Monday, October 22, 2012

Woodland weekend refuge

A view from La Formentera: The Woodland Refuge of Juan Montoya and Urban Karlsson. 2:30 PM, Saturday. Photo: JH.
Monday, October 22, 2012.  Beautiful autumn weekend after the Friday rains that washed the sidewalks and the roadways.

On Saturday, JH and I drove up to Putnam County to visit interior designer Juan Montoya at the house he shares with his partner Urban Karlsson. It was a great day to make the trip, which is about an hour by car from New York up the Palisades Parkway, because the autumn foliage is just about at its peak.
The autumn foliage on the Palisades Parkway ...
Crossing the Bear Mountain Bridge.
Last week Juan published a coffee table sized book on the property which he calls “La Formentera” after one of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. Juan bought the property (now about 70 acres) about fifteen years ago.

Click to order La Formentera.
The house on the property at the time of purchase was a simple clapboard two-story house, rundown and ramshackle and then occupied by three hippie couples who lived there as a commune with no electrical power or plumbing.

The land of hills and dales had been farmland back in the 17th and 18th centuries when the area was known as the Philipse Patent (a royal patent granted to a Dutch-American merchant named Adolph Philipse in the 17th century) and occupied by tenant farmers up until the 19th.

Throughout the area, even on the Palisades Parkway, you can see piled stone fence/walls created by farmers of yore when they cleared the land to grow crops.
On the way we pass the Old Albany-New York Post Road.
When Juan purchased the property, it was so thickly wooded with trees for more than a century that you could barely see twenty feet ahead of yourself. It still is thickly woodland, except in his development of a landscaping plan many trees have been eliminated to create some open space, as well as to make room for a three acre pond which was created out of the natural springs and marshland that are there. Over time, the original house was demolished, and a house of Juan’s own plan was constructed on its site using stone quarried, and wood obtained, from the site itself.

The new main house commands the property, and contains more than 3000 square feet, including a master bedroom, two guest rooms, a library, an office/workspace/library, a kitchen, dining room and living room and three bathrooms. The rooms are not vast but instead moderately sized, often more than a story in (cathedral ceiling) height, and comfortable and cozy. It is a house that is completely lived in and used.
Urban Karlsson and Juan Montoya greet us outside the main house.
From every window there is a view of the beautiful woodland, hills and ponds that surround the house. A few years ago, Juan built a guesthouse which also contains a three car garage. The lake is stocked with trout and bass, and until a pool was built a few years ago, everyone joined the fish and swam in the lake.

It was one of those ideal autumn weekend days in the country, always partly sunny, partly cloudy, with the air cooler but not quite chilly. Also present were four other guests: Brian Thorson and Tim Hosier, native Los Angelenos who have a furniture business which they’ve moved to the East Coast (Providence, Rhode Island), and two of Juan’s and Urban’s neighbors — Marian McEvoy, the editor/writer, formerly of the city and now a fulltime resident nearby, and Alison Spear, the architect and interior designer, formerly of Miami (her hometown) and New York, also now a full time resident of a farm (she designed the farmhouse) nearby, which she shares with her husband.
Marian McEvoy and Alison Spear are first in line for the tour of La Formentera.
A look around La Formentera ...
DPC has a quick look around the house ...
While JH takes in the guest house ...
After a long and pleasurable tour of the grounds we retreated to the house where Urban had prepared a lovely lunch of salad, bouillabaisse and a dessert made from a Swedish cookbook (Urban is Swedish) that was said to be the favorite dessert of Swedish King Oscar II (1820 – 1907). Made of egg whites, sugar, cream, and slivers of almonds, it became the instant favorite of everyone at table.

This was my first trip to the Bear Mountain area (West Point is nearby) in many years. I was very taken by the sheer beauty of the area as well as the space and sense of being far, far away from the city and into the complete quiet (except the sounds of nature) of the countryside.

Juan’s book “La Formentera” really captures that, including all four seasons of Mother Nature’s spectacular hand.
Urban's arugula salad with roasted pears, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts.
Urban's Bouillabaisse.
Dishing out the Bouillabaisse with Alison Spear.
Bouillabaisse is served.
The enthusiastic lunch guests, l. to r. Alison Spear, Brian Thorson, Juan, DPC, Marian McAvoy, Tim Hosier and Urban.
King Oscar II's favorite cake (the king of Sweden from 1872-1907), made of egg whites, sugar, cream, and slivers of almonds. "It's SO good, it's bad," was the consensus.
Marian touching up her lipstick after lunch.
Our gracious hosts in the kitchen.
Time to say goodbye after a beautiful day in the country, thanks to Juan and Urban.
Brunie McKnight died a week ago Saturday at her home in Southampton, at age 95. Born LeBrun Rhinelander on April 28, 1917, daughter of Hortense LeBrun Cruger Parsons and Philip Rhinelander II, a direct descendent of Philip Jacob Rhinelander, a Huegenot who fled with his brother James, from France to avoid religious persecution after the Edict of Nantes. Arriving in the United States in the 1680s, when it was still a British colony, the Rhinelanders first settled in the tiny village of New Rochelle, and later founded the famous New York real estate dynasty.  

