We walked around our Hamptons cottage looking for an empty corner or wall. The yearly Southampton Fresh Air Home’s Decorators-Designers-Dealers Sale and Auction Benefit Gala — the ultimate Hamptons estate sale and party — was back. My homes already bore testament to their treasures. Still, we packed our tape measure. Who knows what we would find?
Every weekend after Memorial Day, the 120-year-old Southampton Fresh Air Home (SFAH), for physically disabled children, sells eclectic treasures at unparalleled prices. It’s a potent draw, especially with a potent cocktail.
The pieces come from local estates and decorators. “They are selected by Hamptons women who have studied and shopped,” Design and Decoration Chair Ann Grimm told us. “They know what they are looking at and price to sell.” It’s Old Hamptons style for new owners.
The charity has the luxury of empty campgrounds for winter storage. The goods come out May 1, when Grimm begins working to arrange the disparate furnishings into a showroom look.
“I feel like it’s a three-dimensional chess game, moving the pieces around,” she told us. For the past 16 years, design team Gary Crain and James Alan Smith get first pick, for the School Room. “They just do the most gorgeous job,” said Grimm. “It’s the place people go to first.
This year, we saw a lucite desk worth thousands for $300, and a mirrored Ankara dresser worth the same, for $200.
No wonder in the past, even Aida Turturro and Edie Falco waited on an hour line for VIP first dibs. Close to opening, champagne would be passed, making it easier to pull the trigger. Then: it was ready, set, shop! Those who hesitate will find a SOLD sticker when they return. This year, the event was divided into four, two-hour shopping windows with boxed meals.
As always, we saw Aida Turturro speed shopping her way through the camp buildings-turned-showrooms. Shop first, talk later, is her modus operandi.
“This is really fun,” she laughed, when she slowed down. “But, then, I LOVE furniture.” Through the years, Aida furnished her Montauk home, then her friends’, neighbors’, and friends of friends’ from the D-D-D. Then, she bought and donated back. “I learned my lesson. Not everybody likes what you get them. And by now, nobody needs anything. “But,” she said, looking across the room, “that little table is just too beautiful to pass up.”
We feel you Aida. And you’re not the only one shopping unsolicited and unappreciated. Enjoying a boxed lunch of a smoked chicken, avocado and cheese sandwich, we met women who have been doing this for 30 and even 40 years. No matter their homes were full and their daughters didn’t want what they delivered. “We love the shopping,” they laughed. Not to worry, there were also great silent auction deals on rare wines, restaurants and vacations.
Trying to figure out where I could squeeze a stunning white medicine chest, someone behind me agreed: “That’s a beautiful piece.” It was Nicole Miller, another habitué and oft-time benefactor of the SFAH. “One year I got these really great French design vases for next to nothing,” she told us. “They turned out to be quite valuable.”
Yes, bargain hunting is our blood sport. With no needs whatsoever, we still picked up heavy antique silver trays, bud vases, mirrors, several crystal pieces and a wicker chair for a friend — all for under $300.
As we left the morning session, we saw Aida overlooking a meadow, doing a selfie video. “Happy Birthday Conor,” she sung, “Look where I am!!!” A nephew or close family member? Nope, that love went to a Cameo for a stranger.
Returning for the cocktail hour, we passed Executive Director Tom Naro surveying the sea of furniture tickets plastered with orange “Sold” stickers. “It was an experiment,” I heard him say of this year’s format. “But, I think we did pretty well.”
The D-D-D event isn’t the only one reinventing itself for these transitional times. The Fresh Air Home will still set off their yearly Fireworks by Grucci (July 2 at 9:15), but forego their traditional party, and asks for donations for the camp.
Stonybrook Southampton Hospital is also, again, not opting for the large scale, tented affairs of the past. There will be another “Gala In Our Gardens” format for their 63rd Annual Summer Party on August 7th. They’ll turn individual back lawns into mini galas, linked via a virtual presentation, hosted by Liev Schreiber. Elegant Affairs will imagine, cater and deliver. Wolffer Estate Vineyards will be Title Sponsor.
