Biltmore Estate: Everything to Know About America’s Largest Home (2024)

Skip to main content

Find anything you save across the site in your account

SearchSearch

Find anything you save across the site in your account

Shop the best Prime Day dealsSHOP NOW

All products featured on Architectural Digest are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Architecture + Design

George Washington Vanderbilt’s Gilded Age mansion designed by Richard Morris Hunt remains a popular tourist destination to this day

Biltmore Estate: Everything to Know About America’s Largest Home (4)

By Claudia Williams

Biltmore Estate: Everything to Know About America’s Largest Home (5)

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.Photo: James Bulebush / Getty Images

When you first lay eyes on the Biltmore Estate, you almost can’t fathom it’s a real place. The home seems more like something out of the pages of a fairytale or Disney movie. But the grandiose residence isn’t a work of fiction or dreams. It’s a real house nestled amongst the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina.

With over 175,000 square feet of architecture and history, there’s no shortage of stories to tell about this legendary dwelling built by the Vanderbilt family. Keep reading as we share a glimpse into the nation’s largest privately owned residence.

A rich history

Another view of the French Renaissance Revival–style chateau

Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

It was during the Gilded Age, in 1888, that George Washington Vanderbilt, the grandson of famed industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt, first visited Asheville. The beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains captivated George and, shortly thereafter, he began purchasing parcels of farmland for what would one day become Biltmore Estate.

Now equipped with a vision and the land, George tasked famed American architect Richard Morris Hunt to design and build the home. At the time, Hunt was most known for his work on the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Statue of Liberty.

Biltmore wasn’t Hunt’s first project with the Vanderbilt family. They started collaborating in 1878, when Hunt designed two summer homes for the family—The Breakers and Marble House, both in Newport, Rhode Island. George Vanderbilt grew up knowing Hunt as their “family architect,” according to Biltmore.com.

Once Hunt was on board, Vanderbilt went on to hire Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of American landscape architecture, to design the gardens and surrounding grounds. It’s Olmsted who New Yorkers can thank for Central Park, Prospect Park, and Niagara Falls State Park.

According to a timeline on Biltmore.com, the construction of Biltmore began one year later in 1889 and, to this day, is the largest residential architecture undertaking in the nation. It took six years and an entire community of craftsmen to build the 250-room French Renaissance château, which boasts 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. Vanderbilt finally opened the doors to his grand country estate in 1895 on Christmas Eve.

Vanderbilt named his estate “Biltmore” for Bildt, the Dutch town of his ancestry, and the Old English word “more” meaning open, rolling land.

Throughout the next 30 or so years, Biltmore became home to new generations of Vanderbilts. George and his wife, Edith Vanderbilt (formerly Stuyvesant Dresser) welcomed their only child, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, in the Louis XV room at Biltmore. Cornelia went on to marry the first secretary of the British Embassy, John Francis Amherst Cecil, in 1924. The couple had two children, George Henry and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil.

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and John Amherst Cecil.

Photo: Bettmann / Getty Images

The Cecils first opened the Biltmore house doors to the public in 1930, amid requests to increase area tourism during the Great Depression. The family also helped store priceless art during World War II as a favor to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. “Nearly 100 paintings were secretly stored from 1942 to 1944 in an unfinished room on the first floor, where Biltmore’s visitors walked by unaware that works by Rembrandt, Botticelli, Raphael, Donatello, and Van Dyck were just on the other side of the wall,” Darren Poupore, the Biltmore director of curatorial and archives of 24 years, tells AD.

Construction

A veranda at the Biltmore Estate

Photo: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Most Popular

To build a 175,000-square-foot château is no easy feat, especially in the late 1800s. According to a blog post written by Judy Ross, workers constructed a temporary three-mile-railroad from Biltmore Village. The small English-inspired village functioned as an independent and self-sustaining community, as well as the entrance to George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, according to HistoricBiltmoreVillage.com. Biltmore Village is one of the earliest examples of a planned community where people could live, work, and have all necessary amenities such as a post office, a school, stores, and a church—all a stone’s throw away.

