We’re on the tour!

Columbine, ajuga, and viburnum in bloom

Whew. With Memorial Day receding into the rearview mirrors of our guests, we are now looking ahead to this weekend, when we join six other historic properties for the Southampton Historical Museum’s 6th Annual “Insider’s View: Tour of Southampton Homes.”

This is a fabulous tour–almost all of the properties are in Southampton’s Estate District. The only other non-residential property is the iconic St. Andrew’s on the Dunes Church, which features a number of Tiffany windows and has an extensive history worth the visit.

In our case, only the ground floor and our gardens will be on the tour, so as not to disturb guests in residence. We are hosting the refreshment stop, so I’ve been baking hundreds of our signature Chocolate Chip/Oatmeal/M&M cookies in anticipation of 200+ people.


Cookies await!
As of this morning, rooms here at the Manor and tickets for the event are still available. Come out for the weekend and visit them (and us)!
Quote of the Day: A face is like the outside of a house, and most faces, like most houses, give us an idea of what we can expect to find inside. —Loretta Young

Building that summer home in the Hamptons?

A recently-built “cottage” overlooking Halsey Neck Pond,
viewed from the pavillion at Cooper’s Beach

Many of our guests at A Butler’s Manor love to wander through the estate districts and look at the mansions on their large manicured multi-acre lots. These “south of the highway” neighborhoods–south of Montauk Highway, a.k.a. ocean side–are definitely the dominion of the so-called 1%. And early spring is an especially good time to traverse the wide, tree-lined streets and gawp at what a few tens of millions of dollars can buy you, because the ubiquitous European privet hedges that enclose most of them are deciduous and are only now starting to bud out with leaves. Which means you can actually see some of these incredible, enormous summer homes.

Older Shingle-style “cottage,” more traditional to Southampton area,
Cooper’s Neck Lane

(Somehow I don’t think the estate owners who ordered the hedging to be planted considered that for year round privacy, they’d be better served with the evergreen variety –the common name of which, I was amused to find out, is California privet.)

Assuming the economic slowdown of the last half-dozen years even affected the very wealthy, judging by the amount of construction underway on the oceanfront and some of our tonier streets, it is in their rear-view mirrors now.I took a drive around town today and was interested to see that after years of “new traditional” shingle-style building (here’s an example), it seems modern design  in the Hamptons is making a comeback. These necessarily are complete teardowns, and some of the ones I cruised by today were in full frenetic construction mode, presumably because their owners hope to enjoy this summer in the house.

This house, located just east of Cooper’s Beach, is reportedly 1/10 of a mile long


Front view of new house under construction, Meadow Lane,
immediately west of Cooper’s Beach


Same house, from beach. (Note all the workers.)

Of course, housing design is part personal style and taste and part trend, and trends are often cyclical (can we say “platform shoes?”). There was quite a rash of modern houses built in the Hamptons in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the south-of-the-highway Bridgehampton/Sagaponack area, as farmers sold off tracts of land, opening the area to what some feel was a period of unrestricted development. (The concept of unrestricted development was the primary reason tiny Sagaponack became an incorporated village.)

A beach house from the last “modern era?”

And truthfully, at a certain income level, you are able to build your house to more closely reflect your taste and personality. Calvin Klein tore down this bizarre, oceanfront castle

to build this:

Calvin Klein’s new digs

The state of oceanfront building in Southampton has hit some snags, as FEMA regulations following Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy have imposed rules that new construction be raised on pilings, stilts, or other such forms. Net result: the mansions previously capped at 35 feet above the original grade in the flood zone now threaten to be much higher, thereby impeding the views of other homeowners in the area. The house being built on Meadow Lane, pictured above, will reportedly be 53 feet above grade upon completion. Or witness the imposing house in the photo below, currently under construction on the bay side of Meadow Lane. The land in the distance, on the other side of the water, is the Shinnecock Indian Reservation.

But I digress.

