The Custom Home Furnishings School in Swannanoa, NC, has had a longtime relationship with the Biltmore Estate and is running a educational program called, “The Total Experience at the Biltmore,” offering five-day classes that take students out of the workroom and on location, and from concept to completion shows students how to work with a real client in a real environment, including design, fabrication and installation of a window treatment for the home. Next month The Total Experience class creates window treatments for two bedrooms and a hallway at the Guest Cottage.
The Morland Room was originally a guest room and was furnished
as such. It was turned into a storage space sometime in the 20th
century, probably around 1930, the year Biltmore House opened to
the public. In the 1990s, curators added shelving to better care
for the furniture stored there. Little of the room’s turn-of-the-century
appearance remained. At first, Biltmore Estate curator Ellen Rickman
found mostly bare walls, fragments of wallpaper and holes where
prints once hung. But once the shelving and the furniture had been
removed from the Morland Room, Rickman found that the bed’s
original tester valance still hung in place, although it was badly
Rickman and her assistant, Kelly L’Ecuyer, searched through Biltmore’s textile collections and were excited to find two drapery panels that matched the valance. Further research revealed a historic image of the textile in the Biltmore Estate archives.
“We were delighted to discover a late 19th-century photograph showing this rare hand-painted chintz,” said Rickman. “Additional background research suggested that the unusual fabric was originally made in early 19th-century India for export to Persia, very possibly for royalty. It became clear that in these panels, which were in excellent condition almost 200 years later, Biltmore had found another rare treasure.” Because of their rarity, the panels would be returned to collections storage rather than be displayed in the restored room.
The uniqueness of these hand-painted panels made them difficult to duplicate. “A textile artist with great skills and the willingness to take on such a project had to be located,” Rickman noted. The search began and ended surprisingly quickly.
Rickman located an accomplished textile artist, Heather Allen,
in Biltmore’s own backyard. Allen, who is based in Asheville,
NC, agreed to meticulously recreate the fabric, carefully mapping
out every detail and hand-painting the designs with specially mixed
long-lasting inks. “She carefully photographed the drapery
panels first in a fourth-floor room called the Observatory, which
had a custom-made hanging rack in it that was designed for hanging
tapestries during conservation,” Rickman explained. It took
Heather a year-and-a-half to complete the panels.
One of the most exciting aspects of this project was that Allen was able to create exact reproductions, even down to the little paint splatters on the original textiles. The other was the discovery that the fabric originally hung in the cottage in northern Italy where George and Edith Vanderbilt honeymooned during the summer of 1898, making the textiles even more historically significant.
The Morland Room opened to the public in 1998, exactly 100 years later.
Patricia Sprinkle is the managing editor of Sew WHAT? Magazine published monthly by Professional Drapery Seminars Inc., Swannanoa, NC. Its mission is to help drapery, slipcover and upholstery professionals with all of their fabrication and design needs. This article first appeared in the March 205 issue of Sew What?