When Biltmore opens the Louis XV Suite to the public for the first time this April, one thing will be perfectly clear: Biltmore was much more than a magnificent house when George Vanderbilt opened it on Christmas Eve 1895 – it was a home, alive with family, friends and children.
Of the four rooms comprising the Louis XV Suite, the Louis XV Room represents perhaps the true heart of Biltmore. After all, it served as birthplace of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s only daughter, Cornelia. Years later, it is where Cornelia delivered her own two sons, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil in 1925 and 1928, respectively.
Slated to open for public viewing on April 4, 2009, the Louis XV Suite features four rooms that are thought to have served as guest rooms when originally in use. In addition to the Louis XV Room, the Damask Room, the Tyrolean Chimney Room and the Claude Room sit above George Vanderbilt’s immense first-floor Library.
The new Antler Village at Biltmore will open in 2010.
One of thirty-three guest bedrooms in Biltmore House, the Damask Room was most likely named for silk damask draperies that originally hung at the windows. Situated at the southwest corner of the house, this room features commanding views of the South Terrace, the Deer Park, the Lagoon, and the splendid mountains beyond.
A reproduction of the room's original wallpaper, a complicated design that replicates on paper the look of a fine fabric, hangs on the walls. Small fragments of the original paper were found underneath door moldings. Curators were able to match these fragments to full-sized samples of the wallpaper that had been placed in storage over a century ago, enabling them to have an accurate reproduction made.
Biltmore's staff conservators spent many weeks cleaning the antique marble and gilt fireplace surround and mantel in the Damask Room, in addition to conserving numerous pieces of American and English mahogany furniture for this room. George Vanderbilt inherited one important piece, a unique easy chair upholstered in red mohair velvet, from his father, William H. Vanderbilt. His father is shown sitting in this same chair in the family portrait Going to the Opera by Seymour Guy.
Like many rooms in Biltmore House, the Claude Room was named after one of George Vanderbilt's favorite artists, the French painter Claude Gellée, who was known in England as Claude Lorraine, or simply Claude. Vanderbilt was an avid print collector, purchasing more than 1,500 woodcuts, engravings, and etchings in his lifetime, many of which depicted famous paintings. Several prints after paintings by Claude Lorraine originally hung in this room and are displayed here again. One of the masters of 17th-century landscape painting, Claude presented nature as harmonious, serene, and often majestic. In 18th-century England, his works inspired new trends in landscape design. He also influenced later generations of landscape painters, including J.M.W. Turner.
Among the noteworthy pieces of furniture from George Vanderbilt's collection on display in this room are an elaborately inlaid marquetry commode with attached mirror from Northern Italy that dates to the early 18th century; an English chest of drawers with an inlaid sunburst motif and a fall front concealing a writing surface and inner compartments from the same period; and an Italian Baroque-style kneehole desk in ebony and rosewood inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl.
Tyrolean Chimney Room
The focal point of the Chimney Room is the over-mantel, constructed from a tile-stove known as a kachelöfen that George Vanderbilt purchased in his travels through Europe. Stoves like this were used in central and northern Europe from the Middle Ages to heat castles, palaces, and ecclesiastical buildings. Eventually, they came to be used in the residences of the wealthy. Vanderbilt most likely purchased this stove in the Tyrol region of Austria. Created in the 18th century, it is comprised of tin-glazed earthenware tiles hand-painted with exquisite floral designs.
The wallpaper in this room is an exact reproduction of the original, a simple but elegant floral design with delicate gold striping in the background. Biltmore contracted with Atelier d'Offard, a small company in Tours, France, that specializes in traditional block-printed wallpapers, to create an exact reproduction.
One of the most elaborate fabrics in the Biltmore House collection, a cut and uncut silk velvet in beautiful shades of ivory, red, and green, has been reproduced for use in this room. Prelle, a silk workshop in Lyon, France, that has been in the same family for more than 250 years, wove this fabric on century-old Jacquard looms in the exact same manner as the original fabric purchased by George Vanderbilt.
Louis XV Room
Considering its spectacular views of the gardens and terraces to the east and south, as well as the fact that it was opulently furnished with cut and uncut silk velvet and other elaborate furnishings, the Louis XV Room was one of the grandest bedrooms in Biltmore House. The room takes its name from the French king Louis XV. During most of his reign (1715–1774), French interiors were characterized by rococo design elements, including rounded forms, C-shaped curves, bright clear colors set off by white and gold, and light fanciful carving of foliage, shells, and other naturalistic motifs. Many of these same motifs were incorporated into the architectural scheme and furnishings in this room, as the Louis XV style was still very popular in the late nineteenth century (and still is today).
George and Edith Vanderbilt's only daughter, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, was born in the Louis XV Room in 1900, as were as her two sons, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil in 1925 and 1928, respectively.
Restoration of this room included the reproduction of the original gold and red silk cut velvet fabric, which was hand-woven by Tassinari & Chatel in Lyon, France. Like Prelle, Tassinari & Chatel has specialized in the manufacture of fine silk fabrics for more than 200 years and has an international reputation for the quality of its fabrics. This fabric was used for wall covering and drapery. In addition, Biltmore's in-house conservation staff conserved all of the furnishings in the room, including Louis XV-style seating furniture and a Louis XV-style bed, as well the marble mantel, gilded rococo wall sconces, and an elaborate gilt mirror hanging over the fireplace.
If These Walls Could Talk Exhibition
Biltmore began making preparations to open the Louis XV Suite in Summer 2006. Recognizing that preservation is not just about preserving interiors and objects but also about preserving stories, Biltmore introduced If These Walls Could Talk in 2008 to coincide with the Louis XV project. The exhibition, located on the Second Floor Living Hall of Biltmore House, infuses the guest experience with more real stories about the Vanderbilts, their friends and family, and the many servants who worked in Biltmore House. The exhibit also reveals how museum services staff preserve the incredible history of Biltmore by providing a snapshot into restoration projects, such as the Louis XV Suite project. Photos and videos showcase conservators at work and the care that goes into preserving America’s largest home.
Guests may touch swatches of luxurious cut velvet, which was woven inch-by-inch by skilled artisans in France, specially reproduced for the Louis XV room. Samples of handcrafted French wallpaper for the Tyrolean Chimney Room are displayed.