Is the Biltmore Estate “the original McMansion”? No

One TripAdvisor reviewer suggests the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Caroline was “the original McMansion”:

At first we were a little surprised at the price of admission but after all was said and done, definitely worth it. It is really an all day project. The tour through the house itself is kind of a slow line through but you do get to see a significant portion of the house, actually you see rooms on all 4 floors. It took us about 90 minutes to go through. Then there are the gardens which are very extensive. There were other tours one could take like a ‘behind the scenes tour’ which seemed really interesting but alas we had run out of time. Our lunch at the Stable Cafe was superb. At the height of the lunch rush we had a 45 minute wait so we went off to some of the nearer gardens for a half hour or so. The setting is literally what used to be the stable and the old horse stalls are booths now. The rotisserie chicken that I ordered is about the best chicken I can ever remember. Juicy, flavorful, cooked to perfection. Sometimes simple is best. And served quickly no less. We commented on that to the waiter who said, We know you have better things to do.

Visited October 2014

From all accounts, this sounds like a flashy and impressive house. Here is the opening description from Wikipedia:

Biltmore Estate is a large private estate and tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina. Biltmore House, the main house on the estate, is a Châteauesque-styled mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet (16,622.8 m2) of floor space (135,280 square feet (12,568 m2) of living area) and featuring 250 rooms. Still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendants, it stands today as one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age, and of significant gardens in the jardin à la française and English Landscape garden styles in the United States. In 2007, it was ranked eighth in America’s Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.

This sounds like a classic case of (1) an anachronistic application of the term McMansion as well as (2) an instance where this is clearly a mansion. When it was built or today, the home is simply large – McMansions are often roughly 3,000 to 8,000 square feet and this home has 135,000 square feet of living space – and this wasn’t just some new money but real big money from the Vanderbilt family.

Perhaps the home’s most McMansion like feature is its borrowing of architectural styles with French and English gardens alongside French architecture. Here is Wikipedia’s brief description of the estate’s architecture:

Vanderbilt’s idea was to replicate the working estates of Europe. He commissioned prominent New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, who had previously designed houses for various Vanderbilt family members, to design the house in the Châteauesque style, using several Loire Valley French Renaissance architecture chateaux, including the Chateau de Blois, as models. The estate included its own village, today named Biltmore Village, and a church, today known as the Cathedral of All Souls.

Vanderbilt borrowed the imposing and monied architecture of Europe to convey similar ideas in the United States. Yet, over a century later, the home’s architecture is celebrated.

My conclusion? The Biltmore Estate is nowhere close to being a McMansion.

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