The Halloween Room
The drive is long. A tunnel of green in any season, it winds through magnolias and hemlocks so artfully arranged one must assume they were placed there by an artist of most high renown, which of course, they were. The grey ribbon of road spirals deeper into the wood, circling round moss-dotted ponds and over half-moon stone bridges, leading you far enough away from the commonplace and familiar that there is no surprise when it suddenly straightens in front of a chateau appearing much more at home in the Loire Valley than in the mountains of North Carolina. This is Biltmore House, the largest private home in the United States, designed in 1880 by George Vanderbilt who dubbed it his “little mountain escape” in the same facetious fashion that led his siblings to refer to their opulent mansions in Newport as their “summer cottages”. Biltmore House certainly deserves a visit by anyone who loves art and beauty. Around every stone corner of this magnificent house one finds ever increasing levels of grandeur and delight. The library alone is swoon-worthy. I myself have spent many an hour roaming the corridors of this grand palace, soaking up inspiration like a sponge, for inspiration percolates in this place and no more so than in the belly of the grand house, in a room known as The Halloween Room.
Follow me down staircases that dwindle in extravagance the further we descend, eventually depositing us in the catacombs of the castle where the dark narrow hallways are formed by blocks of stone, rough and cool to the touch. At the very end, - there, just to the right - is the entrance to a huge rectangular room made glorious by the imaginations of revelers long forgotten, party goers whose artworks were painted by their own hand right upon the brick walls. These paintings remain today, untouched and undisturbed, as testaments both to the individuality of their creators as well as to the value placed on art education in the early twentieth century, for these are fantastic paintings, full of whimsy and romance, with nary a stick figure amongst them.
As the story goes, George Vanderbilt’s only child, Cornelia, (pictured above) threw a party in this room on a Halloween night in the middle of the decade forever known as The Roaring Twenties. Providing colours and brushes, she invited her guests to take sections of the room and paint whatever they desired. Blossoming from that request are young men sitting in elaborate windows serenading lovely veiled women on guitar, black cats navigating the tightropes of roof lines, bats and birds, palm trees and accordion players. Closing your eyes, it is not difficult to almost hear faint traces of laughter still echoing in the brush strokes forever preserved on these old walls.
I have always been struck by the drawings each of these guests chose to create for I think the images we choose so often reveal much more about who we are than our words can ever accomplish. In my years as an interior designer, I was often astonished at the amount of discomfort and intimidation some clients seemed to experience whenever they were asked to illuminate their personal style. They would stutter and stammer, eventually looking to their partner for assistance. But when I asked them, as I often did, to choose which pictures appealed to them, they had no problem doing so. By this exercise, and other sly tricks of observation, it was easy for me to pinpoint their preferences and predilections so I could create rooms in which they would find themselves comfortable and at home, which was always my goal.
Even though I freely admit to no small amount of snobbery with each new quirk of technology that pops up in my sight range, I also freely admit that I am frequently wrong. Yes, I do love my iPhone, even though I was convinced I didn’t need one. And yes, I enjoy Twitter, a lot. But when I heard about Pinterest I was, naturally, convinced it wasn’t for me. But then I started visiting... and now, of course, I adore it. Far from another slim outlet for mere entertainment, I now see it as a wonderful portal for self-discovery, for as we choose the images that appeal to us, much like my clients, much like Cornelia’s Halloween guests, we reveal our innermost personalities. I am a fairly severe editor on Pinterest. While I see many, many images that I like there, I only “pin” the ones that seem to speak to my hidden self. I know them when I see them. By categorizing these images into files known as “boards”, a whole person begins to emerge, a mirror whose reflection is no less accurate for being composed of pictures rather than glass. Through Pinterest, I see that I am drawn to pathways and windows, tartan and trees. It’s rather fascinating. I invite you to try it.
Like the creators of the Halloween Room,
which images would you choose?
Visit Edward and me on Pinterest HERE.
Visit Edward and me on Pinterest HERE.