Seeing How the Other Half Lives, Up Close and Personal

Impressive iron gates in front of a large propertyAnd while we’re on the subject of Downton Abbey…

First-time visitors to the area often wonder if, like Newport, Rhode Island, some of the “summer cottages” here in the Hamptons are available for tours.

Sadly, that isn’t something you can do here unless there happens to be a special fundraiser house tour like the one offered by the Southampton Historical Museum (scheduled this year for May 30, 2020), or the Designer Show House, benefiting Stony Brook/Southampton Hospital, which is open in July and August.

However, if the length of your visit permits, it IS possible to visit some really spectacular mansions without leaving Long Island.

Many years before we opened A Butler’s Manor, I worked for the Southampton Chamber of Commerce and fielded dozens of phone calls each day from people seeking tourist information. One of the questions I got about once a week was “Are the Hamptons the setting for The Great Gatsby?”

At the time of Fitzgerald’s iconic book, transportation options were far more limited and slower than today (although, Manhattan guests who regularly visit during the summer and arrive on Friday nights might argue with me). Rather, the Long Island setting fictionalized as “West Egg and East Egg” are located on the North Shore in Nassau County, and although many of the original houses of the Gilded Age have been demolished or repurposed, there still exist several which are open to the public and are well worth the additional trip to visit. Here’s a great article on who, what and where you can go to get your fix on how the other half lived!

And PS: If you weren’t able to join us for last month’s Downton Abbey Weekend, watch this space: we are coordinating with the Southampton Historical Museum to offer Chris’s presentation at Rogers Mansion sometime in May. It will be open to locals and guests alike…details to follow!

One man’s trash?

Many people enjoy ogling the “summer cottages” (read: mansions) in the Hamptons, and one of the most popular way to fund-raise out here is to offer house tours that allow the rest of us to view the interior of some of these houses up close and personal. (Two such house tours coming up this summer are the Westhampton Garden Club House Tour on July 10 and St. Ann’s Episcopal Church House Tour on August 2.)

Sometimes you might not be able to tour the estates, but you can own something that used to live on one. There are a couple of annual sales that highlight exactly this, namely Parrish Presents in late November that benefits the Parrish Art Museum, and the Decorators/ Designers/ Dealers Sale in June that benefits the Southampton Fresh Air Home. There are also a number of cool thrift or consignment shops here in the Hamptons, some of which we highlight on our suggested itinerary. Much of the merchandise, especially in the benefit shops such as LVIS (Ladies Village Improvement Society), ARF (Animal Rescue Fund) and the Southampton Hospital Thrift Shop is especially fine. The reason? When the wealthy summer population of Southampton and East Hampton clean out their closets or redecorate their homes, they don’t post a curb alert on Craig’s List. They tell their staff to donate the stuff or get rid of it.

Chris and I have found literally hundreds of our treasures at A Butler’s Manor through such resources.

One of the perks of Chris’s former profession as a butler are his connections with others who serve or otherwise service the estate district (i.e., contractors, landscape designers). More than once, he’s gotten a head’s up over stuff being discarded from someone’s mansion or the grounds surrounding them. (Just ask him about the various trees and shrubs that he’s rescued when various people decide to re-landscape!) Recently we scored a windfall when one of our friends, the estate manager for a large property here, was asked to broker the sale of some garden statuary since his principal was redesigning her landscape. Here are two of the three “girls” –full-sized bronze statues, signed and numbered –who now grace our garden! From the same estate, a set of four musical cherubs on plinths, a little more classical in style, will also find a new home at A Butler’s Manor, as soon as we can figure our where they will live.

Another recent find was due to the sharp eyes of my friend Joyce, who volunteers at LVIS in East Hampton. Joyce spotted a gorgeous roll of upholstery fabric that had been donated that is going to be perfect for our dining room chairs later this summer! I’ve found great vases at Elsa’s Ark Thrift Shop in Southampton, and cool clothes at Around Again, on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Colette Consignments, in Southampton and Sag Harbor, features designer clothes, shoes and accessories.  And when they say “gently used,” they mean it. I’ve seen dresses in the shop with the original price tags still attached. I guess their original owners decided to wear something else to the benefit.

Chris and I figure we’re doing our part to go green and keep excess stuff out of our landfills. It’s a very satisfying way to reduce-reuse-recycle!

Quote of the Day: We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly. — Clement of Alexandria