Built in 1927 by Margaret Carnegie Miller, Migdale underwent a $50 million renovation by the Wildenstein family in 2000. JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Wildenstein Family Is Selling Not One but Two Opulent Estates
The billionaire art dealers have listed a sprawling family compound in Millbrook, N.Y., as well as an equestrian property just 30 minutes away in Connecticut
By Christopher Cameron
Sept. 9, 2020 10:30 am ET
Margaret Carnegie Miller, the only daughter of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, completed a vast country estate for herself and her husband in 1927, in the quiet Hudson Valley retreat of Millbrook, N.Y. They named it Migdale, a play on her nickname, Midge.
Eschewing more-elaborate early-20th-century architectural styles, she built her opulent home with the austere materials—gray-stone, leaded glass and exposed wood trusses—that reminded her of Skibo castle, the Carnegie family’s beloved Scottish retreat. Her husband, Roswell Miller, added the luxuries of a tropical aviary and an elk preserve on the grounds.
Over time, the estate fell into disrepair. It was rescued in 2000 by another immensely wealthy couple: the billionaire art dealers Guy Wildenstein, 74, and his wife, Kristina Hansson, 65. The couple’s family company, Everest Polo Stables, bought the property for $5.29 million, later spending $4.21 million more to add acreage. They poured an additional $50 million into a total renovation to create a 34,549-square-foot, 10-bedroom family compound for them and their children and grandchildren.
Now, some 20 years later, the two have moved to Westchester and have listed the 29-room home and 200 acres for $14 million—or $20 million with an additional 175 acres.
Migdale is one of two grand estates that have been put on the market by members of the Wildenstein family. David Wildenstein, 40, the fifth generation in his family’s business, and his wife, Lucrezia Buccellati Wildenstein, 31, the fourth-generation scion of her family’s eponymous Milan-based jewelry company, are simultaneously selling their newly built home in Sherman, Conn., a 30-minute drive from Migdale. He is the son of Mr. Wildenstein and Ms. Hansson.
The Connecticut equestrian estate with a 7,000-square-foot, six-bedroom home and 75 acres is listed at $6.9 million—or $8.5 million with an additional 77 acres.
Nearly a century apart in their creation, the two properties showcase the contrasts, and similarities, between the lavish lifestyles of the super rich of the early-20th and early-21st centuries.
In both cases, privacy is the paramount amenity. Broad acreage for riding, hunting and meditation is a safeguard against a prying public at the two estates. But in architecture, layout and décor they are antipodes, the reflection of a shift from prim decorum to a style of luxury living that gives priority to wellness, intimacy and informal ease.
“The house in Millbrook was oriented around servants,” said David Wildenstein, of the original use of his parents’ home. It had wide corridors and quarters that accommodated a multitude of domestic employees. But while Migdale was dressed to impress, it saw few parties and went almost unmentioned in the gossip columns. Like the so-called Ironmaster himself, the heirs to one of America’s greatest fortunes shunned society. Migdale was their hermitage.
David Wildenstein, the fifth generation in his family’s business, and his wife, Lucrezia Buccellati Wildenstein, the fourth-generation scion of her family’s eponymous Milan-based jewelry company, are selling their estate in Sherman, Conn.
PHOTO: JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Migdale is on one of the highest points in Millbrook.JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
he Wildensteins contrasted the estate’s castlelike stone elements with modern refinements, such as the yellow Coraggio silk-velvet fabric walls in the 58-foot-long living room.JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Migdale’s grand living room, one of the least altered rooms in the estate, has its original stone hearth.JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
“Our house in Sherman is about openness,” the younger Mr. Wildenstein says of his estate.
He said Migdale was in shambles when his family purchased it. They reimagined the entire home, starting with limestone salvaged from an estate in Brittany to cover the walls and floors in the entrance and hallways. They commissioned custom wood doors in keeping with the home’s period architecture. They ripped out modest stone fireplaces, moved them to the staff quarters and installed ornate French marble mantelpieces. They imported an entire wooden bar from an 18th-century pub in England for their game room. They covered the walls of the grand 58-foot-long living room with yellow Coraggio silk-velvet fabric and removed a massive pipe organ from the same room, which was donated to a church in Wilmington, Del. The mansion’s air conditioning is now cleverly housed within the old organ pipeways.
Each of the four Wildenstein children were allowed to select a style for their bedrooms, resulting in some eccentricities. One bedroom is covered in raspberry-and-white padded fabric. Another bedroom looks like a chalet in the Courchevel ski resort, complete with a preserved tree—bark and all—that forms a spiral staircase to a loft.
Where the aviary once stood, there is now a grand terrace that looks over a lawn large enough for a nine-hole golf course. They dynamited down to the bedrock to create that terrace—and the massive amenity floor below, which features a home theater, 43-foot swimming pool, gym, his-and-hers saunas, treatment rooms and a 5,000-bottle wine cellar.
The Wildensteins moved dozens of mature trees to improve views. They built a tennis court and two ponds with picturesque islands. They planted a large garden to supply organic vegetables for the family. To keep away deer from heavily trafficked areas, they created grazing fields and orchards. They even transformed an old sheep barn into a Medieval-style, thatched-roof barbecue house with a long communal table and spits large enough to roast an entire pig.
