Behind The Hedges 29.01.2020 15:18 Painted in History: The Thomas Moran House and Studio

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Painted in History: The Thomas Moran House and Studio
November 15, 2019

Most passers-by to the old turreted house facing the pond in East Hampton don't realize how revolutionary it was, even though the eccentric, eclectic building, with its sea-monster weathervane, is eye-catching. Nor how important a part in American art--even in American history--its original owners played.

The Thomas Moran House and Studio was built in 1884 on Main Street in East Hampton, opposite Town Pond. Its owners, Thomas and Mary Nimmo Moran, were important painters and engravers, and this house was the first artist's studio on the East End. Thomas Moran's paintings of the West, especially Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, are often credited with inspiring the creation of the National Park Service. He also painted and engraved local East Hampton scenes, as did his wife.

Moran, born in 1837, began his career as an apprentice engraver. In 1862, he traveled to England to see the work of J.M.W. Turner, whose use of color and choice of landscape influenced his own work greatly. (Hanging over the fireplace at the Moran house was a copy Moran made of the Turner painting "Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus -- Homer's Odyssey," which now hangs across the pond at the Hedges Inn.) Moran was appointed chief illustrator at Scribner's Monthly in the late 1860s, which helped launch his painting career.

In 1871, the director of the United States Geological Survey invited Moran along as part of an expedition to the unknown Yellowstone region, which was partially funded by Scribner's. In 40 days in the wilderness, Moran sketched more than 30 geological wonders. His sketches captivated the nation; the next year, Congress established Yellowstone as the first national park.

Moran married his Scottish-born student Mary Nimmo in 1865. Because of sexism, Mary signed her work MNMoran, rather than her full name. She too became renowned for her prints. In 1881 she became the first female fellow of London's Royal Society of Painters-Etchers.

The Morans purchased land in East Hampton and began construction of their home in 1884. Moran designed the house himself, setting aside much of the ground floor as a studio. His quirky practices included re-using material from demolished houses. At the time, Manhattan was experiencing a building boom, where older houses were being knocked down to build fashionable brownstones.

The larger window in the studio room came from a candy store. At the time, a large piece of sheet glass was very expensive. The front doors to the studio also came from that store, while the fireplace surrounds came from two houses: a Federal one, circa 1800, and a Greek Revival circa 1825. Other pieces, such as cabinet doors, other windows and newel posts for the staircase, also obviously came as architectural salvage. (One elaborately carved baluster, Thomas Moran Trust curator Richard Barons says, was found painted gold and being used as a lamp base. It's now back in the staircase.) Moran even imported a gondola from Italy, which his daughters used on Town Pond. The house originally did not boast a kitchen, as the Morans simply walked to a local boardinghouse for meals. A later one-story addition is now painted blue, as it was in 1899.

The house became a hub for intellectuals and artists in the area during the five or six months per year that the Morans were in residence. Parties and tableaux vivants were features of social life.

Unfortunately, Mary died of typhoid young, in 1899. Moran himself continued to stay at the house and studio until his death in 1926. They are both buried in South Side Cemetery. Daughter Ruth inherited the house; she sold it in 1947 to Joseph and Elizabeth Condie Lamb. (Mrs. Condie Lamb was well known for running the oldest real estate agency in East Hampton.) After Mrs. Lamb's death in 2004, Guild Hall took possession of the house, now considerably dilapidated.

The decision was made by Guild Hall to transfer ownership of the Studio to the newly created Thomas Moran Trust, which would restore the property. But money was lacking. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012 badly damaged the house, the need the do the work took on more urgency. The house rocked on its pier foundations during the storm, says Barons, and many people thought the house should be taken apart and then rebuilt.

The house was raised up off its brick plinths and a foundation laid, then the brick plinths were rebuilt. (A piece of paper was found in one, attesting that the house had been completed in September 1884.) Worries that the house would collapse proved unfounded.

Twelve years of fundraising, conservation easements and a CPF grant later, the restoration of the house is complete. And not just of the house: the beautiful garden that Mary Nimmo doted over has been restored as well.