As you see, even though I’ve lived here twenty-three years, I too love to rubberneck in the estate district. I love the rolling green lawns that spread from the hedges to the houses, set far back on deep lots. I love the stately gates and long driveways. I love the specimen trees that dot the landscaping. And I love what I imagine the views from their windows must be.

Ah, to view the vast array of extreme residences and dream of winning the lotto, or discovering that you are distantly related to one of these billionaires and may figure in their will…

But until that happens, remember you always have a home in the Hamptons at A Butler’s Manor!

Quote of the Day: If a man happens to find himself, he has a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life.—James A. Michener 

Unearthing a new Pollock painting?

A “new” Jackson Pollock orginal?

Artists have long been attracted to the East End of Long Island, often citing the unique quality of the light, and as long as there have been artists, there have been those who follow them. The hamlet of the Springs, part of East Hampton town, was the preferred venue for a number of artists who lived there and gained fame in the 1940s through the 1960s, among them Willem de Koonig, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollock

Pollock’s “painting shoes” on display at the
Pollock/Krasner House in East Hampton
Sadly, Pollock died in 1956 while driving drunk on the winding wooded roads that are part of the Spring’s charm. The Pollock/Krasner House and studio where he and his wife Lee Krasner lived and worked is now owned and maintained by Stony Brook University, which operates tours of the property during the summer or by appointment. Many of our visitors to the area seek out the tiny property, where the biggest lure is the floor of Pollock’s studio, which looks like one of his iconic canvasses.
Recently, newspapers reported that a previously unknown work by Jackson Pollock has been unearthed in California. According to Mark Palmer of the John Webber Agency, representing the owners who wish to remain anonymous, it had been donated to a New York thrift shop, where it was picked up by a collector, then another collector, then finally the present owners, who live in San Diego.
If the painting is real, it could be worth $160 million.
If it is real.
I am certainly no Pollock expert–hardly even an aficionado. I’d agree it looks rather like his studio floor. In fact, one of the “proofs” cited as provenance says that the authors of the report traveled to Pollock’s studio and laid the painting on the floor, matching up the paint spatters. Really? Surely that would presume that the painting was done very late in his career since the floor–not being an intentional work of art–was certainly not cleaned in between projects. Yet the painting is presumably circa 1947, some nine years before Pollack’s untimely death. Matching up squiggles seems like a stretch. Another “proof” cites the microscopic presence of birch leaves, which reportedly did exist on the property, which to my mind provides a better argument.  Analysis of paint spatters, colors, etc. are more precise and are presented as part of the proof of provenance.

The jury, as they say, is still out.
On your next visit to the Hamptons, check out the Pollock/Krasner House and see what you think. More information on touring the Pollack/Krasner property can be found here.
Me, I think I’d spend $160 million on a waterfront property first.
Quote of the Day: Contrary to general belief, an artist is never ahead of his time but most people are far behind theirs. —Edgard Varese

You mean the Hamptons are still busy after Labor Day??

