Returning to the Hamptons from Miami, I was overwhelmed by lush greenery. The sun had just come out, giving the rain soaked shrubbery a hyperreal hue. It was electric and I felt buoyant. It’s a happy, hopeful Hamptons Spring. Flush with another kind of green: it’s awash in cash, thanks to a year of replanted New Yorkers reaping Wall Street riches. So much so, that locals, who historically look towards summer to float their year, are already sated.
“I could rent my house for a sick price and move above my garage,” an estate manager told me. “But, I’d rather enjoy it.”
“I could have picked up another celebrity client with a house call,” said chiropractor Janet Cirrone as she dug into my connective tissue. “But, there’s already no room on my schedule.”
Most amazing: Fowler’s Garden Center in Southampton decided to close on Memorial Day. “We are exhausted!!!” groaned the lovely ladies who spoil our dog with treats and advise us on all things horticultural. May is planting month. And like our budgets, it’s been spent. Now, good luck getting someone to put those new trees in the ground!
“There are normally 60,000 year round residents in the Hamptons,” Southampton Councilman John Bouvier told us, at a vaccination-only Sun River Health dinner (to celebrate the shots they’ve given and the care they provide). “In the summer that number quadruples. Last year, those 240,000 stayed all winter. No one expected that, so it put a strain on our services. But, overall, I think we’ve done an excellent job adjusting.” Garbage disposal and other issues addressed, locals seem to like having us here to keep them company.
That’s good, because more people are coming. Bumper to bumper driving out for the weekend? Isn’t everyone already here?
Those who are, certainly are not complaining. Who cares if restaurants had to raise their prices? We’re alive and healthy. The hospitality business deserves it.
Ironically, the more New Yorkers discover the “Green Acres” lifestyle out East, the less green it becomes. Drive around, by car or boat: new construction is everywhere. New life is everywhere, as well. On trend organic gardens are sprouting again. Verbena, azaleas, lavender and rhododendrons are in bloom. Baby geese and swans trail mothers in straight lines. Fish, turtle and birds’ nests hide in plain sight.
After my own winter of nesting, a post vaccination spree in “We never close” Florida and a harried May visiting storage closets and garden stores, I welcomed this cold rainy holiday. I missed Netflix by the fire. And the one sure way to avoid traffic is staying home. For me, that’s Big Fresh Pond in Southampton, a shady, quiet, under-the-radar community encircling the second largest lake in Long Island.
Years ago, someone asked me to swim it on a lunch date. I loved the lake. The man, not so much. One day, I swam past a woman who said she had met me the night before with Nicole Miller. We bonded. A few years later, treading water in front of her new lake house, that friend, Alix Michel, pointed across the pond to a cottage. “You should buy it,” she said. I did.
Big Fresh has a lake association that monitors the water. There are also yearly clean-up days and occasional get togethers, organized by interior and home product designer Brett Beldock and her husband John Simoni. One Christmas, we got bumper stickers that said “BFP” and an uplifting speech about being a community. The big ticket event is an end of summer meeting — consisting of a pep talk to keep the lake clean and a seminar on such pressing subjects as ticks and septic tanks. It always devolves into a group grudge fest about the invasive lily pads and phragmite. It ends with the resident curmudgeon wagging his finger and warning: “If your grass is too green, you are using fertilizer and RUINING OUR LAKE. And I KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!”
Grumpy old man aside, there’s an idyllic, “away from the madding crowd” quality to life here. A titled German rides his bike around the lake. Many of us walk it. A golden lab swims behind her famous photographer father’s kayak. Year after year, she barks ferociously with Lola when she passes our dock, their bravado waning as they age in tandem. In the fall, crimson and golden leaves leave a mirror image on the water. Ice fishermen and skaters dot it in winter.
Thus, many who move here become anchors for friends and family to follow. So it was with Designer Stan Herman. 50 years ago, he bought an enviable compound that juts into the lake at the end of a dirt road. There’s a sandy beach on one side and a shady dock on the other. Through the years, his guest house — dubbed the “Green Camp” — has hosted Willem de Kooning. Jerome Robbins, Ruth Kligman, Seventh Avenue entrepreneurs Sylvan Rich and Jerry Silverman, landscape artist, Perry Guillot — and Fern Mallis, Stan’s erstwhile CFDA star hire.
Thanks to its current occupant, President of IMG Models and Fashion Ivan Bart, the lake landed on the cover of Vogue last January, shot in cold October water. Bart’s client, Paloma Elsesser, gamely floated hour after hour without complaining. Ditto for Annie Leibowitz, partially submerged at her side.
In the main house, fashion designer/author Jeffrey Banks remains as he calls it, “the eternal guest.” Who wouldn’t want him? He’s a flawless cook and raconteur. Dinner with besties Stan, Fern and Jeffrey is filled with great I-knew-them-when stories.
Fern lives on a bluff overlooking the water. It’s been featured in several shelter magazines and recently been the back drop for her wrap-around intros for the release of her 92Y Fashion Icons series on a dedicated YouTube playlist. It features intimate talks with such old friends as Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Betsey Johnson and Oscar de la Renta.
The house is decorated to country home perfection, the look seasonally transformed with special slip covers. It’s white and sisal in the summer. In the winter, rich red cushions, moroccan rugs, tiny lights twinkling in the corners and a log fire in its center hit the right note. This past year, there were also fresh floral arrangements delivered weekly, thanks to a London friend, one of many who benefited from her advice and introductions.
Fern’s also a great cook, whipping up a perfect cobb salad, frittata, or shrimp scampi on the fly. Saturday night, I stopped by for her garlicky clams on grilled toast. She and her right hand, marketing business and digital strategist Pasha Chandra, were going over photos for her next coffee table tome, Fashion Lives, Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis, Volume 2 (due Feb 2022).
Happily, I didn’t have to travel much further on Monday. Stan gave a Memorial Day barbecue. Friends brought desserts, manned the grill and helped clean. Ivan was leaving soon for Paris for the first round of live fashion shows. People are really excited about it and Fashion Week in September, he told us.
Stan was excited about his “new babies” — 12 goslings on his beach. Year after year, he keeps big bags of bird seed for the lake’s Canada Geese. “Look at that proud mother,” he told us. “She didn’t lose one of those 12 babies. And the father has already left them to look for someone new.” Not to worry, there was a new gander a few feet away.
Many homemade deserts later, I put a fork in my Memorial Day weekend as well. Did the Hamptons quiet down when it was over? Tuesday afternoon, Nurel’s Farmers’ Market in Hampton Bays was practically empty. It was quite the wait at nearby Out of the Blue. With New Yorkers inhabiting every available inch of this slice of heaven, our undiscovered gems have been found out.