The interior is filled with objects that the Morans owned, such as Thomas's palette, as well as those similar to what they would have owned. (The Morans' own furniture was scattered after their deaths.) Old carpets are draped over a railing and Aesthetic Movement bits of china and Japanese fans decorate odd shelves. (The Aesthetic Movement was the popular style among the intellectuals of the 1880s.)

Of course, the crown jewels of the house are the paintings and etchings by Thomas and Mary. Some are of local scenes, with the familiar windmills of East Hampton, while others are of Western landscapes. Many of the Western landscapes were painted right in the studio, with Moran working off sketches and photographs of the area. The artwork comes from various collections, including the Moran Trust, the East Hampton Historical Society and the East Hampton Library.

The artworks line the walls of the studio and other exhibition rooms. The master bedroom, with its bed topped with pineapple-carved knobs and its leopard skin rug, is the only bedroom that will be restored as a sleeping chamber. Other rooms are exhibition space. Downstairs, for example, is displayed a huge iron 1860s etching press.

Now that the Studio is open for tours, it is greatly to be hoped that more passers-by will stop to learn about this fascinating house and its important owners.

My Hamptons: Helen Harrison
November 14, 2019
Helen Harrison, the director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs, has had a long and interesting career in the art and museum world. She's also recently taken to writing fiction: her mystery novel An Accidental Corpse, published in 2018 by Dunemere Press, just recently won the 2019 Benjamin Franklin Gold Award in the Fiction: Mystery & Suspense category. She lives with her husband, painter Roy Nicholson, in Sag Harbor.

BTH: How long have you been coming to the Hamptons?

HH: Forty-two years! First time I came out was in 1977.

BTH: Did you come out for a weekend?

HH: No, I came out for my new job! I was a curator at the Parrish. I'm from New York City originally and I started out as a sculptor. I went to undergraduate school at Adelphi, and then I went to the Brooklyn Museum Art School and Hornsey College of Art in London. When my husband and I came back to America, I went to graduate school in Cleveland to study art history, and then I went into the museum field. My first museum job was at the Parrish.

I was only at the Parrish for a couple of years. Then I did a guest curatorship at the Queens Museum working on a big. comprehensive exhibition on the 1939 World's Fair. In 1982 I was hired by Guild Hall to be the curator there. I was there for eight years and then in 1990, I came to the Pollock-Krasner House.

BTH: So did you ever meet Lee Krasner?

HH: I did, yes. I worked for the New York Times as the art critic for the Long Island section. I didn't know Lee well but I did know her slightly. I would occasionally have to talk to her about an exhibition she was in or about some feature article I was writing.

BTH: And you just came out with a novel, An Accidental Corpse.

HH: My second novel, actually. The first, I had self-published. Dunemere Books brought out the second one and is publishing the first as a prequel. The first one is set in Greenwich Village in 1943, while the second one is set in East Hampton in 1956. It is about the art world out here and it is a retelling of Jackson Pollock's fatal car crash.

I am working on another book, which is set in New York City at the Art Students League in 1967. The way I write fiction is I integrate fictional characters with real people, so the people who are students there are fictional, but some of the teachers and the administrators were real people.

BTH: If you were going to have anybody in your Hamptons dinner party, alive or dead, who would you invite?

HH: I would definitely not invite Jackson Pollock.

BTH: Maybe too much the life of the party.

HH: Yes. Knowing what I know, he would not be on my guest list. I would certainly invite Alfonso Ossorio. He was an amazing person, who was so knowledgeable and so, so cosmopolitan that he would be the ideal dinner guest. He could talk on any topic and he was a world class gossip. I would love to sit down in a room with him and Lee. Over drinks. Those two would be enough. I would just be a fly on the wall.

BTH: She did have a pretty sharp tongue.

HH: Yes, but she was also very funny! I'm going to London soon for the Lee Krasner retrospective in London. [Ed: The first retrospective in Europe in over 50 years of Lee Krasner's work is at the Barbican in London this summer.] It's going to be really, really wonderful and it's traveling to three other museums in Europe.