It was in Biltmore Village that the temporary railroad connected the main line of the Southern Railroad straight to the property. The train not only brought construction materials from the village, but also provided transportation for hundreds of workers, tradesmen, blacksmiths, and painters. The stonemasons (also known as the aristocrats of the labor force) were driven to Biltmore in passenger cars.

“The construction site became a bustling city of its own, with workers occupying temporarily built offices, workshops, and sheds,” states a blog post written by Jean Sexton for Biltmore.com.

According to an article by Dozr.com, Vanderbilt’s team built not only a woodworking factory on-site, but also a brick oven to help with mass production. The brick kiln is said to have produced over 32,000 bricks a day, saving builders the efforts of shipping them to the site.

As the months went on, George Vanderbilt’s country estate started taking shape. The home was built with elite, luxurious amenities for the time period, like indoor plumbing, electricity, a fire alarm system, and even a telephone system, all of which were hallmarks of the Gilded Age.

But he didn’t stop there. “George was excited about technological breakthroughs, so Biltmore House features the most cutting-edge technology available when it was constructed. At a time when many Americans were nervous to have electric lights in their home, George had not one but two electric elevators installed,” Meghan Forest, an associate curator at Biltmore, tells AD.

The basem*nt even had a swimming pool, a gymnasium, and a bowling alley according to the National Forest Foundation.

Interior Design

The banquet hall of the Biltmore Estate

Photo: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Most Popular

  • Clever

    25 Prime Day Outdoor Furniture Deals You Don't Want to Miss

    By Kelsey Clark

  • Shopping

    The Best Early Amazon Prime Day Deals 2022 for the Home, According to AD Editors

    By Rachel Fletcher

  • Clever

    25 Best Prime Day Air Purifier Deals 2024 to Cleanse Your Home, Stat

    By Audrey Lee

With Hunt and Olmsted designing the exterior and gardens, it was George himself who spearheaded the interior design process.

“George worked directly with the Hunt firm to design furniture, light fixtures, and drapery hardware for some rooms, and personally collected the rest of the furnishings for the house. This ranged from the rugs on the floor to the artwork on the walls, and everything in between,” Poupore says. “We have many of the receipts for his purchases of furniture, fine art, decorative art, rugs, draperies, and other furnishings in our archives.”

Some of the most renowned pieces in the 92,000-piece Biltmore collection include the Chariot of Aurora by Giovanni Pellegrini, which was installed on the ceiling of the library, and three tapestries from The Triumph of the Seven Virtues. “George filled his home with objects he treasured, collecting an eclectic array of objects,” Forest says.

“In his time, George Vanderbilt was a well-known collector of books and prints (etchings, engravings, and woodcuts). He also had a keen interest in late 19th-century sculpture and Impressionist paintings,” Poupore adds.

The Biltmore Collection continues to grow today, building upon George’s legacy. “The more recent generations of George Vanderbilt’s descendants have acquired a few art pieces to add to the estate’s private collection and, most recently, acquired a Chihuly chandelier now on view in Biltmore Winery. It was a decision by the family to add a work of modern art to the collection,” Marissa Jamison, Biltmore’s PR manager of 12 years, tells AD. A new exhibition opens to the public March 25 and contains an extensive collection of Chihuly’s work.

Architecture

A closer look at the façade of the Biltmore Estate

Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

Once tasked with creating this labor of love, Vanderbilt, Hunt, and Hunt’s wife, Catharine, embarked on a two-month trip across the Atlantic in search of inspiration. It was in England and France where the vision for Biltmore came to life.

Most Popular

  • Clever

    25 Prime Day Outdoor Furniture Deals You Don't Want to Miss

    By Kelsey Clark

  • Shopping

    The Best Early Amazon Prime Day Deals 2022 for the Home, According to AD Editors

    By Rachel Fletcher

  • Clever

    25 Best Prime Day Air Purifier Deals 2024 to Cleanse Your Home, Stat

    By Audrey Lee

Hunt settled on designing the exterior of Biltmore after three French Renaissance Revival–style châteaus: Blois, Chambord, and Chenonceau estates in France. The interiors were designed after three different country homes in England: Knole Palace, Hatfield House, and Haddon Hall.

