Castle Howard has been the home of part of the Howard family for more than 300 years. It is familiar to television and movie audiences as the fictional "Brideshead", both in Granada Television's 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and a two-hour 2008 remake for theatres. Today, it is part of the Treasure Houses of England heritage group.
The 3rd Earl of Carlisle first spoke to William Talman, a leading architect, but commissioned Vanbrugh, a fellow member of the Kit-Cat Club, to design the building. Castle Howard was that gentleman-dilettante's first foray into architecture, but he was assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Vanbrugh's design evolved into a Baroque structure with two projecting wings symmetrically on either side of a north-south axis. The crowning central dome was added to the design at a late stage, after building had begun. Construction began at the east end, with the East Wing constructed from 1701–1703, the east end of the Garden Front from 1701 to 1706, the Central Block (including dome) from 1703 to 1706, and the west end of the Garden Front from 1707-1709. All are exuberantly decorated in Baroque style, with coronets, cherubs, urns and cyphers, with Doric pilasters on the north front and Corinthian on the South. Many interiors were decorated by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini.
The Earl then turned his energies to the surrounding garden and grounds. Although the complete design in shown in the third volume of Colen Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus, published in 1725, the West Wing was not built (indeed, not even started) by Vanbrugh's death in 1726, despite his remonstration with the Earl. The house remained incomplete on the death of the 3rd Earl in 1738, but construction finally started at the direction of the 4th Earl. However, Vanbrugh's design was not completed: the West Wing was built in a contrasting Palladian style to a design by the 3rd Earl's son-in-law, Sir Thomas Robinson. The new wing remained incomplete, with no first floor or roof, at the death of the 4th Earl in 1758; although a roof had been added, the interior remained undecorated by the death of Robinson in 1777. Rooms were completed stage by stage over the following decades, but the whole was not complete until 1811.
A large part of the house was destroyed by fire which broke out on 9 November 1940, including the central dome. Most but not all of the devastated rooms have been restored over the following decades. The house has been opened to the public since 1952.
Castle Howard has extensive and diverse gardens. There is a large formal garden immediately behind the house. The house is prominently situated on a ridge and this was exploited to create a landscape garden, which opens out from the formal garden and merges with the park.
Two major garden buildings are set into this landscape: the Temple of the Four Winds at the end of the garden, and the Mausoleum in the park. There is also a lake on either side of the house. There is an arboretum called Ray Wood, and the walled garden contains decorative rose and flower gardens. Further buildings outside the preserved gardens include the ruined Pyramid currently undergoing restoration, an Obelisk and several follies and eyecatchers in the form of fortifications. A John Vanbrugh ornamental pillar known as the Quatre Faces stands in nearby Pretty Wood.
There is also a separate 127 acre (514,000 m²) arboretum called Kew at Castle Howard, which is close to the house and garden, but has separate entrance arrangements. Planting began in 1975, with the intention of creating one of the most important collections of specimen trees in the United Kingdom. The landscape is more open than that of Ray Wood, and the planting remains immature. It is now a joint venture between Castle Howard and Kew Gardens and is managed by a charity called the Castle Howard Arboretum Trust, which was established in 1997. It was opened to the public for the first time in 1999. A new visitor centre opened in 2006.