The Custom Home Furnishings School in Swannanoa, NC, has had a long-time 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.
Located off the third
floor Living Hall at the Biltmore House, Asheville, NC, are four
unique bedrooms known as the Artists’ Suite. Each of these
guestrooms was named on the original house plans after artists or
works of art. All four were restored in a different furnishing style,
depending on the artist or works of art featured, and on clues provided
by original wall coverings and other evidence in the rooms. After
restoration they were opened to the public in 1999.
Prints of masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance, including works by Titian and Raphael, illustrate the theme of the Madonna Room and reflect its Renaissance revival style. The room features finely carved Italian-style furniture. At the foot of the bed is a cassone, or marriage chest, made in the Italian Renaissance style.
To the right of the bed is an Italian chest of drawers made of rosewood, burr maple or birch, and mahogany with intricate gilt wood inlay. A notable decorative object is the Persian-influenced vase of ceramic, enamel and metal, which was converted into an electric lamp in the first half of the 20th century.
The Madonna Room is a classic example of how curators at Biltmore proceed with putting puzzle pieces together to restore a room to its initial state. “We did have tattered original wallpaper on the walls so we knew we could reproduce that,” said Director of Museum Services, Ellen Rickman.
“The wallpaper imitates the look of a 15th century textile woven with fine gold threads.” This shimmering effect is also repeated in the gold fabric, roping and brush fringe used on the room’s drapery and upholstery, all of which are identical to the originals.
The gold color was a theme found throughout the room as the staff began to look for clues for the draperies and bedding. “Actually, we started with the draperies,” says Rickman. “We found in storage a drapery fragment, the header of a rich, gold cotton damask drapery, and loved the fabric. We thought it worked stylistically with the room.” The Anna French Co. made an exact reproduction of this fabric exclusively for the Biltmore Estate.
Reproductions of gold roping and brush fringe that also are original to the collection were created, as were custom-made tasseled tiebacks. All trims were made for Biltmore by G. J. Turner and Co. of London. These fabrics and trims were used for window curtains, the bed cover and an upholstered daybed.
The color gold was used a lot in Renaissance Revival interiors of the 19th century. As the staff continued to look for clues, a marble fireplace surround in the room that had been covered up for decades was found to be gold, which further proved the fact that gold was the right color for the Madonna Room. Generally, they know that colors on the fireplaces found in the rooms were usually a part of the entire decorative scheme.
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 2005 issue of SewWhat?