More than 20 years ago, when Barbara Macklowe first walked through the front door of a house on West End Road in East Hampton, near where Georgica Pond is let out to the Atlantic, she wasn’t immediately sold. Roger H. Bullard, the architect of the Maidstone Club, designed the original part of the house in 1926 as an auxiliary building on the adjacent Ellery S. James estate. In 1962, the James land was divided and it became a waterfront estate of its own. It was owned for many years by Martin Revson, a member of the Revlon family. By the early 1990s, it was again for sale.
Ms. Macklowe had long dreamed of owning waterfront property, but, she said, she never imaged that she and her husband, Lloyd Macklowe, could afford such luxury. “It was not a pretty house. The interior was not to my liking,” Ms. Macklowe said when we visited in late August.
But when she first ascended the main staircase and looked out, the view from the second floor was unlike anything she had ever seen. “The dual view of Georgica Pond and the ocean was totally magical. I told my husband it would be my dream come true,” she said. Of the several places Ms. Macklowe now calls home, including apartments in New York City and Palm Beach, Fla., East Hampton, which she comes to year round, is her “favorite place on earth.”
The Macklowes bought the six-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bath house in 1992 and immediately brought in Pietro Cicognani and the late Ann Kalla, New York architects whom they knew understood and appreciated old houses, and Ben Krupinski, the East Hampton contractor, to breathe new life into it.
They completely redesigned the interior, replaced the slate roof with shake shingles, replaced the stucco on the exterior, and painted the trim teal blue. They also replaced 1960s-era sliding glass doors with “beautiful wooden doors,” reminiscent, Ms. Macklowe noted, of an English country estate.
With help from Ms. Kalla and Edmund Hollander, a well-known New York landscape architect, new trees were planted and a new garden installed. Seven years later, after they added a garage, they reconfigured the driveway to resemble a flowing stream. Richard Lucas, a professional gardener, was hired, and a succession of blooms — from wisteria and peonies to roses and hydrangeas and a dozen or more — appear from April to September.
The couple own the Macklowe Gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, which specializes in Art Nouveau, estate jewelry, and other antiques, which made it possible for them to enjoy what Ms. Macklowe called the “creative process of self-decorating.” They relied on a combination of modern and antique furnishings and did not use a decorator. Over time, Ms. Macklowe’s photographs — bright blooms, abstract blocks of color, and portraits from her travels in India — went up on many of the walls. An outstanding collection of iron folk art figurines and American ceramics decorate the downstairs family room. Ms. Macklowe describes the aesthetic as simple, luxurious, and warm. “There’s a certain simplicity to this house,” she said. “Everything was thought out very carefully.”
The newly married couple had started their antiques business in 1966 with a $300 investment and little else. “It’s really a great American success story,” said Ms. Macklowe, who grew up in Brooklyn. During a generation when many women stayed at home with their children, she worked six days a week. Married for 49 years, the couple has two children, a daughter, Amanda, a son, Benjamin, and two grandchildren, Sonia and Henry. Eight years ago, Benjamin Macklowe took over the business, and Ms. Macklowe retired, although her husband continues there part-time. “I stepped out of my shoes so that my son could fill them,” Ms. Macklowe said.
When it comes to the East Hampton house and garden, Ms. Macklowe said she is always investing in their longevity. She credits being careful as the key. “We’re always improving the house. We never leave it alone,” she said. One summer they added a pergola, rather than continue to drag outdoor umbrellas across the patio. At another time, they added a fourth guest bedroom to accommodate their growing family.
The ocean presents a dual-edged sword of great pleasure and danger, with storms changing the landscape of the beach from year to year and the annual threat of hurricanes. Though the house is set back from the sea, well past the dunes, Ms. Macklowe has seen the beach come and go. Following Hurricane Sandy last fall, the steps leading down to the sand had to be replaced.
“One year you have a wide beach and the next year it’s a little narrower,” she said, gazing out at the water. “But for the most part we’ve been very, very lucky.”