The elder Wildensteins renovated the 1927 Millbrook, N.Y., mansion with unique features in each room, including padded wall coverings, salvaged parts of an 18th-century English pub, and a hidden staircase to a bedroom loft, while doors throughout the mansion were restored in keeping with its historic character. PHOTOS: JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL(4)
Guest accommodations on the grounds include a 5,000-square-foot, three-bedroom gatehouse halfway up the nearly 1-mile-long driveway, and a 10,000-square-foot, six-apartment building directly next to the main house—convenient for staff or in-laws.
The resale figure apparently wasn’t considered when calculating expenditures, although the owners declined to address the issue.
“A property like this isn’t an investment,” said Aloysius Carlos of Classiques Modernes International Realty, who is marketing both estates with partner Kenneth Moore. “They created the house they wanted to live in, which is a Scottish castle with French refinement.”
The Sherman estate of Mr. Wildenstein and Mrs. Buccellati Wildenstein is something else entirely.
For their two children, ages 3 and 6, and two dogs, Maui and Bailey, they created a light-filled, three-story house with an open floor plan, in collaboration with architect Louis Vieira Lisboa. Throughout the travertine and bamboo-wood residence, playful designer furniture in bold colors is placed in contrast to serene white walls, a floating staircase, a textured limestone fireplace and white-oak flooring.
While the Wildenstein family is known for dealing in blue-chip modernism, the younger generation of the family chose vibrant contemporary paintings by Friedrich Kunath and Mrs. Buccellati Wildenstein herself for their home. An avid carpenter, Mr. Wildenstein built two tables for the house and the headboard in the master suite.
A Modern Horse Farm in Connecticut
The newly built Buccellati-Wildenstein mansion is listed for $6.9 million.
David Wildenstein, an advocate of using sustainable materials in construction, opted for bamboo wood and travertine in his home.JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
David Wildenstein and Lucrezia Buccellati Wildenstein collaborated with architect Louis Vieira Lisboa to create a three-story modern mansion in the countryside.JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The couple chose marble and hardwood for their kitchen.JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
“The energy that this property has is unreal,” she said. “When you are having dinner, you have the beautiful sunset, and with all the glass in the house reflecting that light, it almost feels like you are on the ocean.”
Years in the making, the mansion was their dream home. The family moved in over Presidents Day weekend. Then Covid-19 hit. They felt safe in their isolated abode, but riding shows in Connecticut were canceled or moved to Florida. Mrs. Buccellati Wildenstein jumps competitively and so faced long periods in Wellington, Fla. For that reason, the family made the difficult decision to move to Palm Beach.
“We keep asking ourselves, ‘Are we going to regret it?’ ” said Mrs. Buccellati Wildenstein. “But at the same time, things change and it makes sense for our lifestyle.”
Everywhere, large windows act as picture frames for the estate, where family members ride their warmblood horses, plant vegetables, raise chickens and grow acres of hemp. Mrs. Buccellati Wildenstein said their large back terrace looking out to the mountains is the most used space in the house and where they enjoy family meals.
The bamboo wood and travertine facade of the Buccellati-Wildenstein modern loft-style country home is in contrast to the formality of an estate like Migdale.
PHOTO: JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The construction of Migdale also was preceded by momentous circumstances. Eight years before Migdale was completed, Margaret Miller received word that her 83-year-old father was near death at his estate in Lenox, Mass. She arrived there moments too late.
The morning papers on Aug. 12, 1919, declared that she had become “the richest bride in America.” But the reality was that most of the family’s money was gone. Her tightfisted father spent the second half of his life reinventing his image.
At the time of his death, Andrew Carnegie’s gross estate was worth $26 million, including the family’s sprawling 64-room mansion on Fifth Avenue (now the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum). The Laird of Skibo had already provided his daughter with a $4.6 million trust and much of the remainder of the estate would stay with her mother.
Carnegie was reported to have once told a friend that if he ever had a daughter, “she’ll learn something worthwhile about raising babies, cooking, sweeping and making beds. She’ll be no dressed-up doll!”
While the Wildenstein family is known for dealing in blue-chip modernism, the younger generation chose vibrant contemporary paintings by Mrs. Buccellati Wildenstein for their dining room.
PHOTO: JULIE BIDWELL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
But the daughter he eventually had was, in the eyes of the public, a kind of American princess. The public’s interest made her shy and cautious.
After the death of her father, she spent much of the following three decades sheltered at Migdale. She raised her four children in what the press characterized as “a super-conservative atmosphere.”
Migdale is still a hermitage. Like Mrs. Miller, the elder Wildenstein family has shied away from the public. Mr. Carlos said many prospective buyers are similarly discreet and influential families.
“The Wildensteins are a very private and very traditional family who wouldn’t be caught dead in the Hamptons,” said Mr. Carlos of the Millbrook residents. “They have a chef and a sous chef. They have a butler. They have formal dinners. But they don’t go out in ‘society.’ ”
Appeared in the September 11, 2020, print edition as 'A Tale of Two Mansions.'