On Labor Day, one of our guests stopped by
the kitchen at 11:05 to say she would be checking out late, after she’d had her
run and a shower. I assured her that we had downstairs facilities for her to
shower and change, but she needed to have her bags out of her room at our standard 11:00
AM check out time because we needed to clean it for arriving guests.
Her eyebrows went up. “You mean you have people coming in today?”
There is a common misconception among many of our summer
visitors that somehow the Hamptons roll up like a yoga mat, put away until next
Memorial Day. That the oceans somehow turn arctic cold on Tumbleweed Tuesday,
and that all the shops and restaurants close and move to their winter locations
in West Palm Beach.
Ah, but you and I know differently. With the advent of
autumn, the Hamptons become an entirely different type of destination. Summer
lingers on through September with temperate weather and still-warm oceans and
bays. And correspondingly, different types of visitors come to appreciate our
unique beauty and charm.
First of all, the oft-forgotten former economic engine of
the Hamptons – farming – revs its motor as the leaves begin to turn colors.
While summer guests appreciate our farm stands, it is fall where they really
shine as the harvest gets underway. Corn, zucchini, sun-ripened tomatoes,
potatoes, greens, squash and much more overflow their bushel baskets. And
speaking of squash, beginning mid-September, nothing can beat our East End
farms for agritourism. Pumpkin picking? Bring the family and grab a red wagon and
spend hours at Hank’s Pumpkintown…the kids enjoying the slides and forts and
climb-aboard tractors before picking out the perfect enormous pumpkin in the
field. Or opt for an elegant cream or sage-colored pumpkin from the flatbed
parked at the Milk Pail, where you can choose to do your picking from one of the Halsey family’s twenty different varieties of apples in the adjacent orchard and pick up
a container of the freshest local apple cider available. You don’t have to be a
kid to enjoy a corn maze, and one of the best is to be found on Horsemill Road at Fairview Farm, where the “maize” (a pun on Indian corn) is carefully cut each year into a
design that, viewed from the air, is a work of art. Choose from almost a dozen
different trivia categories to help you navigate the maize. Questions are
multiple choice; your answer will determine whether you should turn right or
left when faced with such an intersection.
Fall means cooler temperatures, when outdoor activities
often benefit from a bike ride is a perfect outdoor choice. And with beach
traffic nonexistent, a perfect cycling excursion might be to wend your way through the
estate districts where wide, tree-lined streets are almost empty of drivers. Rent
a boat from Strong’s Marine and spend a day exploring Peconic or Shinnecock
Bay, or hire a kayak and paddle through places like Georgica Pond or Northwest
Creek, where your only company may be the egrets and ospreys. Fall is also the
perfect time to hike Mashomack Preserve, the Nature Conservancy’s vast 2100-acre
property that comprises nearly a third of Shelter Island.
And then, of course, there are our wineries. The harvesting of grapes is a big event (Wolffer Estate’s Harvest Party sells out every
year) and all the East End wineries are in their full glory. Look for wine tasting
events, weekend entertainment in many of the South Fork’s three and the North
Fork’s almost fifty vineyards.
For well over 100 years, artists have flocked to the East
End to paint, and with the fall comes that season of light where you can
completely understand their motivation. The sun, lower on the horizon, casts a
peerless golden glow over our farm fields and dunes. It’s Mother Nature’s
blessing on the East End.
Fall means festivals, notably SeptemberFest in Southampton
(September 26-28), the Montauk Seafood Festival (September 13-14), Harborfest, the celebration of Sag
Harbor’s whaling history (also September 13-14), and the San Gennaro feast in Hampton Bays (October 4-5). Check out the Arts and Crafts fair in Westhampton Beach (October 11-12), the Fine Art show in Bridgehampton, or the Chili Cookoff in
Hampton Bays.All feature events and activities for the entire family.
And oh yes, our restaurants are still open. As are our
shops. Parking is easier, and so is traffic, compared to steamy August
In short, whether you’ve experienced the Hamptons during our
summer heyday or never before, the season of plenty is a wonderful time to visit!

What’s missing at the beach in the Hamptons

One of the things that sets the Hamptons’ ocean beaches apart is the fact that, from Southampton to Amagansett, there is nothing commercial on or adjacent to them. No on-the-pier oceanfront restaurants where the waves splash against the pylons (sigh). No t-shirt shops. Nowhere to purchase suntan lotion or a hat or flip flops or sand toys. No free-standing burger joints with sand on the floor, no to-go windows to grab a slice of pizza, no place to pick up a six pack of beer.

This gives our beaches a different feel from those further west on Long Island, or the Jersey Shore, or for that matter, the Southern Californian beaches of my youth. It also tends to keep them cleaner, because unless you pre-planned your sundry and culinary needs prior to your beach excursion (perhaps grabbing a sandwich at Schmidt’s Market, or the Village Cheese Shop, or the Golden Pear), your only dining option is the snack bar at Southampton’s Coopers Beach or East Hampton’s Main Beach, and there are plenty of trash cans nearby them.
Instead, you get lots of this:

 (The owners of that “cottage” would REALLY like you to believe that it’s their private beach…but it’s not. ALL the beach is public. Yay!)

