Later in life she mused that she might have studied architecture, so interested was she in the design and flowing layout of rooms as the primary blueprint for creating the interior furnishings of a beautiful home.
Jackie Kennedy came close to it in 1963.
Among First Ladies, three women drew out the sketch of room placement, exterior style and design and even some of the interior hardware of homes they would live in.
The second woman who was widowed by the assassination of her husband, Lucretia Garfield, worked with her distant cousins, the famous southern California Arts & Crafts architectural team of Greene & Greene in creating the renderings and overseeing the execution of her large home in Pasadena, California.
It was also as a widow that Grace Coolidge worked with architects in designing her own retirement home in Northhampton, Massachusetts known as Road Forks.It had unusual touches like a brass hand to serve as the front door-knocker and an entrance into the home on the second-floor with a modern winding staircase descending to a partially submerged first floor.
Perhaps the most ambitious, creative and beautiful of homes ever envisioned and executed by a woman who was a presidential wife was designed and built before she joined her husband in the White House, and which served as their home through his presidency and afterwards. It was the modernistic mesa-type mansion in Palo Alto, California close to Stanford University which Lou Henry Hoover helped to create, working closely with the architects on every detail of the building which is now used as the home of the college’s president.
The house Jacqueline Kennedy designed and saw built to her specifications was an indirect result of her great passion for riding horses, her favorite and primary means of regular exercise.
During the initial period of her husband’s presidency, the First Lady became famous for her “Thursday-to-Tuesday weekends,” away from the demands and scrutiny of living in the White House. She made these frequent stays away from the capital city at a rented home known as Glen Ora in Middleburg, Virginia.
An expert rider in both formal and informal manner, she joined the Orange County, Virginia Hunt Assocation. When it became known this was for foxhunting, there was a storm of protest from animal rights groups but as one who also respected animals, she quickly had her press secretary point out that no foxes were ever actually hunted to death but rather their scent was spread to lead on the hunt dogs, followed by the riders.
The two-year lease on Glen Ora, however, was not renewed by the owner who apparently resented the necessary changes made for security to her property.
Knowing she still needed a place to get away from Washington that was nearby and to continue her rigorous riding routine, she had her Middleburg friends Paul and Eve Fout search out and then purchase some property on her behalf, near the town of Atoka, on Rattlesnake Mountain in Virginia.
The house that Jackie designed had a simple layout on one floor, in what was essentially a u-shape with rooms facing a courtyard. There were ample woods to ramble and breathtaking views. The First Lady was pregnant with her son Patrick as the house neared completion in the early spring of 1963, and she had a bedroom created for her son John to share with the baby, which was due in early September.
In the meanwhile, she had many of her favorite pieces of furniture moved out of the White House family quarters and down to her new house which she called “Wexford.”
The home’s name was her sentimental nod to the county in Ireland where the President’s ancestors had come to the United States from, and which he visited in June of 1963.
It proved to be such an emotionally a sentimental visit for the President that Jackie deeply regretted not being able to join him, even though she was then pregnant and forbidden to undertake lengthy travel.
Then, unexpectedly came an abrupt change in plans. While at the presidential summer retreat at Hyannis, Massachusetts, Mrs. Kennedy gave birth to Patrick prematurely in August and he only lived two days.
From there, after recuperating from the emergency caesarian surgery, she proceeded to her mother’s home in Newport, Rhode Island where she was joined by the President in celebration of their tenth wedding anniversary in September.
Depressed at the loss of her child, she made a brief stop at the White House in October and from there went with her sister on a European vacation to Greece, Turkey and Morocco to regain her mental and physical strength. By the time she returned, she was ready to finally enjoy the house she had spent so much energy designing and furnishing.
As for her first foray into architecture, despite her love of the rarefied and old, the house that Jackie built was very much an mid-century ranch house.
No matter how many antiques she filled the rooms with, it still had the look of a high-end suburban house. The fireplace, for example, was simple and modern with no mantle or fancy touches. She even had a rust-colored shag rug in her dressing room. And there was a T.V. set and hi-fi.
The house had fifteen rooms, one side being a wall of sliding glass doors, measuring thirty-two feet and overlooking a flagstone terrace where there was a swing set for her children. There was also a bomb shelter – although the White House was reluctant to confirm this. It was extremely isolated – and that’s how Jackie wanted it.
“It’s the only house Jack and I ever built together, and I designed it all myself. I don’t want it to be exploited and photographed all over the place just because it was ours.”
The day after she threw her best friend and confidante, White House Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman a surprise birthday party, the First Lady headed down to Wexford with the President and their children. He had visited with her in the spring, along with his sister Jean Smith, her husband and son, but this would be their first full weekend there.
The President was happy to see how much pride Jackie felt about the house, but he was not too pleased about the great expense of it all, griping that they could be using Camp David, the equally isolated presidential retreat in a woodsy, sylvan setting.
Nevertheless, much to his surprise he found that he had greatly relaxed that weekend of October 24-25, so much so that he was looking forward to their next getaway there.
He invited their friends Ben and Toni Bradlee to spend the weekend of November 9-10 with him and Jackie and their children for what he hoped would be the first of many long winter getaway time there.
Of course, it would prove to be not only the Kennedy family’s last weekend at Wexford, but their last weekend together.
Here is a short home movie made of the home’s exteriors and interiors, set to “Days of Wine & Roses,” the popular song of that year:
All of the information here is adapted from the author’s book, The Kennedy White House (2001), which is protected by copyright. Most of the photographs in this article are also from that book, the original images being used here, researched, purchased and copied by the author. Original images used here but not in the book were also researched, purchased and copied at the author’s time and expense, and thus also carry the watermark.
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- The Kennedy Family’s Last Public Appearance Together (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Jackie Kennedy’s Surprise Party for Her Confidential Friend of a Lifetime (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Why John F. Kennedy Took His Son to Arlington Cemetery (carlanthonyonline.com)
- A First Lady Survives Presidential Assassination Plus Rare Funeral Images (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Jackie Kennedy’s still-living personal assistant, 89, tells People of stoic first lady’s profound JFK assassination heartbreak (pennlive.com)
- Secret Service agent tells how Caroline Kennedy was in the car on the way to her first sleepover and John John was at the White House with his nanny when JFK was shot (dailymail.co.uk)
- Jackie Kennedy: New Details of Her Heartbreak (people.com)
- JFK Anniversary To Be Marked In Dallas (huffingtonpost.com)
- Jackie Kennedy’s Country Estate in Middleburg (ghostsofdc.org)