Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is housed in the former home of industrial magnate Andrew Carnegie. The 64-room mansion, built from 1899 to 1902, is an impressive testament to the desire of Carnegie and his wife, Louise Whitfield Carnegie, to build a spacious, comfortable, and light-filled home in which to raise their daughter, Margaret. The architectural firm of Babb, Cook & Willard designed the mansion in the solidly comfortable style of an English Georgian country house. When Carnegie purchased the land for the house in 1898, he purposely bought property far north of where his peers were living. The relatively open space allowed him to build a large garden—one of the few private enclosed green spaces in Manhattan—that is still a beautiful oasis today.
The house is a fascinating study in innovative design. It was the first private residence in the United States to have a structural steel frame and one of the first in New York to have a residential Otis passenger elevator (now in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC). Other innovations included its central heating, a precursor to air conditioning, and a cellar coal car that traveled over a miniature train track to transfer fuel from a storage bin to enormous twin boilers.
The building received landmark status in 1974 and in 1976 opened as the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum. In 2014, the museum was renamed Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.