BTH: What do you like to do in your spare time?

HH: Roy and I like to walk to take advantage of the wonderful nature trails in this area, and of course the beautiful beaches. We do that quite a bit and as well as visiting museums and art galleries. It does seem like a busman's holiday, but it is what we love to do.

Fashion Mogul Elie Tahari Lists Sagaponack Estate
November 13, 2019

most fashionable home is on the market--East End fashion designer Elie Tahari has listed his Sagaponack estate for $39 million. This oceanfront enclave, represented by Ann Ciardullo and Keith Green of Sotheby's International Realty East Hampton Brokerage, was originally designed in 1998 by HS2 Architecture and features a secluded master suite with a panoramic view of Sagaponack Beach, a room-sized shower, a six-person tub, an office/getaway with 85-inch TV and private balcony overlooking the great room. The sun deck has its own set of stairs to the beach. Two other suites are included with the property. The first sits oceanfront, with private egress to the beach. The second suite features a four-person steam shower, with a wall of glass leading to a hidden garden.

"The sunrises in this home are unlike anything I've seen before," says Green of the views from the great room. "You're literally one with the ocean....there isn't anybody who has walked on that property who hasn't felt like it's the antidote to civilization." Adds Ciardullo, "It's a very unique property and it is just perfect for that right person."

The barn-like great room has opposing Tambour glass doors, a 30-foot ceiling, and a 60-foot pool surrounded by a forest of Russian Olive trees. The interior of the great room was crafted with mid-century overtones by designer Tom Flynn. A flagstone terrace sits in a vine-covered pergola with a dining table for 10.

Another special aspect of the property? Ciardullo and Green note that the Southampton village Zoning Board of Approvals has approved an expansion, putting the buyer several years ahead in growing the home to 10,000 square feet.

The Jerusalem-born Tahari emigrated to the United States and worked in New York City's garment district in the 1970s. In 1973, Tahari began his eponymous fashion label, opening his first boutique on Madison Avenue soon after. As he came to prominence, he held fashion shows in such venues as Studio 54. His work has been featured in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and more and in 1989 was named one of Crain's New York Business 40 under 40. Since then, Tahari has become one of the fashion world's biggest movers and shakers, with global expansion, numerous awards and a huge collection. In 2013, Mayor Mike Bloomberg declared September 4 "Elie Tahari Day" honoring his 40 years in business. In the summer of 2019, his son, Jeremey, opened an East Hampton pop-up shop of his own at the Elie Tahari boutique.

The property is located at 135 Crestview Lane, Sagaponack.

For more information on this listing, visit

Grace on the Pond: Quimby Lane
November 08, 2019

The old house stands sentinel at the intersection of sky, water and land, as it has done for a hundred years. The children who played at its sandy beach on the pond are all grown and gone, though each person who has loved the house has left an indelible mark on it.

This is the story of a well-loved summer cottage on the shore of Sagg Pond in Bridgehampton. At the turn of the last century, a patriarch built a number of homes here for his offspring. Today, a ballerina owns the house. A long lawn slopes down to the pond, where the sand ebbs and flows tidally. At one side is the lovely vista of the bridge over the pond; at the other is the ocean roaring and swelling. Next door lives a world-famous musician.

Quimby Lane takes its name from Edward Everett Quimby (1831-1902), who in 1874 came to spend the summer in Bridgehampton with his wife and six children as a renter. This was just four years after the Long Island Rail Road was extended as far as Bridgehampton. Most of the year the family lived in East Orange, New Jersey. Quimby was both a successful patent lawyer and a dealer of lightning rods. In 1893, he bought 32 acres of Bridgehampton land from the Sandford family at the lower end of Ocean Road, between it and Sagg Pond; a year later he bought more adjacent property, including along Ocean Road.