 And, if you walk a few hundred feet down from the main public beach, maybe even this:

Now that’s what I call a pristine beach.
And this is what I call a relaxing summers’ day at the beach.
So, what’s missing: the trash, the traffic, the hecticness of a continual line of vehicles driving past (hey, they’re all on Montauk Highway), the tiki bar with what sounds like a frat party being enacted around it…
Doesn’t that sound like a loss you can live with?
What else is missing? You.
Wanna come join us?
Quote of the Day:  Beach Rules: Soak up the sun. Ride the waves. Breathe the salty air. Feel the breeze. Build sandcastles. Rest, relax, reflect. Collect seashells. Bare feet required.  

Soothing the stressed soul, part 1

Picture this: A warm afternoon. A shaded deck overlooking a vanishing perspective of grapevine rows. The sun, softened by afternoon sky, warming the cascaded fruit tucked beneath the copious green leaves. An occasional warm sigh of breeze stirring your hair. A comfortable deck chair. The smooth slender stem of a cool glass of wine in hand. The fat doughnut notes of a mellow saxophone grounded by a rumbling standing bass.
Relaxed yet?
This is one of my most favorite ways to end a summer day. 
I love that many of our local wineries have developed an experience more likely to engage all of your senses than simply a wine tasting, and that tasting rooms are increasingly open later on weekend nights. Here on the South Fork, weather permitting, Duck Walk Vineyards in Water Mill features live music on the back patio Friday night 5-8 PM, where you can catch a sunset over the vineyard (!!) and toast the end of the workweek, as well as on Saturday and Sunday afternoons 1-5 PM. Chris and I often suggest Duck Walk’s weekend jazz afternoons as a great option for the end of a day spent rambling round the Hamptons, since it’s a scant 3 miles from A Butler’s Manor. Bring your new favorite wine back to enjoy on the patio around the pool before changing for dinner.
Wolffer Estate Vineyard features two venues: their gorgeous main tasting room on Sagg Main Road in Sagaponack, where Twilight Thursdays are held each Thursday 5-8 PM, and the Wine Stand, around the corner on Montauk Highway, for Sunset Friday and Saturdays, 5-8 PM. Both locations feature the option to purchase wines by the glass or bottle, as well as cheese and charcuterie plates. Live music is featured at both locations. Thursdays hew closer to a jazz format whereas the weekends feature a more eclectic blend.
Hey, but I’m visiting midweek! you cry. What’s going on when I’m there?
Through the end of June (so far!) Wolffer also has extracurricular events on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Main Tasting Room. On Tuesdays, become a local at Locals Night, when 4-8 PM, glasses of wine are half price and for a small fee between 6-8 PM you can participate in the following activity:
  • June 10:  Chocolate Paired and Made with Wine 
  • June 17: Wine-Themed Poetry Night
  • June 24: ROSÉ WEEK: Rosé in the Raw–Wolffer rosé wines paired with shellfish, at the Wine Stand. ($25 per person in advance, $30 at the door)
On Wednesdays between 6-7 PM, educate yourself on all things oenophilian. For a small fee, enjoy a themed tasting led by knowledgeable experts:
  • June 4: The Wines of Alsace and the Loire Valley
  • June 11: Sparkling Wines
  • June 18: Tasting Techniques
  • June 25: Special Edition: Big Rosé World ($25 in advance, $30 at the door)
And lastly, a summer weekend offering that teams wine tasting with bicycling through the beauty of the backcountry between these two South Fork vineyards:  Pour and Pedal offers a 4-5 hour tour (and they supply the bikes!) which begins at Wolffer and ends with lunch at Duck Walk. How virtuous would you feel after that tour?
steady stick wine holders From RedEnvelope.comOkay, for those of you who’d prefer to unwind at little farther from the madding crowd, here’s a variation to picture: Beachside in a sand chair with a mansion at your back and the surf before your toes. A cold bottle of wine in these cool holders. Your fave chill-out tunes on your iPod…
So aren’t you just THERE, already, in your mind? I sure am.
Quote of the Day: There’s never enough time to do all the nothing that you want. –Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

La-La Land

Born and raised in Southern California,  I know well the moniker “La-La Land” to describe Los Angeles (also the old joke about California being the granola capital of the country: home of flakes, fruits and nuts, which somehow, hmmm,  I’ve never found too funny).

