Built More than Most

My short but adventurous blogging tour through my favorite works of American architecture has included Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Greene and Greene’s Gamble House, two residences that couldn’t look more different if they tried. Today we add a third, but to call this one a “house” would be like saying Niagara Falls is a tall drink of water.  Palace?  Château?  Both fit the bill, er… Bilt.  Welcome to North Carolina’s Biltmore Mansion.

Biltmore Mansion

If you enjoy the occasional retreat into the mountains, maybe you’ve thought about owning a second place someday.  A modest cabin on a lake or a condo on the ski slopes.  You’d get away for the weekend to enjoy the fresh air and recharge.  You might call it your “little mountain escape”, which is exactly how George Washington Vanderbilt II described his summer home in Asheville, North Carolina.  All 180,000 square feet of it.

“Front door”

I’ll say this for G.W. Vanderbilt II: he knew how to spend money.  Beginning in 1889 and for the next six years, Vanderbilt created the Biltmore estate on hundreds of thousands of forested acres in North Carolina.  His undertaking was so massive it required the purchase of 700 separate parcels of property.  The mansion itself, the design of architect Richard Morris Hunt, required a temporary three-mile railroad connection (to deliver materials), a woodworking factory, and a kiln capable of creating 32,000 bricks/day.  At the height of its construction the Biltmore estate employed over 1,000 workers.

The mansion itself is fairly indescribable, at least with the handful of paragraphs I allot myself today.  Vanderbilt opted for 250 rooms spread across four stories, with 65 fireplaces and three kitchens.  This was his second home?  What the heck did his first place look like, Versailles?

“Dining room”

Since we just watched the Super Bowl, here’s a fitting way to picture the size of Biltmore: each of its four floors is the size of a football field.  You can sleep in any one of 35 bedrooms. You can dine in 3,000 square feet of banquet hall alongside sixty other guests.  You can choose from 10,000 books in the two-story library.  You’ll climb a hundred steps on Biltmore’s massive spiral staircase to get to your fourth-floor bedroom (I suggest turning in early).  Finally, the adjacent carriage house is 20,000 square feet – another third of a football field – because you get to choose from Vanderbilt’s twenty horse-drawn vehicles.

The Biltmore mansion also has a basement (of course it does), the largest in America.  Vanderbilt liked his fun, so this floor houses a 70,000-gallon swimming pool, a bowling alley, and a gymnasium.  Throw in electric lights, forced-air heating, walk-in refrigerators, and elevators, and you have a thoroughly state-of-the art structure (at least for the late 1800’s).

Vanderbilt’s bedroom

News to me, one of architecture’s styles is known as “Châteauesque”.  It describes a handful of the mansions designed in the Gilded Age of the late 1800’s (some covered in a recent tour of Newport, R.I. by blogger Lyssy in the City).  The Biltmore certainly qualifies as a château.  It’s the largest privately-owned house in the United States.  If you’re looking to get your 10,000 steps, check out the tour information here.

Now for the latest on LEGO Fallingwater…


LEGO Fallingwater – Update #6  (Read how this project got started in Perfect Harmony)

Today we spent entirely “off-model”, creating the random looking structure you see in front.  50 pages (or 55%, or 148 minutes) into the build, this is what we have:

I had to reference the photo of the completed model to understand what I’m building here.  It’s the house itself, of course, but only the base, largely hidden from view when the model is complete.  It appears I’ll be building up this part of the house in similar fashion for the next couple of weeks.

Since today’s update was a little boring, how about an interesting coincidence instead?  I just noticed “Fallingwater” contains the letters, F, L, and W… in that order.  Talk about an architect’s “signature”, eh?  Wouldn’t surprise me if Frank Lloyd Wright came up with the name himself.

Tune in next Thursday as construction continues!  Now for another nod to Frank Lloyd Wright…

Frederick C. Robie House

No history of residential American architecture would be complete without including the Robie House, which you’ll find on the south side of Chicago.  This very long, very narrow house is often described as “two large rectangles that seem to slide past one another”.

Frederick C. Robie House

The Robie House is Wright’s best example of his Prairie Style, which “responds to the expansive American plains by emphasizing the horizontal over the vertical”.  The cantilevered roof, window bands, and liberal use of brick are also characteristic of the style.  The house is laid out with an open, naturally-lit floor plan, a novel design concept for the early 1900s.

Given its troubled history (including its sale a mere fourteen months after it was built), it’s a wonder the Robie still stands today.  The house is now incorporated into the University of Chicago campus and open most days for tours.

Some content sourced from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website, and  Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".