At first the Quimbys lived in an existing cottage, but as the six children grew up, got married and had children of their own, Mr. Quimby began subdividing his land, building a family compound along the shore over the next 15 years. Most notable, possibly, was Annesden, a large Tudor style home built for his daughter Annie. (Annesden was sadly demolished in 1994.)

The original driveway to the compound eventually became Quimby Lane.

A 1917 house built on land purchased from the Quimbys is owned by a world famous, 98-year-old Japanese-American ballerina. Sono Osato's life is as extraordinary as the setting. She was born in 1919 in Omaha, Nebraska, to a French-Canadian Irish mother and a father from Japan. Her father, a photographer, and her mother settled in Chicago, but her mother decided to take her children to France in 1927. There, in 1928, young Sono (her name is Japanese for "garden") saw the groundbreaking Ballets Russes, led by impresario Serge Diaghilev, and announced she wanted to be a dancer.

The impact of the Ballets Russes in the years after the turn of the century on art, decorative art and especially dance was immense. Diaghilev employed the best young Russian dancers of the day, including Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky, and the staging, music and costumes made the company a sensation. Coco Chanel stated that "Diaghilev invented Russia for foreigners."

Diaghilev commissioned ballet music from such greats as Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Strauss and Prokofiev. His most famous collaborator was Igor Stravinsky. In 1910, he commissioned his first score from Stravinsky, The Firebird. Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) followed. Picassso often designed costumes and the sets for these productions.

Sono began ballet lessons in France, but in 1929, after the crash of the stock market, her mother announced the family had to return home. Sono continued her lessons back in Chicago, and in 1934, aged 14, was invited to audition for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. This company was a successor to the original, after Diaghilev's death in 1929 left the troupe in serious debt. Diaghilev alumni Léonide Massine and George Balanchine worked as choreographers with the new company.

On April 21, 1934, Sono sailed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, without her parents, to France. She danced in Monte Carlo, London and Barcelona. Then the troupe had an American tour lasting a year. Years of successful ballet tours continued, with the dancers traveling back and forth between Europe and America, and even to Australia and New Zealand. But eventually, with war looming and feeling overworked and underpaid, Sono walked away from the company.

She settled in New York in 1941 and took classes from George Balanchine at the School of American Ballet he founded. About this time she met Victor Elmelah, a Moroccan-American graduate architect. Dancing with the Ballet Theatre (later the American Ballet Theatre), she planned to tour Mexico, but after Pearl Harbor was told that because of her Japanese last name, she would not be allowed to leave the country.

After marrying Elmelah, Osato then worked with choreographer Agnes de Mille as principal dancer in the musical One Touch of Venus. This show includes music written by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ogden Nash, and book by S. J. Perelman. After that, in 1944, came perhaps the height of her career: playing Ivy, Miss Turnstiles, in the original Broadway cast of On the Town, with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

The next step for Sono was Hollywood, but eventually, she began to feel that life for her should be on the East Coast, where husband Victor worked. She wanted to have babies, and eventually gave birth to two sons, Niko and Tony. And while she also made some television appearances, she eventually decided she didn't have the real drive to be an actress as she had to be a dancer. Elmelah's career eventually encompassed property development; and with increasing wealth the family began spending time in the Hamptons in the summers. (One picture of the couple from the '50s shows them embracing between innings at the Artists & Writers Game. Niko says his father helped start the game.)

In the mid 1970s, the family purchased the old house on Quimby Lane. Happy summers led to family weddings on the grass, as well as grandchildren playing there. Elmelah died in 2014, after 71 years of marriage, but Sono is still alive.

Her son Niko says, "So many fantastic memories are in that house. Wonderful people who visited, including Jerry Robbins, Nora Ephron, Sidney Lumet and so many others. And it's in a magnificent location, with its elegant lawn and wonderful serenity. It's simply unique."