On the other hand, LongHouse Reserve — a 16 acre sculpture garden — is open. This Saturday, Designers Randy Kemper and Tony Ingrao will judge the annual gardening competition, PLANTERS: ON+OFF THE GROUND X, for planters and assemblages no larger than 25 square feet. This small pot party will open at 4:30 PM for voting. At 6 PM, winners will be announced. This 10th edition is led by Garden Committee Chair Alex Feleppa and LongHouse Reserve Horticulturist Holger Winenga and will be on display through the end of the month.
The contest has great practical applications for those of us with Manhattan terraces. So, we asked Randy for design tips.
Choose a big theme for a small space, he advised: “It’s best to have a point of view and not be all over the place as far as color. Don’t try to say too many things at once. It’s also pretty to pick plants that have polish on their leaves. Gardenia’s have that luster, come miniaturized and bring fragrance to your terrace.”
Don’t forget, the blooms you plant in the summer will wither in the cold. So, throw some love to the evergreen. “Try to create some form of structure that can maintain itself year round,” Randy continued. “We like using boxwood as a center piece and adding annuals around it for color. If they’re pruned tightly, boxwood and holly will keep their shapes even covered in snow. Think about choosing annuals that will continually bloom and are maintenance free — scavola, verbena and euphorbia are favorites — so you’re not always cleaning pots and deadheading blossoms.”
We had to look no further than the five-acre tree garden Randy and Tony created to find a stunning example of boxwoods’ potential. Clipped to form tables and hedges, they help define architectural open air rooms. We ambled through them with media master Jonathan Marder one afternoon. Called Woodhouse Park, the grounds abut an 18-acre nature preserve. It was all part of the Mary and Lorenzo Woodhouse sweeping estate that once encompassed much of the town, including the land for Library and Guild Hall, that Mary donated and helped found.
“We don’t see any houses on our property,” Randy said, “which is amazing because we’re right in town. Go in. Shut the gates. Chaos can be happening less than half a mile away on Main Street and you have no sense of it.”
The series of defined spaces they created gives the garden an even more intimate feeling. “It slowly unveils itself as you walk around and rewards you with lots of surprises,” Randy continued. “Because it is so spread out, and you can’t see it all at once, it almost feels like you are on 15 acres, not five.” Some of those surprises are gazebos and “garden follies” sprinkled about. Some seating areas are sunken and intimate, some have spacious views. “We try to eat most of our meals outside,” Randy continued. “It’s a form of elegance. The sunken brick garden next to the house is a summer living room and we have a big table under the gazebo.”
But, most incredibly, 13 years ago, when the design duo bought the place, this manicured garden was no more than an overgrown field! They had to clear the property, raise the lawn and start from scratch. “In those days we could get mature trees through the driveway,” Randy mused. No more. They sourced garden antiques in Europe. But they didn’t have to look that far to enrich the collection of Japanese maples that punctuate their grounds.
“Driving around, we found properties for sale that had gorgeous trees in their front yard,” Kemper recalled. “As a lark, one day, we left a note on a front door asking to buy their tree.” They got it, and many more from people willing to make a side deal for their maples.
Antique lawn ornaments came from across the pond. “We were in Europe very, very often at that point, sourcing furniture,” Randy said. They found sculptures in English auctions and estate sales. They even reconstructed a red brick archway that was shipped. “It’s nice to have these bits of history,” said Randy. “It harkens other worlds and makes it exciting.”
Inspiration came from other travels as well. “We love to tour gardens all over the world and plan vacations around them,” Kemper told us. “It’s super fun and a great way to spend a holiday.”
We love that idea so much, we asked for their list. Here then, are Randy Kemper and Tony Ingrao’s favorite gardens:
Villandry — Loire
Vaux-Le-Vicomte — Seine et Marne
Peterhof — Leningrad
Sissinghurst — Kent
Bagatelle — outside Paris
Hidcote — Gloucestershire
Winterthur — Delaware
La Gamberaia — Florence
Villa d’Este — Tivoli
Huntington Botanical Gardens — California
Photographs by Rob Rich (Southampton Fresh Air Home).