He delegated the planning and construction supervision of the house and gardens to his son and namesake, John D. Rockefeller Jr. The architects Delano and Aldrich built the first version of the house, but John Sr. and his wife Cettie were not satisfied with the result. John Jr. had architect William Welles Bosworth, who was designing the gardens, take over the renovations. While the first house was a modest eclectic mix of styles, Bosworth created a much more imposing structure, of local stone and classical ornamentation. It is located centrally in a 250 acre inner compound within the larger Rockefeller family estate.
The elaborate gardens of Kykuit with their terraces, fountains, pavilions and classical sculpture eventually cost more than the house. These gardens in the Beaux-Arts and Italianate style are considered Bosworth's best work in the United States.
After the death of JDR Sr. in 1937, his son JDR Jr. and his family lived in the house until 1960. It then passed to his second son, Nelson, who made it his residence as well as a private museum for his renowned collection of 20th century art. Following his death in 1970, his third of the estate with the house, gardens, coach barn and collections were bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Subsequently, his two brothers Laurance and David Rockefeller have left their portions of the 250 acre compound to the National Trust. Other portions of the larger estate were left to New York State as public park and to the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.