing the look and the design of the tree. The ribbon in here is two-sided. It's a plaid on one side and leather on the other side and kind of has that dual contrast. The colors that were pulled out of that plaid are - lots of coppers, rusts, even touches of red. But you'll see this has a natural touch to it. There are little wooden mushrooms and woodland animals. There are animals in this room. There are a lot of animal heads that George actually purchased from a catalog. He did not go and hunt those himself. But every ornament has been thought through. One thing Eric noticed when first walking into this room were the copper magnolia leaves. His mother used to pick magnolia leaves, spray paint them gold, and these actually reminded him of Christmas when he was a kid. This room was just really heartwarming for Eric. Lizzie loves that.

The Tapestry Gallery would've been AN AMAZING PLACE FOR ENTERTAINING, Eric loves the energy that's here. This really, really feels like Edith. Lizzie agrees. There's a lot to point out in this room. Callan designed this room and she really wanted to highlight Edith Vanderbilt who was not here for that very first Christmas, but later on she was definitely a big presence and a big force, not just at Biltmore, but in the community of Asheville and in the Blue Ridge Mountains. So that is really what Callan wanted to highlight, kind of her contributions, her accomplishments here in the Blue Ridge. So a big thing to note is her painting, which is at the end of the Tapestry Gallery just below George's. The colors in here were done very intentionally to highlight the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are lots of blues, which bring out the colors of the tapestry. And lots of trees. And with the trees, one might think, "Oh yeah, those are there because of Christmas." But the intentionality there was really to tell the story of Edith completing the sale of a lot of Biltmore's property to the federal government. This was done after George's death. Though it was a wish of his, she really made it happen and completed that sale to ultimately become the birthplace of American forestry, which really wasn't a thing until then. And she made that happen. It's a really big deal now, and kind of a big part of our country.

So Edith made many big sweeping moves like that, but she was also into the details. She was in the day-to-day life of everyone who lived here at Biltmore. She visited employees, she brought care packages, delivered seed packets. She was a big part of advancing both education and agriculture in this area to kind of support the lives of everyone who lived here. A lot of people have some fond memories of her and what she did for this area. Eric imagines that after she moved in here with George it would have been hard to imagine that her impact was not felt throughout the whole of the house with a wonderful, warming effect. When one walks into the Tapestry Gallery, you feel that different kind of warm energy. And for Eric, that's what the holidays feel like. It's that kind of warm family feel. And you really, really see that amplified by this design.

One of Lizzie's favorite rooms in Biltmore is the library with all the WARMTH OF THE WOOD and, of course, the enormous fireplace. Eric also loves the tree. It's so different from anything we see in the home. Lizzie agrees, this is a favorite room for a lot of people, thus it's always an important room when decorating. This year though, it's kind of a little twist. They are usually focused on the late 1800s, early 1900s time period, the time that George first lived here. But this is 1947, and that is because they kind of recreated a movie set for a Hallmark movie that was filmed earlier, this past January. As soon as Christmas ended last year, they were in here filming. So they have dripping tinsel and colored lights, not what one would normally see in the Biltmore Library. But the house was still here in 1947. And they do actually have some archival photography of decorations in the house at that time. This year it is a little bit different look, but it's fun, and, nostalgic. Eric finds it kind of a modern look for Biltmore, if you will. He loves the blown glass, like art deco ornaments. Eric has quite a few of those for his tree as well. So it is nostalgic and it's warm. And it is neat seeing this wonderful property that has so much history but also reflecting different eras. And a tree like this probably actually was in Biltmore at some point in time. It's drippy with tinsel. Anyone who's done battle with tinsel knows it can be a nightmare. This is actually a combination of extra long tinsel strands, but to get the length they wanted, they actually cut up some curtains, some silver French curtains. But keep it out of a draft, becauseotherwise it'll be a tangled mess. Eric feels they did a great job. What a wonderful expression.

We end our tour with one of the first things one would actually see when entering the home. This is a BEAUTIFUL TREE that's right beside the ground stairway. It's a magical space. What an amazing holiday tour this has been. Visiting Biltmore, looking at these wonderful decorations is a holiday tradition that literally everyone should enjoy. So we invite folks every year to come and take a look at the amazing things that Lizzie's team does. What a magical place. There's so much more that happens behind the scenes, more than Eric could have ever imagined. Lizzie, thank you so much for being with us today. We really appreciate it. Lizzie appreciates GardenSMART visiting, it was a pleasure.

LINKS:

Biltmore Estate
Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina

Christmas At Biltmore
Christmas at Biltmore

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