The sprawling Biltmore Estate, located in the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, boasts an incredible 250 rooms, each grander and more ornate than the next.
George Washington Vanderbilt II began building the enormous estate in 1889 after visiting and falling in love with the Asheville area while on frequent doctor-recommended trips with his mother, since the North Carolina mountains and climate were known for their restorative powers. The opulent estate is home to 75 acres of lush landscaped gardens, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 94 acres of vineyards, a 70,000-gallon indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley, just to name a few of the features.
“There’s no shortage of eye candy,” LeeAnn Donnelly, senior public relations manager at the Biltmore Estate, told ABC News.
However some of the estate’s most fascinating features are hidden, intentionally tucked away, designed as much for beautiful aesthetics as they were to accommodate hospitality. These concealed doors and passageways were built to allow Vanderbilt’s guests to move about more freely between corridors, or simply hide the behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle of the staff’s daily chores.
Travel with us as we explore another era, unlocking the mysterious hidden doors of the Biltmore Estate:
The Winter Garden is the room where tropical plants would have been located, surviving even during the harsh winter months. Underneath this vast, marble floor was the potted plant room located in the subbasement. Servants would use these large, heavy trap doors, which are concealed in the same marble flooring, to bring the potted plants up to the main level, eliminating the need to carry the plants through visible guest areas. Early plans indicate an elevator was supposed to be installed under the trap doors, however one never was and a ladder remains in its place. If you peek down into the trap doors, you’ll see that the potted plant room has now been replaced by an employee break room.
Vanderbilt’s Billiard Room has an elaborate hidden wooden door concealed into the wall which leads to the gentlemen’s Smoking Room. Guests could open the door with the push of a button that released the lock holding the door in place. The Billiard Room was used for billiards and tabletop games such as dominoes. Although it was primarily a gentleman’s room, it was also occasionally used by women. The concealed Smoking Room was much more exclusive, however. It was mostly the gentlemen’s domain, where Vanderbilt and his guests would retire with brandy and cigars.
The Breakfast Room was used as the informal dining room, although by today’s standards, it’s not very informal. With two Renoir portraits hanging on the wall, "Young Algerian Girl" and "Child with an Orange,” it’s certainly a fancier setting than what a typical family is used to in 2015. The “Child with an Orange” portrait is actually hanging on the hidden door, which leads into the Butler’s Pantry. If you look closely you can see the doorknob below the frame on the right to allow servants to enter discreetly with hot meals. Hand-tooled Spanish leather and red Italian marble adjoin the walls, which is the same material used to cover the hidden doorway to create a seamless appearance.
The Biltmore Estate’s stunning library holds more than 10,000 books, many of which are first editions. The library is two stories tall, with a spiral staircase leading up to a balcony that extends behind the fireplace to the other side of the room. A door located on the balcony leads to a secret passageway outside of Vanderbilt’s guest’s bedrooms on the second floor. This was designed to allow guests to go back and forth from their rooms to grab a book without having to travel all the way down the grand staircase and back. For instance, a lady could grab a book in her nightgown and quickly get back to her room, something that would not have been permissible down the grand staircase in the highly-trafficked area of the Estate.
Mr. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom
Vanderbilt’s closet door is covered in burlap with a gold leaf on top. He took great care in every detail of the architecture in the Biltmore Estate, even concealing the closet doors in certain rooms, such as his own. This was to avoid the break in symmetry that a doorframe would create. Vanderbilt’s closet is filled with period clothing typical of what he would have worn in the late 1800s, but is not his actual clothing. Changes of clothing happened several times a day as one would not wear the same outfit to go horseback riding as they would to a banquet.
It took six years to complete construction on the Biltmore Estate.