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Homes Home Tour: One Of The Most Splendid Mansions In Hudson Valley, New York

Home Tour: One Of The Most Splendid Mansions In Hudson Valley, New York

Home Tour: One Of The Most Splendid Mansions In Hudson Valley, New York
The facade of Kykuit originally built in 1913, in the style of Italian Renaissance villas by Andrea Palladio
By Tina Jacinto
March 04, 2020
A walk through the enchanting gardens of Kykuit, one of the most splendid mansions in New York’s Hudson Valley and home to four generations of the Rockefeller family

The cool breeze and the swaying leaves waved a seductive hello as we approached the spectacular property. In the endless streaming sunlight, the most sensational mansion in the Hudson Valley came into view. For aficionados like us, discovering sprawling estates like this one which has remained delightfully unchanged, is exciting, almost as if being transported back in time. Kykuit is an impressive curtain raiser. We were completely in awe.

Stairway leading to the gardens that became more elaborate and complex than the house
Stairway leading to the gardens that became more elaborate and complex than the house

Superlatives abound for this 100-year-old Rockefeller estate that sits on more than 2000 acres of immaculately manicured and enchanting gardens with spectacular views. Upon entering Kykuit’s wrought-iron gate, our senses were awakened by the beauty of the landscape, the architecture, and the gardens with all their history and art. Kykuit was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family, descendants of John D Rockefeller (JDR), the founder of Standard Oil Company and one of the country’s leading industrialists and philanthropists back then. Kykuit in Dutch means “lookout”, referring to its panoramic view of the Hudson River. From the West Porch, we soaked in the water view where the Tappan Zee, the Palisades, and the hills climbing toward Bear Mountain are all visible. As we walked through, our guide explained how the entrance is the quintessential “American Renaissance“ ensemble which captures the traditions of classical history. The garden’s every corner was astonishing, it gave me the feeling of exhilaration wherever I turned. Over the course of more than a century, the estate’s gardens have maintained their brilliance to this very day.

The Rose Garden with a replica of one of the fountains in the Boboli Gardens of Florence
The Rose Garden with a replica of one of the fountains in the Boboli Gardens of Florence

John D Rockefeller, Jnr. had hired William Welles Bosworth to design Kykuit’s extensive gardens. As his model for Kykuit, Bosworth was inspired by Italian gardens, which he termed “the origin of all subsequent garden tradition.” The gardens planned by Bosworth in 1906 are essentially what still exist today. There is the Inner Garden with the Brook Garden and Temple of Venus beyond; the West Terraces with the swimming pool; and the semicircular Rose Garden. The core of a great estate or “family seat,’ Kykuit has one of the best and grandest surviving Beaux-Arts gardens in the United States today.

A striking piece from Nelson Rockefeller’s sculpture collection
A striking piece from Nelson Rockefeller’s sculpture collection
Decorative sculpture set in a niche lined by stalagmites and stalactites brought from Italy
Decorative sculpture set in a niche lined by stalagmites and stalactites brought from Italy

The 30-foot Oceanus fountain at the end of the forecourt caught our eye as we approached the entrance gates. Kykuit’s visual treat included the Morning Garden with its central, circular pool and fountainhead by FML Tonetti which provides. a transition space from the formality of the entrance forecourt to the gardens beyond. These comprise the Brook Garden—with weeping Japanese higan cherry trees, Japanese bronze lanterns and sculptures of Masayuki Nagare and Isamu Noguchi and the Temple of Venus which houses the Aphrodite sculpture.

All of Kykuit’s terraces—created out of a rocky hillside using dynamite, machinery and hard labour—display decorative sculptures. Located beneath the temple is the inner grotto with its Guastavino tile ceiling and Moravian tile floors as well as pieces by the American scuptor Emil Sieburn and Giacomo Balla’s whimsical Futuristic Flowers.

One may stroll for a mile or more along paths within easy reach of the house
One may stroll for a mile or more along paths within easy reach of the house

Below the level of the main rooms lies the Orange Tree Terrace, while overlooking serene vistas is the swimming pool terrace which features three pools lined with circular patterns of black and white Italian pebbles. The West Garden has a putting green laid out in 1901 as part of what was a nine-hole reversible golf course; a Rose Garden—which Bosworth designed as the principal feature of the north terraces, and lastly the Orangerie—constructed during the summer months of 1908 to house imported orange trees before the fall frost.

Rooted in antiquity, it is a place where John D Rockefeller emphasised order and rationality. The vast grounds house Nelson Rockefeller’s sculpture collection (which included 120 works by sculptors from Europe) and offer spaces in which people can seek solace and renewal. Although the property has been photographed many times over, photos don’t do it justice. Kykuit is an estate so stupendous and so soul-stirring, that, indeed, the only way to really know it is to make a trip there.

This article was originally published in Philippine Tatler Homes Vol 24. To bring you all the latest interior trends and practical advice for styling your home, subscribe to Philippine Tatler Homes through here.

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