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Time for a Peek Behind the Hedges

Fri, 11/17/2023 - 17:21
The East Hampton Historical Society's annual house tour has two Devon Colony Italianate villas, including Michael and Sukey Novogratz's house, which is a mix of original details and modern style.
Durell Godfrey

There are many ways to work off a Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey trots, walks on the beach with the dog, pickleball -- but none are as fun as a good old peek behind the hedges into some of the most notable and notorious houses in East Hampton. 

That's right, it's time for the East Hampton Historical Society's annual House and Garden Tour, complete with a benefit cocktail party at the Maidstone Club on Friday and a self-guided walkabout on Saturday from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

By now, the buzz has probably already peaked around Grey Gardens, which will be part of the tour and is sporting a splashy renovation, but the rest of the stops have similarly colorful histories and chains of ownership. We are, after all, talking about East Hampton. 

Some properties may be familiar to the party set from previous appearances at benefits and some preview cocktail parties of their own. Other sites have hosted private parties known for their excess. A house on Oceanview Lane in the Devon Colony, owned by the billionaire philanthropists Michael and Sukey Novogratz, is in the latter category. It held one bash in the summer of 2021 that was so lavish it attracted the attention of The New York Post, which noted the entertainment included Miley Cyrus and Yola singing live in the backyard.  

According to a history of the area, the stucco house (one of four in the Devon Colony) was built from 1909 to 1910 for William Cooper Procter, the Procter in Procter and Gamble. Procter was from Cincinnati and used it as a summer residence.

After visiting Montauk on a hunting trip in 1906, he and three other comrades, Richmond Levering, Joseph Rawson, and William C. Rowe, bought 1,000 acres in the Amagansett Highlands to form the Devon Colony. Some Bonackers took to calling the neighborhood Soap Hill in reference to the Ivory soap that helped fund its purchase. The men also formed the Devon Yacht Club.

Another Devon house, originally known as Red Roof for its roof tiles and subsequently dubbed Windy Dune after the 1938 Hurricane blew off those tiles, is on the tour. Durell Godfrey

Procter's house was one of the four original "cottages" in the colony built at the same time for his fellow founders. Another Devon house, originally known as Red Roof for its roof tiles and subsequently dubbed Windy Dune after the 1938 Hurricane blew off those tiles, is also on the tour.

The men used a Cincinnati architectural firm, Tietig and Lee, which gave them an "Italianate villa style" construction of stucco over concrete. James Hildreth, a building contractor here, supervised the construction. The Procter house was designed with a total of 12 bedrooms, rivaling the size of other Long Island mansions of the time. 

While the current residents have put their own surprising and artful touches throughout the house and grounds, they said they have always loved its history "and tried to respect it with everything they have done." This includes incorporating the house's original Stickley furniture into a design that also has modern and beachy touches. They bought the house to raise their family, now grown, and feel it "truly is home."

The eclectic look of the place, a layering of history and design periods with modern and contemporary art, feels very current and fresh. A tiger statue crouched in wait on the front porch sets the irreverent and light mood right at the doorstep. Inside, a traditional staircase gives way to a zebra rug in the foyer with lighting from some of the original sconces. 

A heavy and dark antique wood pedestal table in the kitchen is matched with Panton white molded plastic chairs. Rather than clashing, the two styles merge to suggest a kind of hybrid sunflower or something similarly airy and striking. The 12 bedrooms have a similar joyful and irreverent approach in their decoration, one with a tribute to water and waves and another awash in a wallpapered bed of roses. 

Anyone looking for inspiration or insight into how to incorporate family heirlooms or "brown furniture" into a lighter and more modern scheme will enjoy a stroll through this compendium of styles and periods.

Grey Gardens has been completely re-envisioned by Liz Lange, a fashion designer and owner of the clothing and home design company Figue. Grey Gardens has been completely re-envisioned by Liz Lange, a fashion designer and owner of the clothing and home design company Figue. Pascal Chevallier Photos/Courtesy of Veranda Magazine and Styled by Hilary Robertson

About Grey Gardens, we certainly know its famous previous residents: the Edies (Big and Little), followed by Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee. Now it has been completely re-envisioned by Liz Lange, a fashion designer and owner of the clothing and home design company Figue. But the historical society also notes its 19th-century Shingle Style architecture, currently set off with "glamorous interiors" and "exuberant gardens and outdoor rooms."

Ted Hartley is opening up his ocean and pond front house that he used to share with Dina Merrill, another celebrity from the South Fork's golden age. The modernist structure was built in 1960 and remodeled in 2011 by Alexander McIlvaine. Overlooking Wiborg's Beach, the house also has dramatic sunset views from its extensive decks. Mr. Hartley, who built a studio on the property to paint in, is also a former fighter pilot, investment banker, actor, and film producer. His wife, who died in 2017, was an heiress, actress, businesswoman, and philanthropist. 

The house of Charlie and Mary Jane Brock has played host to many a summer party, usually on its Main Street grounds. The historical society tour offers a look inside the three-story house, which was built in 1799 as the first Shingle Style house in the village. Its gambrel roof was the second such use of the style on all of Long Island. Originally used by East Hampton's postmaster as a residence and site to distribute the mail, in the early 20th century it was May Groot Manson's house. She was one of the town's leading suffragists and hosted the East Hampton Garden Club's first plant sale there in the 1910s.

Friday's party is $250 per person, but includes tickets to the tour on Saturday. The tour itself costs $85 in advance and $100 on the day of the tour. Tickets can be purchased through the website, by calling 631-324-6850, or in person at Clinton Academy tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 to 3.

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