$12 million cost blowout on historic custom build

2 May 2018 -- Posted by : Tristan_Kirkham

For anyone who’s ever gone over budget on a custom build, here’s a story that will really put things in perspective. demonstrating how not getting a process right and not having all parties on the same page can cause catastrophic cost blow out.

In 1906 the Rockefeller family decided to build the dream custom built home in Pocantico Hill in Westchester Country New York, the vast estate occupies an area of 1,380 hectares (3,410 acres) . What subsequently unfolded are the ten of the biggest mistakes you can make on a build that ultimately caused this home to blow out from its original budget of $250,000 US to $500,000 on its first build!

That’s $12m in today’s money

  1. The family had four different Architects involved in design.
  2. The design had two different styles, Norman roof & American style plus 5 different architectural styles to the elevations.
  3. Rockerfeller Snr demanded that the music room be in the center of the house (which had knock effect to the rest of the design)
  4. Grand entrance and the stairs hidden behind a wall.
  5. The steep roof reduced the window sizes and head height to upper floor
  6. Crazy amount of chimneys to get the smoke out and very high ones at that.
  7. The construction of the home was left to Rockefeller Jnr.
  8. Waste pipes were placed in the ceilings of bedrooms.
  9. Combustion heating system constantly backfired and kept everyone awake.
  10. Elevator to house made excessive noise, while the elevator location caused ongoing problems for delivery companies for coal etc.

So what did they do after a family disagreement? He pulled most of it down and started again in 1912.


Rockefeller Snr took control and created one of the greatest custom built homes in the world. The redesign took the home from two levels to four levels.
The new designed home cost the family $1million... 4 times over budget.
Incredibly the garden cost even more. At $1.35million it was 45 times over budget.
Kykuit’s garden was designed by the same company who created Manhattan's Central Park. It had a 35 tonne Greek statue that cost $70K and needed every horse in the town to pull it up the hill.
The terraced gardens have all sorts of styles from Japanese to Italian and include grand staircases, teahouses, fountains, temples and an incredible semicircular rose garden
The stonemason's wages at the time was 20c per hour, and most took home $20 per week.
There was no expense spared, and in fact Rockefeller senior was a tech head. He loved gadgets and this home had electric lighting! Shower plumbing with advanced rose sets like we see in today's custom design homes.

In 1976 the home was designated a national Historic Landmark. In 1979 1/3 of the of the estate was given to the National trust for preservation.

Today the home is open to the public. If you find yourself in the US looking for some inspiration for your new home, this is a must visit.



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