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  • library

    The black marble fireplace surround and walnut overmantle in George Vanderbilt's impressive library are decorated with garlands made by the Biltmore floral staff during the holiday season.

  • Oaksitting

    During Candlelight Christmas Evenings, the Oak Sitting Room at Biltmore glows in the light from candles and matching fireplaces at either end of the room.

  • christmas

    Biltmore's second floor living hall features a children's tree adorned with beaded garlands and toy ornaments.

  • staircase

    The grand staircase is twined with live evergreen, filling the 250-room Biltmore House with the scent of Christmas.

  • BanquetHall

    Biltmore House’s holiday centerpiece, a 34-foot Fraser fir, spends the holidays in the 72-foot high banquet hall, adorned with lights and surrounded by gifts.

  • Biltmore

    Biltmore House is decked with dozens of trees, miles of evergreen roping, thousands of ornaments and a live 35-foot Fraser fir each year during Christmas.

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Biltmore House is decked with dozens of trees, miles of evergreen roping, thousands of ornaments and a live 35-foot Fraser fir each year during Christmas.


Large-Scale Decorating

When it comes to decorating for the holidays, nobody does it better than Cathy Barnhardt and her team at Biltmore. Here’s a look at what it takes to give America’s largest home its holiday grandeur:

  • 100+ Christmas trees
  • 30,000 ornaments
  • 20,000 feet of garland
  • 1,600 Poinsettia plants
  • 150+ candles burning throughout the house
  • 500 ornaments and 500 gift boxes under the Banquet Hall Christmas tree





Create an Easy Centerpiece

One of Barnhardt’s favorite decorations is simple, elegant and easy to make. She takes special ornaments and puts them together in a bowl as a centerpiece. To create a stunning visual, she chooses colors from clear blue to deep cobalt blue, mixed with oranges and deep reds. She adds a touch of nature with a few collected pinecones and pods.





A Bit about Biltmore

Originally built as a family home and country retreat, George and Edith Vanderbilt's 250-room abode was built by celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt over a six-year period. Hunt modeled the house on three châteaux built in 16th-century France.


America’s largest home is situated on 8,000-acres and features:

  • 4 acres of floor space
  • 34 bedrooms
  • 43 bathrooms
  • 65 fireplaces
  • An indoor swimming pool, gymnasium and bowling alley

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  • Holiday Decorating Secrets from Biltmore

    Timeless Christmas décor ideas from America’s largest home.

    by Trisha McBride Ferguson

    If you think it’s hard to get inspired and keep your holiday décor looking fresh each year, try doing it for hundreds of thousands of guests. Christmas is the busiest time of year at Biltmore, America’s largest home. Located in Asheville, N.C., the estate hosts more than 300,000 visitors from November to early January—most of whom come to see the 250-room house and surrounding grounds dressed in grand holiday splendor.

    We asked Cathy Barnhardt, Biltmore’s floral displays manager, to share some secrets from her 32years of decorating the country retreat built by George Vanderbilt in 1895. Here are her tips for creating a one-of-a-kind Christmas look in your home.


    Pick the Perfect Theme

    “Your theme is the thread that runs through all your elements and pulls them together,” says Barnhardt. It can be as simple as a color or a specific element repeated throughout your home, and it’s what helps tell your story, she explains. It should start at the front door and extend to your tabletop, tree, mantle and staircase.




    One creative theme idea comes from Barnhardt’s own home: As a new grandmother, she’s using family photos as her theme and placing lots of little photographs of family members (including her new grandchild) around her house.


    Make it Meaningful

    Just as she invokes her family's personal history in her own home's décor, Barnhardt follows a similar strategy when decorating the grand estate. When it comes to holiday themes for the Biltmore, she and her staff reach back in time to choose a theme based on Vanderbilt history. This year’s theme, A Gilded Age Christmas, draws its inspiration from events on the estate and ties them in with the mansion's recent opening of the Louis XV suite of rooms. For the décor, the theme translates into a very elegant look of deep, rich colors, with gilded touches and opulent arrangements. 

    The holidays have had a special meaning at Biltmore ever since George Vanderbilt first opened the home to friends and family on Christmas Eve 1895. To pay tribute to this tradition, Biltmore's 2010 holiday theme will be: A Vanderbilt Christmas Celebration. Inspired by the grand Christmas parties hosted by the Vanderbilts, the theme will incorporate many of the historical details of the home’s lavish past holiday celebrations for family, friends and staff of the estate. 


    Go Natural

    If your décor taste isn't as lavish as the Vanderbilts', go for a classic look that’s inexpensive and brings in natural elements from the outside, suggests Barnhardt. In decorating Biltmore, she often draws from the natural beauty of its grounds. She has already received calls from guests raving about the dried hydrangeas she used in this year's décor. Gathered from across the estate, they’re just one of the natural greenery elements she and her staff use for decoration. “We use white pine boughs, holly berries, pinecones and pods; the best part is they don’t cost anything, and they mean something when they’re from your own place.”


    Give it a Glow

    During the holiday season, both the interior and exterior of Biltmore are aglow. Candle luminaries line the front walk and more than 150 candles are lit throughout the house. Illuminating such a large home makes Barnhardt an expert on stringing Christmas trees. 

    “First thing is usually to determine how many lights you need, and that’s based on tree size,” says Barnhardt. “As a rule, a 14-foot tree needs about 32 sets of lights, a 12-foot tree needs about 26 sets of lights and a 6-foot tree needs 8 to 10 sets of lights.” She prefers white lights, specifically those that come in a 50-light strand. “They’re easier to work with, and easier to take off.” 




    Here are a few more tips she offers for working with Christmas tree lights:

    • Start at the top of the tree and work your way down.
    • Instead of wrapping the string of lights around each branch, pull the wires of the string apart (most have two wires twisted together) and slip them over the end of the branch.
    • Think about depth and alternate the placement of the lights from close to the trunk to the tip of the branch.
    • Work up and down the tree instead of around and around. This saves time going up and down the ladder.
    • Squint your eyes and look for empty spaces or dark spots and then adjust your lights. 


    Use the Right Tools

    With dozens of years' experience decorating around priceless heirlooms, Barnhardt has lots of practical advice for skillfully hanging decorations. For decorating the fireplace mantle without damaging it, she uses a piece of plywood that’s been cut to the exact size of the mantle as a base and paints it to match the mantle. She attaches the garland and decorations to the plywood and then attaches the plywood securely to the mantle. This reduces the number of holes in the mantle, and protects it from scratches and candle wax—and once it’s decorated, the board can’t be seen. 




    For hanging garland on a staircase or at the top of a picture, the best tool is the simplest: a green chenille-covered wire (pipe cleaner). Flexible and inexpensive, these covered wires will do the trick in most any situation—without scratching your surfaces.