My Hamptons: Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate Vineyard
November 07, 2019

You could say that wine runs in Roman Roth's veins instead of blood. Winemaker at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, Roman was born into the world of wine. He grew up in Rottweil, a Free Imperial City in southwest Germany, "at the edge of the Black Forest and the Swabian Alps," he says. His father, Remigius Roth, was a winemaker, distiller and wine merchant; his mother Rosa can be seen on his Grapes of Roth bottles. Roth left home at the age of 16 to work as an apprentice in the vineyards of Oberrotweil, Germany. Roth's career then bounced between California, Australia and back to Germany, before he got a call from Christian Wölffer, who had just purchased a 174-acre potato farm in Sagaponack. Then called Sagpond, the estate was primarily for riding horses until Roman came on board. Roman now lives in East Hampton, summering in Sag Harbor, with his wife and daughter.

BTH: How did Christian Wölffer lure you to the Hamptons?

RR: Christian Wölffer, the founder of Wölffer Estate, was looking for a winemaker in 1992 to plan the vines on his land. Fate had it that we met. He told me that he wanted to make the best wine possible and was willing to spare no expense. He also told me that the Hamptons are half an hour from Manhattan! Both sounded very attractive to me.

BTH: What is the greatest part about your job? If you could snap your fingers and instantly have another career, what would be your dream job?

RR: I have a dream job! I love that I can be very creative and that I can produce something that can be enjoyed and treasured by people. I love the seasonality of being a winemaker...there is never a dull moment. But if I could snap my fingers, I'd be a stained-glass maker!

BTH: What is your favorite wine that you produce?

RR: They are all my children--some are just smarter than the others! But if I had to pick, I would say our Grandioso Rosé, the Perle Chardonnay, the Grapes of Roth Merlot and the Christian Cuvée.

At Wölffer, we have great soil, the Bridgehampton loam, on top of sand. This soil has a great pH to grow grapes and also has good water-holding capacity, while providing good drainage. And being just a couple of miles from the Atlantic moderates the temperature, giving elegance and balance to the wine.

BTH: What is your favorite wine produced by other people?

RR: I love Krug Champagne, and one day in the far future I want to die in Piemonte drinking Barolo.

BTH: What is something most people don't know about wine?

RR: That our elegant Wölffer white wines with a lower alcohol level can age very well.

BTH: What is your favorite restaurant in the Hamptons?

RR: We are very blessed with a whole array of great restaurants out east, so I love to mix it up.

Of course, my favorite restaurant is one that supports and features the Wölffer wines as well as other Long Island wines.

This is the key to building a great wine region. And I truly love Wölffer Kitchen Sag Harbor and Amagansett!

BTH: Which is your favorite season in the Hamptons?

RR: I love them all: spring with the fresh air and wonderful flowers and smells; summer with the heat and the hustle and bustle of parties. Fall means all my energy is focused on making the new vintage, and winter brings the peace, the snow, the holidays.

BTH: Describe your perfect day on the East End.

RR: Wake up on a sunny day and go jump in the pool. Then breakfast in our beautiful garden in the wonderful company of my daughter, Indira, and my wife, Dushy. Then I'd go for a quick bike ride to run some errands in Sag Harbor, go to the farmers market. Maybe I'd practice some golf for an hour at Poxabogue. Have sandwiches on the beach, go for a swim in the ocean. Followed by a nap! In the evening, I'd go to a dinner party at a friend's house. BTH: Speaking of which, if you could have anyone at your Hamptons dinner party--dead or alive--who would you invite?

RR: My parents, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Benjamin Franklin and the Obamas.

Hamptons Real Estate Q3 Market Reports Revealed
November 06, 2019

Darkness falls a bit earlier now on the Hamptons, but that turn of events just might be coinciding with the real estate market seeing some light. One would not be incorrect to say that the local market has faced its challenges this year, but things beyond leaves and clocks seem to be turning. The news contained in the major real estate market reports recently released for the third quarter of 2019 generally did not come as so much of a surprise, given the uncertain times from which they were spawned.

"Hamptons Real Estate in the 3rd Quarter of 2019 was like a carnival game with ping pong balls landing and leaping in every direction," observes Judi Desiderio, CEO of Town & Country Real Estate. "The good news is, the numbers prove it's not really as bad as the media made it out to be."