And then I moved to the Hamptons.

Chris and I joke with guests of A Butler’s Manor that when it comes to real estate, LA has nothing on the Hamptons: THIS is “la-la land,” the land of unreal estate. I call the full color, perfect-bound magazines of listings that the real estate companies slather all over town “the funny pages,” because it’s not your market unless you happen to be in that 0.01 percentile we all keep hearing about.

Now granted, the real estate market here in the Hamptons also took a bit of a hit during the Great Recession of 2008-2009…it actually looked like we wouldn’t again see deals like the 2005 sale of Burnt Point in Wainscott ($45 million, cash) or the 2007 sale to financier Ron Baron of the 40-acre De Menil Carpenter estate on Further Lane in East Hampton ($103 million, a national record) ever again.

The local housing market for the rest of us may be resetting itself into more realistic territory, though I admit that much of the country would still experience sticker shock to know that there isn’t a cabin to be had east of the Shinnecock Canal for under $400,000. But as this article points out, unreal estate is still out there in case this is the week you win the lottery.

What boggles the mind is that in many cases, the new owner who shells out close to $30 million for his manse by the sea will probably throw another few mil into it to make it “livable.” Or even knock it down and rebuild it completely. That’s what Calvin Klein is doing with the property he bought on Meadow Lane in 2003 (though in his case, I believe whatever he builds on his oceanfront property will be an improvement on the house he tore down, which could be described as a castle built by a committee).

It just goes to show, there’s enough money in the world…just really poor distribution.

But it is sure fun to see!

Quote of the day: It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness. —Thomas Jefferson


First day of Autumn — hooray!! Not that the weather necessarily tells the story. Four of our guests are at the beach today, and temperatures are expected to be in the upper 70’s. Though that it slated to change tomorrow, with slightly cooler temps scheduled for the rest of the week.

A little chill in the early morning air? Dark skies at 5:30 AM? Pink clouds as the sun comes up? I love it. I love fall, and all the trappings…and I love the sense of calm that pervades the Hamptons as Fall settles in. Gone is the frenetic summer crowd, desperate to pack every second of fun into their weekend, worried about whether the party is starting somewhere without them. It is so much easier to relax when you appreciate that the hours when you can wear shorts are more limited. I’ve decorated the mantle for fall; I’ll add pumpkins in October. I just can’t let Halloween encroach on fall just yet…

And there is still so much to do. Up next weekend, Sept 28 & 29, is SEPTEMBERFEST, a celebration of arts and music and history and food in Southampton Village, beginning with a kickoff party on Friday night featuring the band New Life Crisis. Beginning at 10 AM on Saturday, there will be street musicians at various spots on Main Street, Job’s Lane, and Agawam Park, Taste of the Hamptons and a chowder contest in the park, a farmer’s market on the grounds of the Parrish Art Museum, arts and crafts activities, historical demonstrations, hayrides, rides in Wells Fargo’s iconic stagecoach, concerts, art shows, and much more. The village will be HOPPING! Come visit and enjoy it!

Actually, the Parrish Art Museum has vacated the property on Job’s Lane, and will celebrate its grand opening in its brand new quarters in Water Mill the weekend of November 11.  Owned by the village, the grand old building that housed the art museum for over 110 years will continue to be a cultural hub for Southampton. And speaking of new tenants, the old Rogers Memorial Library was sold late this summer. It’s rumored that, following restorations to the historic Queen Anne structure, it will reopen possibly as retail space. And, drum roll….Pottery Barn has signed a lease on the grand corner building on Main Street and Hampton Road that housed Saks Fifth Avenue for 60 years. It will be great to have the beautiful building that anchors the village occupied once more!