31 thoughts on “Built More than Most”

    1. For entertaining, no question. And the number of bedrooms is deceptive in that it includes the ones for the many servants. Still, you have to wonder why anyone would build a house with 250 rooms. I choose posterity.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think I could just manage to live in the Vanderbilt house. Well, if I had that much money, otherwise all my furniture would just take up a small corner of the entryway. That’s an impressive place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe I could design a 250-room mansion, but forget the furniture and decor. I’d hire a professional and ask he or she to let me know when they’re done so I can move into my house.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s always my first thought, Neil. I picture myself doing the maintenance and failing miserably, so I’m paying others a fortune to do the job instead. I’d love to know what percentage of the visitor ticket price goes to upkeep.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Take me to the Biltmore library, please! / How clever of you to see Wright’s initials within the name of his house, Falling Water! / Is there a Lego set for the Biltmore Mansion? That might be more challenging than the piano!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Can you imagine the thousands of LEGO pieces needed to create the BIltmore? Maybe LEGO will come out with a model someday but I’m content with a visit to the real thing instead.

      I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed FLW’s initials in the name of his masterpiece. He was anything but modest, which leads me to believe it was intentional.


      1. No, I can’t imagine the size of the box it would take to package the thousands it would take. Maybe they could start with wall-pieces that build the shell, and then the Legos would be constructed around that. It would still take thousands of pieces!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know much about architecture Dave, so I’m enjoying these articles on places I didn’t even know existed. I can’t even imagine how much staff you would need to run a place that size. It’s Downtown Abbey on steroids.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Downton Abbey is a fitting comparison, Joni. There can’t be more than ten or twenty estates of this size in the world. I picture dozens of rooms at Biltmore never getting more attention than the feather duster of a servant.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. At first glance I thought your title said “Better than Most” and it reminded me of Tiger. The Biltmore is on my list! It is just mind blowing it is a second home. I don’t even have one home haha. Thanks for sharing my page too! I really enjoyed writing my Newport series 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been to Biltmore a couple of times and it’s beyond large. I liked the gardens *maybe* more than the house but I’d like to tour it when it’s decorated for Christmas. I’m not usually one for over the top decorations, but I suspect Biltmore could charm me with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Biltmore gardens get as much press as the mansion itself. I learned there’s a four-mile walking path – fully landscaped on both sides – enticing guests to a leisurely stroll throughout the grounds. Vanderbilt went to “great lengths” to impress his acquaintances, didn’t he?

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  6. The Biltmore is insane. I’m glad it’s fun for history buffs and people to visit and whatnot, but I’m sure all that wealth could’ve been used to help people, other than just the 1,000s who were employed. Still, it’s an impressive feat.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The opulence of living in such a mansion with all those amenities – just staggering. But, like you said Dave, what must the main residence be like? I thought Henry and Clara Ford had quite the digs, but this is much nicer! A fellow blogger lives in North Carolina and sh went to the Biltmore at Christmas. I searched her site for the post. I’ll put her short post in a separate comment and though she only had two pictures of the big Christmas tree, I thought of the tree you showed us from your former house – it reached the ceiling or pretty close to it. How clever of Frank Lloyd Wright to wiggle his signature into his creation and you discovered it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never knew the Biltmore’s “grand dining hall” included a full-blown church organ. The organ pipes caught my attention in Anne’s photo almost as much as the massive Christmas tree in front of them. Funny story about Anne’s coffee cakes too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That organ was beautiful wasn’t it Dave? Anne was originally a music major and played the piano for many years, including in church, until having issues with her eyes in later years. I’m surprised she didn’t mention it in the post. Yes, it was funny about the coffee cakes. Her grandson graduated from the culinary arts program at a school in Charlotte last year. He wants to be a pastry chef – no luck finding a position yet so he is a barista for now.


  8. Woo hoo, look at me getting here within your 3 week limit!!

    I have been there a couple of times, once in the mid 70s as a teen and again as a young adult in the late 90s. Yes, the place is hard to comprehend. I recall that it was used as a private residence for only maybe 20 or 30 years. It was sustained partly by the operation of a dairy for a long time, and there was a winery the last time I was there. I also remember it being used as a set for the Peter Sellers movie “Being There” in maybe 1979 or so.

    Yes, you absolutely need a Lego Biltmore. 🙂


    1. The one time I visited the estate was a woefully short stop, to appease my in-laws who weren’t nearly as interested in the Biltmore as I was. We only took a short tour of the interiors. I did talk my brother-in-law into a hike down to a subterranean waterfall (which at the time was just a trickle). I’m sure you could spend several days on the property and never see the same areas twice.

      LEGO Biltmore would have “approximately 1,000,000 pieces” with the disclaimer “will take 2-3 years to complete”. Yeah that’s a little much, even for a builder like me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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