Getting ready for the holidays

Chris and I love Christmas. And we love a house that celebrates the season. I have to admit: I have never lived in a place where I didn’t know even before I moved in exactly where I’d set up the Christmas tree. We start decorating the day after Thanksgiving, and it usually takes several days to do. The division of labor is clear: He does the outside stuff, I do the inside stuff. We both do the Christmas tree. Look carefully at the picture to the right — there’s Chris up in a tree, stringing lights in the large evergreen next to the car park. (Boy, is THAT ever a job. Could we ever use a friend with a “cherry picker” to do that!)

As for me, cookies are baked, shopping is progressing, cards are in the works. I found a cool new site called that designs a music “station” around your personal preferences, and so I’ve created a station called Instrumental Holiday which plays in the background of my computer all day while I work.

So many people think that this time of year is “dead” in the Hamptons. They couldn’t be more wrong. True, the traffic looks nothing like a summer weekend — you can get to East Hampton in twenty minutes, instead of more than double that in August. But each village is decorated for the holidays, with lit Christmas trees flanking the sidewalks of the center of town. And lots to do.

Found some great stuff at last weekend’s Parrish Presents bazaar. This is one must-do event for anyone visiting over Thanksgiving weekend: an annual shopping event comprised of wonderful boutique items, a silent auction for incredible things like Chanel handbags and golf and spa weekends at La Costa, and — our favorite — a huge “tag sale” of gently used furniture and housewares, donated by the community (often by the very wealthy membership that supports the Parrish Art Museum). There is a benefit cocktail party on Friday night, then the event is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday for a modest $5 entrance fee. We scored tickets to the cocktail party, where we saw more of the Meadow Club membership (affluent residents of the Estate District) than we ever see all summer long.

The funniest thing is how this party plays out. In the queue of folks waiting for the doors to open at 5 PM, there is a vague odor of mothballs in the “country winter wear” (even if it’s Prada or Dolce Gabbana) likely unearthed for the first time this year. Few bother to check their coats. Everyone shoots straight past the (wonderful) exhibition in the museum itself, past the open bar and past catering staff proffering hors d’oeuvres, past the boutique and silent auction areas — straight for the tag sale, which occupies all of the old Rogers Memorial Library next door to the museum. The crowds pushing through the tag sale building resemble a queue on a Disney ride. Parrish staff are attaching red “SOLD” tags right and left for buyers who, in many cases, could afford to buy the whole building. Once the initial pass through the offerings is made, everyone seems to adjourn to pick up a drink and a nibble or two, make one more leisurely pass through the tag sale, before heading back into the museum where the boutique and bar are situated. It is a thoroughly enjoyable event. (And we came home with, among other things, a great slubbed silk chair and ottoman…yeah!)

Here in Southampton, a whole series of holiday-inspired events called Southampton: It’s A Wonderful Village are planned. This Saturday, for example, there are guided tours of the Historical Society’s Rogers Mansion, all decked out for the season…horse and buggy rides through the village…a parade of fire trucks, each decorated with lights, at dusk…a tree lighting of the enormous evergreen in Agawam Park (which they DO use a cherry picker to decorate!)…outdoor movies shown on the corner of Main and Job’s Lanes…lots of music, cookies, cider, and goodwill to men throughout. As soon as our guests are settled and concierged, I’ll be in the center of the village, enjoying the holiday spirit!

“The Oldest English Settlement in New York State”

The sign that greets visitors to the village of Southampton, located at the top of our road, states proudly that Southampton was established in 1640 and is the oldest English settlement in New York State. (Chris, of course, takes some proprietary satisfaction in this.) For me, I never pass that sign without a little jolt of amazement.

I make jokes to guests that back in California, if a structure is 50 years old, we knock it down (or an earthquake does the job for us) and build new. So when I first came out to the East End in 1992, I couldn’t get over the sheer volume of history made visible that existed here. One example: Built in 1648, Halsey House on South Main Street is the oldest house in Southampton, and in season, you can tour it. Careful preservation and conservation by the Southampton Historical Society has meant that when shingles, roof, or windows on the house have to be replaced, they are made and installed to period specifications. To a much lesser degree, A Butler’s Manor — built in the relatively recent year of 1860 — is designated a historic structure, which prevents us from altering the exterior of the house in any substantial way. (Fortunately we are free to update interior fixtures such as plumbing and electric!) When we had the house repainted a couple of years back, we had to clear it with the architectural review board.