On her mother’s side, Brunie was directly descended from John Cruger (1678 – 1744), an early mayor of New York, and the 19th century Lucretia Coffin Mott, an American Quaker, famous in her day as a well-known abolitionist, women’s rights activist and an early suffragette.

Lucretia Coffin Mott.
Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun.
In the middle of the 18th century, before the Revolutionary War, the Rhinelanders’ sons and grandsons established farms around what is now 89th Street and the East River to grow food to feed lower Manhattan. True entrepreneurs, they also organized a shipping company to import molasses from the Caribbean, converting the molasses to sugar at their own sugar mill (established in 1763) on 23rd Street.

In the late 18th century, they founded the Rhinelander Real Estate Company, and eventually became one of the largest landholders in New York City. In 1848 the Company began to build blocks of row "brownstone" residences on the upper East and West Sides to meet the City's expanding housing needs.

By the 20th century, before divestiture, the family owned as much property as the Astors. In 1900, a family member completed the construction of the landmark Rhinelander Mansion at 72nd Street and Madison Avenue now known as the Ralph Lauren store. The Rhinelanders’ real estate operations remained in the family until it was sold in the later half of the last century.

Brunie, as she was always known, told me once that she was directly related to Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, the great portraitist of 18th century Europe who painted among others, Marie-Antoinette, Madame DuBarry, Catherine the Great, and Lord Byron. Brunie grew up in a brick Georgian style townhouse on East 73rd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues,  just two doors down from Charles Dana Gibson, the famous American illustrator, whose wife Irene was the sister of  Nancy, Lady Astor.

She attended Miss Hewitt’s School (then known as Miss Hewitt’s Classes) and then Rosemary Hall in Greenwich. She made her debut to society on August 15, 1935 at a dance given by Mrs. and Mrs. Beverley Bogert at the Clambake Club.

In 1938, she married, William G. McKnight, Jr. who later became a prominent New York lawyer, with whom she had two sons, William G. and Philip R.  The new couple summered in Southampton and Newport, and spent part of their winters in Palm Beach.

Born at the tail end of the Gilded Age, Brunie was brought up in what was known as Society in New York where names and phone numbers were listed in the New York Social Register and family history extended back a century or more. It was a very small world in many ways, although newly “liberated” by the women’s movement, where people grew up together, married, started families and mingled with (mainly) their life long friends and neighbors.

Brunie McKnight, taken at a party in Palm Beach in her 88th year, talking to lifelong friend Dick Cowell.
Brunie lived to see that world and its traditions completely altered and stripped away. If it troubled her, she never let on. She considered herself a modern woman and bore some of the characteristic of her early ancestor Mrs. Mott.

She had the social profile of her background – a lady in her personal conduct toward others, and also a woman who enjoyed people and liked a good time.

When the decorating firm of McMillen & Company celebrated its 70th anniversary in 1994, their boardroom walls were covered with photographs of their impressive roster of celebrated and social clients over the years, all of which were lent by the clients. Many of the photographs were taken by the very same famous fashion photographers who photographed them for Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Town & Country, etc. For herself, Brunie contributed a very attractive photograph of herself in a two piece bathing suit sitting on the beach in front of the McKnights’ Southampton house. Already in her mid-70s, she was quite proud of her figure, the result of a daily regimen of exercise and careful dieting.

She was a friendly, hospitable woman who enjoyed meeting people and was easy to laugh. After her husband died in 1983, she continued live in Southampton and the city, which she gave up in the 90s when she bought a condominium in Palm Beach. She made lots of friends all her life, and kept them. She loved cats and always had at least one, and was a longtime active member of the Animal Rescue Fund of Long Island. Later in her life, she divided her time between Southampton and Palm Beach

During her life Brunie was especially proud of her work as a Red Cross nurse's aide at Roosevelt Hospital during and after World War II and her lifelong support for many wildlife and animal (especially cats, which she simply adored) protection organizations. Brunie was widely loved and admired for her always positive but stoic attitude towards her family and life and for her sense of humor, which we will always treasure. She will be missed by her family and by her faithful and loyal caregivers in Southampton, Isadora Cooks and Norma Manangon, for whom her entire family is forever grateful.

Contributions in memory of Brunie's love of all animals may be sent to the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, Inc., P.O. Box 901, Wainscott, New York 11975. A memorial service in honor of Brunie's life is planned for next spring in Southampton. Condolences may be directed to her family through the Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton at :

She is is survived by her sons, William G. McKnight III and his wife Kitty of New York and Southampton and Philip R. McKnight (Kathleen Lord) of Williamstown, Massachusetts, and three grandchildren, Serena McKnight Bowman, William Rhinelander McKnight and Sarah McKnight Burdick. She is also survived by nine great-grandchildren and two nieces, Jeannine R. Schoeffer and Serena Rhinelander.

Contact DPC here.