Those numbers do tell a story of a market that was struggling over the summer months. Douglas Elliman's Q3 report observed that the number of sales declined year over year for the seventh straight quarter, and showed the lowest third quarter number of sales in eight years--including the fewest number of sales at or above $5 million in six and a half years. As median sales price rose year over year for the first time in seven quarters, listing inventory continued to rise, reaching a 13-year high, and there have been nine straight quarters of annual increases in luxury listing inventory. Year on year, median sales price rose 5.5% to $857,000, while average sales price edged up 0.6% to $1,375,772. Amid those changes, the number of sales fell 15.2% to 402, days on market was 139 (up 13.1%), the listing discount was 12.3%, up from 10.5%, and listing inventory jumped 76.9% to 2,571.

Ups and downs do not necessarily show trends in all cases, it should be noted. "These numbers constantly fluctuate, especially in the Hamptons, where a single high-end sale can have a significant impact on the average sales price," says Jonathan Smith, Licensed Salesperson in the Southampton office of Sotheby's International Realty. "Median sales prices tend to stay more consistent but will vary each quarter from town to town, generally ranging between $1 million to $1.5 million. Looking at a longer sample of the same data actually demonstrates that the Hamptons market is extremely stable."

In the Town & Country report, observing all Hamptons markets combined, Desiderio points to the high end, where year-on-year there were 60% fewer home sales of $5 million to $9.99 million and 43% fewer home sales in the $10 million to $19.99 million range. "Yet there was one sale over $20 million in 2019--the corner of Lily Pond and Hedges on 3.3 acres, which closed for $20.6 million--and zero in 2018," she notes. "The selling season is underway. Many savvy buyers are moving their resources into real estate."

This movement speaks to the opportunity that arises especially when value buys are to be had. It's a situation fueled when an increase in inventory and increase in days on market finally inspires sellers to do what a good number of brokers had been saying all summer would help breathe some life into the market--lower their asking prices.

"Price reductions come when inventory swells or the original price was not in line with the current market conditions--our market conditions are constantly moving," Desiderio offers. "That said, the trend for many segments of the market, particularly the high end, has been moving in favor of the buyer. That could change at any given time, since those with true wealth 'buy when they're selling' and see an opportunity to purchase on value. Many recent sales on the high end are trading for less than the sum of their parts."

"Everything is cyclical," says Todd Bourgard, Senior Executive Regional Manager of Sales, Douglas Elliman. "We go through these moments. Right now, it is all about pricing at every level. The buyers are there--they always have been. They've just been waiting. They know the comps, they know what has sold--they see it all. And it's a good thing. An educated consumer is a very good thing."

The disparity between what sellers wanted and what potential buyers were willing to pay was certainly reflected in Q3. Corcoran's report stated that reported closed sales dipped 27% year over year, the largest decrease in nearly 10 years, and it was the fourth consecutive quarter with a year-over-year decline in sales. In fact, sales were down almost everywhere. In Amagansett, sales dropped 43% year on year, and in East Hampton Village, sales decreased by more than half.

In the East Hampton market, fewer "properties were sold in the 3rd quarter, and there was a lack of sales reported over $4 million. The reduced activity in East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village in the 3rd quarter reflects the trades that were recorded and does not indicate any trend," says Ernie Cervi, Regional Senior Vice President East End at Corcoran. "The lack of sales reported over $4 million caused a steep 60% decline in average price."

"West of the Canal also experienced a pull back," Town & Country's report stated. "Hampton Bays closed 40% less deals which resulted in 62% less total home sales volume. [And] 2019 saw no homes sales over $2 million, yet in 2018 there were four! Westhampton--which includes Remsenburg, Westhampton Beach, East Quogue, Quogue, and Quiogue--had a less severe pull-back, with 12% less homes sales and 21% lower total home sales volume."

When the market begins to rebound, though, these locales are well poised, Desiderio adds. "The Westhampton area, due to its proximity to the city and the expansive cultural and recreational opportunities, and Hampton Bays, due to its affordability and great beaches--these regions will return with a roar, because they each have their virtues and values to the East End."

