How Biltmore’s art of gracious hospitality can inspire you to live a healthier life
When George Vanderbilt officially opened Biltmore, his country estate near Asheville, North Carolina, in 1895, it was clear from the start it was a home destined to welcome visitors.
The 250-room chateau built in French-Renaissance style took nearly seven years to construct. It featured 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces, and 35 bedrooms – plenty of space for friends and family to gather together as well as spend the night (or many nights). Much of the inspiration for Biltmore ascended from English country houses George visited on his travels to England. At the time, country homes provided a contrast to the noise and tension of the city for the titled and wealthy British.
Biltmore & the art of gracious hospitality
George Vanderbilt marked the holidays of 1895 – and the opening of Biltmore House – with a series of house parties. For reference, a group of people visiting a home at the same time (sometimes for an extended period of time) was referred to as a “house party.” They were frequent occurrences, even into the late 1920s.
George and his wife, Edith, were consummate hosts to many house parties. They were gracious and friendly, which made invitations to their luxurious home highly coveted. As guest Pauline Merrill (Edith’s sister) wrote about her stay at Biltmore in a letter posted March 20, 1905, “The air is soft and warm, the hills change color continually, there is no noise, no friction, no jar. It is all really quite too easy.” Pauline was one of many visitors attracted to the laidback atmosphere – who came to escape highly structured social activities associated with urban living in favor of a more relaxed, rural environment.
Many guests visited Biltmore for extended stays, sometimes for weeks at a time. This was partially due to the difficulty of traveling to Asheville by train, a journey that often took several days and involved changing lines several times. In later years, house parties tended not to last for weeks on end, due to the growing popularity of the automobile which made a weekend trip much easier than before.
Biltmore & the art of gracious relaxation
The Vanderbilts gave guests the freedom to enjoy their time at Biltmore as they pleased. Guests were not required to do anything they might not want to do. There were breakfasts, lunches, dinners and teas each day, with a picnic or two thrown in when desired. Guests could also listen to one of the many musical artists George and Edith invited into their home, or they would take a turn playing the piano themselves. Visitors could read books in the library, socialize in one of the many gathering spaces in Biltmore House, play charades, write silly poetry, or stage tableaux vivants, in which participants recreated snapshots of famous works of art or literary scenes on stage.
More active guests were welcomed to visit the gymnasium or the swimming pool in the basement. Some outdoors-minded visitors spent their time exploring the formal gardens, playing golf or croquet, swimming, hunting or fishing. The Vanderbilts also provided bicycles and carriages to help guests better appreciate the natural splendor of the Biltmore landscape.
Whatever activity they chose, the goal was relaxation or “dewuzzying” as Pauline Merrill noted in her 1905 letter. She was a frequent visitor and through her letters, she provided a detailed view of life as a guest of Biltmore. She recalled that she could “generally escape & get in a good hour’s reading before it is time to dress for dinner, which is always very ceremonious.” Dinners brought everyone together to share news of the day and to enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow guests and their generous hosts, George and Edith.
Your life & the art of a gracious, healthy lifestyle
There are lessons to learned from the Vanderbilts and the importance they placed on socializing and bonding together. Studies show that investing in and enjoying close relationships leads to a sense of belonging, making you happier while reducing stress, bolstering self-esteem and confidence and, when traumatic life events happen (illness, divorce, death), helping you cope.
What’s more, your friends can actually improve your cardiovascular health and improve your ability to bounce back after a serious illness. On the flip side, lack of close friends increases your chances of experiencing a heart attack or stroke compared to those people with strong social networks, according to data published in the medical journal, Heart, in 2018.
When you add sleep into the mix, researchers have been able to connect sleep quality and mental health. “Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population,” as reported by Harvard Medical School. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder are all linked to poor sleep quality. It was thought to be a symptom of mental health disorders, but now clinicians believe that disrupted sleep may contribute to the development of them.
In either case, connecting with others is a cornerstone of healthy sleep and overall vitality and happiness – something George and Edith Vanderbilt knew long before there was scientific research to verify it. They opened their Biltmore home to friends and family, inviting those they loved to reap the benefits of their warm hospitality.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- Can listening to music help you sleep better?
- The connection between a clean bedroom and soothing sleep
- Create a warm, welcoming winter bedroom with inspiration from Biltmore