What I Learned At The Biltmore

I was recently in Asheville, NC on business and had the opportunity to visit The Biltmore. My experience taught me a thing or two I thought would be worth sharing. I’m usually a little skeptical of highly marketed tourist attractions, but I ended up with a little time to kill and a complimentary admission (usually $59), so I took the tour.

First, when I was told it could take a full day, I thought ‘Really?’ The drive from the estate entrance was spectacular. It is called ‘Approach Drive’ for a reason. You never see the house until after you park and stroll to the gated entry. I arrived about two hours before the ‘house’ was to close. I skipped the headphones and guided tour and just walked the guided path with the tour booklet.

The things that struck me about the design of the home are fundamentally the same things we consider today even though it was opened in 1895.

1. The home was designed around a specific lifestyle and activities. From indoor gardens; to separate dining rooms for breakfast and dinner; his and her bedrooms; exercise rooms; learning and entertainment rooms – Each had a purpose and was designed to accommodate a certain way of life. Including the outdoor activity ‘rooms’ and gardens.

2. The technology used to help make the lifestyle possible was cutting edge for the time. Mechanical refrigeration, running hot and cold water, electric dumbwaiters, and push button call systems from the pool were all employed. And one of the structural engineering feats were amazing – a spiral stair of solid stone steps, with no center support.

3. The craftmanship of the woodwork, plaster and stone was amazing. The maintenance and restoration of same, as well as antique furniture was equally striking.

4. The home needed very little artificial light or heating and air conditioning. Windows provided much of the needed light and air movement. Fireplaces in each room allowed for heating for each space as needed.

5. Most of the gardening, farming, hunting was done right on the estate. From food to flowers, everything was gathered and prepared on the property.

The Biltmore is marketed as the ‘Largest House in America.’ But it is more than a ‘house.’ It is a home designed to fit a lifestyle, using state of the art technology, built to last by fine craftsmen, and made to use as little outside energy as possible. And when it came time to feast, they ate locally grown foods. These are all things that still apply today, although sometimes I think we choose not to go through the effort in the name of efficiency and economy.

 A side note is that while this home may have seemed to be selfishly lavish indulgence for a wealthy family, it became during the Great Depression a source of jobs and economic development when it was first opened to the public in 1930. And to this day, serves as a major economic and tourism driver for the City of Asheville, population 72,000.

Next time I might just spend the whole day. To learn more, check out the Biltmore website at www.biltmore.com.