We’ve had some fun shops come to town this year, and with a little more room to breathe this week, I wandered downtown to check them out. There’s a decided British note in the air in Southampton with shops such as Jack Wills and Grahame Fowler joining Ralph Lauren downtown. (Me, being an Anglophile, very much likes this, of course.) It looks like Ralph’s current line is very equestrian, always a great look, but for the real deal, look for your barn coat at Horse Haven on Hampton Road. And of course, there’s lots of end-of-season sale action happening.

September is definitely the best time to be in the Hamptons!


Art Appreciation

I’m so excited. We have a very cool Aussie designer and master blogger staying with us at A Butler’s Manor right now. She is here because she loves all things Hamptons/Cape Cod, and she has a design business in Queensland where she sells a lot of things that look like they grow here. I already follow her blog. I aspire to her daily blog activity for either Chatter From the Manor, or In My Words, my writer-persona blog. (In my spare time!) In point of fact, she’s in New York to attend a blogging conference. Until she told me that, I had no idea there was such a thing!

It’s been a big month for art events. The second weekend of July was the massive ArtHamptons fair, and last weekend was art Southampton, both held in separate locations inside a huge, air conditioned luxury “tent” (well, it qualified as a tent because it wasn’t there last week and won’t be there tomorrow, but this structure had glass fire doors, a bar and a snack bar). I dropped by to see what was on offer at the second show, which was modern art from dealers from all over the world, and was impressed by the scope of the show. What was particularly nice was that, unlike most art or antiques events held out in the Hamptons, both events offered extended gallery hours, the latter until 10 PM most of the four nights it was open. This is a novel concept, as most events force visitors to choose: Beach? Shopping? Special Event? during daylight hours. It’s nice to be able to fit it all in!

On a smaller, more local scale, Art in the Park was held the third weekend of July in Agawam Park over Saturday and Sunday. Art in the Park is sponsored by the Southampton Artists’ Association, who also hold a number of shows each year at the Southampton Cultural Center. No bar or air conditioning here; just a true village art festival featuring some extensive local talent. And there’s plenty of it.

Just in case you thought the Hamptons were just all about the beach!

Simple and free!

Sometimes the best things to do truly are the simplest. Last night, after all the guests at A Butler’s Manor had left for their respective evening plans, Chris and I packed a  bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers and went to the beach to watch the sun go down. True, on Southampton’s beaches you won’t see a sunset over the water, nor–since our air quality is so good–will you get the brilliant oranges and reds of a Southern California sunset (which is, alas, caused by smog). Instead, the colors are pure blues and pinks, in wispy clouds over a steely ocean.

And almost nobody else is there. After the need for sunscreen diminishes, the beach is the quietest place in the Hamptons.

And the best part is that it’s free, because after 5:00 PM, beach parking regulations don’t apply. And at Cooper’s Beach, the snack bar stays open until at least 6:00, so you can grab a burger or a wrap there.

Speaking of free, a visit to a farmers market is a great treat on a summer day. From late spring until fall, there are farmers markets somewhere in the Hamptons daily from Wednesdays through Sundays. Hamptons.com has a pretty comprehensive article that outlines who, what, when and where here.

Of course, the farmstands out here are numerous and divine, and they’re (mostly!) open every day. Closest to us, right around the corner on land that was once owned by the same family (Jagger) that also owned the property we now call A Butler’s Manor is tiny Hank’s Farm Stand, selling primarily berries…strawberries are just finishing up, and raspberries are coming up. At a farmstand you can’t miss the connection between the fertile land and the farmer who cultivates it. A good comprehensive list of area farmstands can be found here. Often, visitors to the Hamptons tend to forget its farming and fishing origins and are often only vaguely aware that both livelihoods are still very much in existence. (BSP [Blatant Self Promotion!] alert: It is precisely in that setting that my novel Blood Exposure is set, available now on Kindle. “Oh really, what’s it about,” you say? Check it out here.)

In fact, having made myself hungry, I’m off to pick up some fresh veggies for tomorrow morning’s frittata.  And I’m planning another picnic on the beach…

Quote of the Day: They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. –Ronald Reagan