Maintaining the original splendor of the 1890s home is no small feat. “Biltmore undertakes a room restoration project every three to five years. Some projects have been in the works for more than 10 years,” Poupore explains.

The process involves many steps. It all begins with a research phase. Then, there’s the furnishing plan, sourcing of exact reproductions of original fabrics and wallpapers, conservation of furniture and objects, and structural restoration. It all comes full circle with the final installation. “We strive to return a room to its original appearance during the Vanderbilt era and we ensure our work meets the highest preservation standards,” Poupore says.

Gardens and grounds

A waterfall on the estate grounds

Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

Vanderbilt brought in America’s most sought-after landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, to design a horticultural paradise on the Biltmore grounds. According to a virtual tour of the gardens, Vanderbilt envisioned a self-sustaining estate that would nurture the land and its resources for years to come.

In that same tour, we learn that transitions between formal and natural gardens were important to Olmsted’s plan, as was the use of native plants, small trees, large shrubs, and color and texture year-round.

At Olmsted’s advice, Vanderbilt enlisted the help of Gifford Pinchot, a trained forester who developed a plan for the management and conservation of the forest land. This led to the establishment of the Birthplace of American Forestry. Today, Biltmore honors Vanderbilt’s vision and the work of Olmsted and Pinchot through environmental protection and sustainability.

The estate’s conservatory.Photo: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Most Popular

  • Clever

    25 Prime Day Outdoor Furniture Deals You Don't Want to Miss

    By Kelsey Clark

  • Shopping

    The Best Early Amazon Prime Day Deals 2022 for the Home, According to AD Editors

    By Rachel Fletcher

  • Clever

    25 Best Prime Day Air Purifier Deals 2024 to Cleanse Your Home, Stat

    By Audrey Lee

Olmsted began the landscaping at the same time Hunt was building the home, and it eventually grew to encompass 125,000 acres. Today, the gardens have been scaled back to 8,600 acres made up of a walled garden, a soaring glass-ceiling conservatory, an Italian garden, and the ancient trees in America’s first managed forest. The gardens are home to an abundance of vibrant blooms, most importantly a rare collection of orchids and azaleas.

Biltmore today

Another view of the grounds

Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

Since first opening its doors to the public in 1930, Biltmore House draws an estimated 1.4 million visitors every year, according to Dewey Property Advisors.

Admission includes access to three grand floors (plus the basem*nt) of America’s largest home, as well as the gardens and conservatory. Through a 50-minute audio tour, you’ll learn all about the Vanderbilts, their guests, and their servants, as well as the home’s architecture, design, and artwork.

After a tour of Biltmore House, visitors are invited to explore Antler Hill Village, a historic hub just a stone’s throw from the estate. The village is named after Antler Hill, the ridge just above Biltmore. Before it was a destination for tourism, it was once Antler Hall, a social center for families who worked on the estate in the 1930s. Today, the village is home to live demonstrations by blacksmiths and woodworkers, hands-on crafts, and a farmyard.

After a visit to Biltmore House and Antler Hill Village, a wine tasting at Biltmore Winery goes without saying. In the 1970s, George Vanderbilt’s grandson William A.V. Cecil had a vision of honoring his grandfather’s agricultural legacy by creating a sustainable winery. “We have a river. We have a château. We have the land. We have no vineyard. Every French château has a vineyard,” he said. Fast forward to 1983 and the Biltmore Estate Wine Company bottled its very first vintage of Château Biltmore Merlot and Château Biltmore Cabernet Sauvignon, both crafted from North Carolina grapes.

Most Popular

  • Clever

    25 Prime Day Outdoor Furniture Deals You Don't Want to Miss

    By Kelsey Clark

  • Shopping

    The Best Early Amazon Prime Day Deals 2022 for the Home, According to AD Editors

    By Rachel Fletcher

  • Clever

    25 Best Prime Day Air Purifier Deals 2024 to Cleanse Your Home, Stat

    By Audrey Lee

Visitors can further extend their Biltmore experience by booking a night (or two) at one of the three hotels on the estate: the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, The Inn on Biltmore Estate, or Cottages on Biltmore Estate,

And, with over 8,000 acres to discover, guests can also enjoy outdoor activities like guided bike rides along the French Broad River, carriage rides, hikes, river float trips, and even horseback rides.

