Putting Down Some Roots

It's the sort of house that everyone wants and only investment bankers can afford. But with the help of a rich friend, Bill and Hillary Clinton, who are saddled with hefty legal bills, last week bought a house that is comfy and airy, stately but not flashy, in a leafy New York suburb for $1.7 million. The challenge was not cost, or suiting the requirements of the Secret Service, but the dilemma, familiar to house-hunting Yuppies, of the Gracious Old House/Small Crummy Kitchen.

The Clintons wanted that cozy-but-grand, high-ceilinged, wood-floor, stone-fireplace feel that comes from pre-World War II houses. But they also wanted a roomy kitchen and a family room. Hillary Clinton often complained that the White House, for all its elegance, has no comfortable, informal living area. Kitchens in an earlier era were built for servants: small and dark, while family rooms did not exist in an age when nannies raised the children.

The Clintons had no time to supervise the renovation of an old house, so the search was on: a real-estate agent, Kathy Sloane, considered some 90 houses; a New York architect, David Hotson, examined 20 of them. The president saw six. The 110-year-old Dutch Colonial on Old House Lane in Chappaqua, N.Y., fit the bill, thanks to a tasteful 1989 addition that opened up the kitchen and created such nice touches as an octagonal screened porch and sun room. The Clintons' bedroom is light, with fan windows, and a private deck opens out on the pool below (ideal for skinny-dipping). Four more bedrooms will accommodate Chelsea and guests, and the barnlike attic will hold a few more. The carriage house is suitable for a Secret Service command post. A possible permanent guest: Hillary's mother, Dorothy Rodham, 80.

All for only $9,000 a month, the cost of the Clinton's $1.35 million mortgage payment. With $5 million of unpaid legal bills and few assets, the Clintons, who haven't owned a house since 1982, when they moved back into the Arkansas governor's mansion, needed some friendly help. They turned first to former chief of staff Erskine Bowles, a wealthy investment banker, as part of a group of friends who would buy a house for the Clintons. But the group deal never materialized, and Bowles backed out. (Reached by NEWSWEEK, he said: "I don't have any comment at all.")

Real-estate and financial mogul Terry McAuliffe stepped in and supplied the bank with $1.35 million in collateral, to be paid off or refinanced in five years. McAuliffe has bailed out the Clintons before: he was the Democrats' chief fund-raiser who built a surprisingly large $42 million war chest for Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. An amiable Clinton golfing buddy who, perhaps as much as any friend, stood by the president during the Lewinsky scandal, McAuliffe is also raising money for Hillary's Senate campaign. While unorthodox, McAuliffe's sugar-daddy role on the Clinton house appears to be perfectly legal.

McAuliffe's money should be safe. A former president can earn about $100,000 a speech, more abroad. A dull and worthy book by Clinton would earn $1 million or less, but depending on how much he wants to kiss and tell, the book advance could skyrocket. If Hillary wins the New York Senate race, she'll be able to chip in $141,300 a year, plus a hefty book contract; if not, her speech fees would rival Bill's.

The Clinton's dream house should be available for occupancy late this fall. They are likely to use it on weekends, between campaign swings for her and the business of the country for him. The tree-lined streets are perfect for invigorating jogs, and the nearest McDonald's is only 3.7 miles away.

Putting Down Some Roots | News