Though the East End has lost some of its farmland…wealthy Wall Streeters have built some sprawling Mc Mansions where once potatoes grew… I am still pleased to note that others make every effort to preserve and rebuild some of our more historic structures. A case in point is the rebuilding of the old Presbyterian Manse on South Main Street. In Spring, they began demolition down to the studs inside, which apparently precipitates the difficult and costly process of lifting the house. Using massive steel beams and pillars made of stacked railroad ties, they raised the house up about six feet above grade in order to excavate a full basement beneath and pour all new foundations. Seeing a house that is probably 6,000 square feet lifted in one piece, and balanced there for a few weeks while brave souls work beneath it, is an amazing sight! The picture here shows the house, recently set back down and attached to its new foundation. Now they can reframe the interior walls, insulate and reshingle. And when the project is complete, the neighborhood will look…exactly as it always has. I love that. That continuity, that preserving a sense of place, is a special thing about the community that I have come to value.

Quote of the Day: Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever…For indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity. —John Ruskin


I mentioned last week that a recent guest categorized Southampton as the Hedge Capital of the US. Yes, locals make jokes about our estate district being called Hedgeville. In fact, a few years back, Foster’s Farm, one of the last farms in the village of Southampton gave up planting crops like corn and potatoes and instead planted privet. Like a hedge fund, they’re a hedge farm.

It’s true that the majority of the estate district is surrounded by tall, immaculately manicured rows of privet bushes, and some of those hedges are cut so exactingly that you’d swear they were really fuzzy green walls. I often tell guests that if you flew over the village in a plane, it would look like a rat maze. Now, in July, the privet is in bloom…pretty, slightly fragrant small cream-colored flower clusters called panicles. It has such a distinctive odor that I believe there is a men’s line of cologne called Privet.

However, while out and about yesterday, I saw a different form of privet hedge trimming. Laughing, I had to pull off the road to photograph it. This would be a privet caterpillar?? Someone sure has a sense of humor…and a nice sharp chain saw!

(By the way: If like me you like seeing the houses behind the hedges, the time to visit is anywhere from November to late April. The homeowners, who for the most part are not in residence then, probably aren’t aware that most privet varieties drop all their leaves in winter. Call it reverse leaf-peeping!)

Quote of the Day: A hedge between keeps friendships green. —Old French Proverb

A small town parade

Jamie, a recent guest, made a great observation about Southampton on his blog that if Greenwich, CT was considered the hedge fund capital of the US, then Southampton must be the hedge capital of the US…miles of manicured green fences around our fabled mansions, designed to keep the curious stares of the hoi polloi at bay. (An entertaining read, not the least because his blog is devoted to breakfasts! )
But today, July 4th, a whole different side of Southampton is in evidence, as the village holds the only Independence Day parade in the Hamptons. It steps off just feet from A Butler’s Manor at the train station, so cars line our usually uneventful street, crowds pass by the B&B on the sidewalk, beach chairs and coolers in hand, andin the garden over breakfast, you can hear the drum and bagpipe corps warming up before the 10 AM step off. This is a true small town parade, and it seemed today as though the whole small town turned out to watch it. Always, and appropriately, it is led by color guards and veterans representing each war, and I have to admit, I was teary because for the first time, there were no local WWII vets riding in the parade…only a decorated car with a sign “In Memory Of” paraded to remind us of the contribution of the Greatest Generation.