FAQs

Who owns the Biltmore Estate today?

The estate is still family-owned. George Vanderbilt’s great-grandson, Bill Cecil Jr., is the current CEO of Biltmore Company. His father (and George Vanderbilt’s grandson William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil) was responsible for the beginning of Biltmore’s dramatic growth as a tourist destination.

What are ticket prices for Biltmore Estate?

Ticket prices to the estate range from $70 to $110, depending on the time of year you choose to visit. You could also opt in for a $299 annual pass, if you plan on visiting multiple times.

How big is the Biltmore Estate?

The property was originally 125,000 acres, spanning four counties in western North Carolina. Biltmore Estate today consists of 8,600 acres.

What is the address of Biltmore Estate?

The address of the estate is 1 Approach Road, Asheville, NC 28803. The address of the winery is 1 Lodge Street, Asheville, NC 28803.

What type of house tours are there?

There are 13 different tours listed on Biltmore’s website, from self-guided tours of the gardens to 90-minute home tours.

Is Biltmore Estate open year-round?

Biltmore is open all year, with every season offering something different. The home is most known for their magical holiday decor, which pays homage to the opening day of Biltmore back in 1895. You can experience the beauty of the 35-foot banquet hall Christmas tree or take their Candlelight Christmas evening tour.

More Great Celebrity Style Stories From AD

  • The Full House House Hits the Market for $6.5 Million—Take a Peek Inside

  • Julianne Moore’s Homes: A Look at the Oscar Winner’s Stunning Residences

  • The Home Alone House is About to Have A New Owner

  • For Jasmine Tookes, Home Is Where You Have the Most Fun

  • Bridgerton Season 3: Tour the Elaborate Sets

  • Cabaret Transforms a Classic NYC Theater Into an Uninhibited German Underground

  • The Eras Tour Stage: See the Intricate World-Building of Every Set in Taylor Swift’s Most Ambitious Shows Ever

  • Gwyneth Paltrow Lists Her Traditional-Style LA Home—Where Kendrick Lamar Is a Neighbor—for $30 Million

  • Not a subscriber? Join AD for print and digital access now.

  • Browse theAD PRO Directory to find anAD-approved design expert for your next project.

Claudia Williams is a freelance writer and content creator based in Brooklyn, New York. She has experience reporting on historic homes, timeless fashion, and beauty. You can find her on Instagram@byclaudiawilliamswhere she captures content in her 125-year-old brownstone apartment, or on her personal websitehere.

    Exploreadlocation:Asheville, North Carolina

    Read More

    Architecture + Design

    The Implications of Prison Flipping

    Jail houses and correctional facilities are now wedding venues, hotels, and homes. But do they acknowledge their histories?

    By Abigail Glasgow

    AD Pro

    Why the “Wet Room” Is Taking Over

    The all-in-one space is the latest sign that American bathing rituals are ripe for reinvention

    By Eric Wills

    Architecture + Design

    Tour a Sprawling Napa Valley Estate That’s a Dream for Those of All Ages

    After buying their historic Wine Country weekend escape, a young San Francisco family enlisted interior designer Peter Dunham to translate their welcoming, informal style throughout

    By Rachel Gallaher

    AD Pro

    Interior Designers, Are You Charging the Right Way for Your Business?

    Seven designers share how they charge their clients—and how their methods can work for you, too

    By Danine Alati

    Biltmore Estate: Everything to Know About America’s Largest Home (2024)
    Top Articles
    Latest Posts
    Article information

    Author: Nicola Considine CPA

    Last Updated:

    Views: 5813

    Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

    Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

    Author information

    Name: Nicola Considine CPA

    Birthday: 1993-02-26

    Address: 3809 Clinton Inlet, East Aleisha, UT 46318-2392

    Phone: +2681424145499

    Job: Government Technician

    Hobby: Calligraphy, Lego building, Worldbuilding, Shooting, Bird watching, Shopping, Cooking

    Introduction: My name is Nicola Considine CPA, I am a determined, witty, powerful, brainy, open, smiling, proud person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.