Though George Vanderbilt’s 255-room Biltmore had put the American country house on the money map, John D. Rockefeller, who detested ostentation, had something simple in mind when he built the granite-clad Kykuit, high above the Hudson River. It was his son John Jr. and daughter-in-law, Abby, who added their classical tastes and a spirit of noblesse oblige into the equation. Simultaneously grand and restrained, the Rockefellers hoped that Kykuit would represent the ideal blending of great wealth and democracy.
The authors take us inside the house and the family that built it to observe how that vision played out over a century of building and rebuilding—the ebb and flow of events and family feelings, the architecture and furnishings, the art and the gardens. At Kykuit, John Senior could be with his children and grandchildren and indulge his passion for golf, though in later years he seemed to find life there excessivley formal and spent more and more time elsewhere. After his father's death, John Junior made it his goal to keep the home unchanged, while Abby, with her love of family and opennes to new ideas, devoted herself to giving it renewed life and warmth. Their son Nelson used it for political entertaining on a grand scale and brought to it his extraordinary collection of the modern art his mother had taught him to love, but which his father had always disliked. Nelson also—against the wishes of his family—initiated in his will the process of opening the house to the public, which it did in 1994.
Built to honor the senior Rockefeller, Kykuit would also become the place above all others that anchored the family’s memories and their public legacy. The House the Rockefellers Built reveals the tastes of a large family often sharply at odds with one another about the fortune the house symbolized.