Still, the flags wave, and the crowds cheer, and the little kids dance at all of the various musical entries, be they bagpipe corps, a Dixieland band, or a vocal group perched on a borrowed flatbed truck. Floats are homemade and often pulled by the tractors of the local farmers (and those John Deeres are polished within an inch of their lives!), fire trucks of all vintages from the nearby villages fire up their sirens, horns, and bells, and every member of each of the Little League teams march in uniform. We have Minutemen in authentic (worsted wool!) costume who shoot their rifles and even fire the cannon to the delight of the crowds (excepting the dogs), but we also have representives of our town’s diversity, including the Shinnecock Indians in full costume, and a Latino organization called F.A.C.E.S. that fielded a dance troup that really makes you want to get up and dance!
It will never rival the Macy’s Day parade, but the Southampton Independence Day parade is small town Americana at its finest.
Quote of the Day: I can be myself here in this small town…and people let me be just what I want to be. —John Cougar Mellencamp

Group hug

We love it when guests enjoy themselves while visiting A Butler’s Manor. We especially love it when guests enjoy themselves over breakfast. And when guests make friends with other guests, laughter rings from the table, and everyone lingers long past the plates being cleared away, that is the best thing of all.

Today we had eight for breakfast (menu: Banana Decadence French Toast) — a young pair from Italy, eager to explore the beach on such a sunny day, two from Pennsylvania, celebrating an anniversary, a couple from the UK who were checking out after a week long stay, and a Long Island couple on a two-night “staycation” (a recently-coined term for a local getaway, as in: Need a break, no time to travel very far…how about a Hamptons B&B?). In spite of the promising day, six of the eight lingered over breakfast, sharing stories, laughter, and information. When they finally rose from the table to begin their respective days, the local couple had helped the British couple plan their last day on the Island…with suggestions for “upIsland” attractions en route to Newark Airport, from which their flight was to go out later tonight, and all of the guests had exchanged email addresses…and hugs! I love it!!

VILLAGE EATS: Featherstones, a new casual restaurant, opens this week on Job’s Lane in the space that most recently accommodated Birchwood on the Park (and before that, for years, Buckley’s Irish Pub). Scuttlebutt is that the owners have given the place quite a facelift. The menu promises to remain in the pub style of both previous iterations: burgers, appetizers, sandwiches, a variety of beers on draught — a great option for laid-back, casual dining. Also coming soon is a new organic market/cafe called Annie’s, on Nugent Lane across from the Post Office, where the much-missed George Martins used to be…The Driver’s Seat, on Job’s Lane, is finishing up a physical face-lift on the front of the restaurant…For the more trendy set, Sant Ambroeus and Savannas have reopened for the season; the former offers outdoor luncheon dining on Main Street (as well as their much-sought-after espresso bar and gelato counter in the front of the store)…Thyme & Again, on Windmill Lane, has vacated its village presence and joined its sister establishment Wild Thyme out on Noyac Road…The Village Cheese Shop is now The Village Gourmet Cheese Shoppe, under new ownership. I’ll be wandering in this week to see if I can find a nice Morbiere…

Quote of the Day: Some people weave burlap into the fabric of our lives, and some weave gold thread. Both contribute to make the whole picture beautiful and unique. — Anonymous

Taking advantage of beautiful weather!

I just got back from a walk into Southampton village. There’s nothing like a spring day — especially one after days of disheartening rain — to make you long to be outside. Up and down Main Street and Job’s Lane, restauranteurs had set up tables on the sidewalk in the open air, each set with a vase of spring flowers, and diners lounged in the chairs, reveling in the beautiful weather. I’m positive their lunch tasted better for the fact it was served outside! Similarly, many of the clothing stores had placed a basket or two of merchandise, or wheeled out a rack of clothing, in the front of their shops, encouraging sidewalk browsing. Other merchants couldn’t help but hang out in their doorways, enjoying the sun and the mild temperatures. Shoppers and walkers greeted each other as they passed. It felt like an impromptu street fair — we only needed some sidewalk entertainment to make it complete. The whole mood of the village was upbeat and as sunny as the sky above us.

Here at A Butler’s Manor, the magnolia’s spectacular pink flowers have begun to open in earnest, also encouraged by the sun. Soon the cherry tree will follow, and for a few weeks we will have a breathtaking mass of pink in the garden. We opened the pool on Wednesday, and while it is far from warm (-!!), just seeing the shimmering blue expanse makes it look as if we have our own perfect pond. And reminds me that summer is coming…soon, the lucky spell of warm weather forecast for this weekend will become the norm.
Quote of the day: Happiness is the result of making a bouquet of those flowers within reach. —Proverb
Kim Allen