Only Westhampton/Remsenburg and Shelter Island, the Corcoran report adds, had the same number of closings reported this quarter as this time last year, while Montauk and Quogue were down only a single reported sale compared with 2018.There were also some silver linings elsewhere in the Hamptons. Town & Country reported that the "Sag Harbor area, which includes Noyack and North Haven, saw a respectable improvement, particularly in the $2 million to $3.49 million price category, which rose 150%."

The Sotheby's International Realty report also noted an uptick in the onetime home of whaling ships and John Steinbeck. "Buyers have been taking notice of Sag Harbor. The village in particular is such a vibrant community with consistent, year-round amenities, restaurants and entertainment, making it an ideal weekend destination for any time of year," Smith notes. "Interestingly, colleagues I have spoken with in other offices of Sotheby's International Realty around the country have commented on a trend towards village lifestyle, and I believe that shift is manifesting out east as well. We also see excellent value in many Sag Harbor listings, even as other markets in the area seem to remain wedded to the more aggressive prices of a few years ago."

Price is affecting certain areas more than others, no doubt, but Cervi finds it noteworthy that the Q3 report reveals overall here in the Hamptons, "38% of sales were between $500,000 and $1 million." The higher end of the market may be facing a battle right now, but there are always buyers who want to get in the door.

"We have seen a great deal of activity in the starter-home segment of the market, giving buyers a foothold in the Hamptons," Smith says. "There also appears to be much faster turnover in that segment of the market--up to $1.5 million--creating opportunities for buyers and sellers alike.

And, in time, the rest of the market will follow. "Hamptons real estate is truly a unique asset class--there are so few areas in the world with the stability and consistent growth demonstrated in our market," Smith continues. Although 2019 has definitely been a slower year, he adds, there are bright spots and a trend of note. "Going forward, we expect that the market will continue to respond to sellers who price their homes well from the start. Savvy buyers will continue to ignore any inventory that is priced above market value."

Markets are efficient. They get frothy, the cool off, they adjust to the basics of supply and demand. Supply does not merely mean inventory, but, as becomes clearer and clearer, inventory at the right price. As more sellers adjust their expectations, said inventory will move.     

"I can never recall stating how important it is to price things properly as it is right now," Bourgard says, stressing that each town here also has a different price point. Hampton Bays is going to be different than Westhampton Beach, which is going to be different than Southampton. "The homeowners really started listening, and realized 'If we're going to sell this thing, we're going to need to bring the price down.' Our consumers, these buyers, are the smartest buyers we've ever had. And they are very willing to pay market value, but they are not willing to pay over. And when you can bridge that gap, it becomes fun again, and everybody's happy."

The Barn Evolving
November 01, 2019

Somewhere, our Hamptons farming forebears are chuckling. One of the most popular home styles around today is the barn, whether it be an old barn repurposed into a gorgeous space or a new, strictly modern building that echoes the shape of a barn.

"Barns are, in their own funny way, like modern architecture. They're the ultimate expression of form follows function," says Frank Newbold, an agent with Sotheby's in East Hampton, who has the listing for an 1880 Sagaponack barn on a property made up of vintage farm buildings. "People like high ceilings, big spaces and lots of light--that's what barn living is all about."

The barn includes antique hewn beams, a vintage brick floor and gorgeous (and trendy) old barn doors.  You can't touch the kind of character and authenticity that comes with an old barn like that, and they're especially appropriate in a community like Sagaponack that's still close to its farm roots.

Of course, the idea of living in an actual barn may be more appealing to some buyers than the reality. Debra Simon, a Water Mill boutique builder, believes "people love to drive past them but not actually live in them. Over the years, [I've found] the old barns with great beams and quirky spaces--which are also very appealing--are not at all appreciated by today's buyers. People want new, new, new and open happy spaces, not gloomy barns with tiny limited windows. Even the old flooring/siding and beams are no longer trending. Most buyers and builders don't find rotting, moldy, termite-infested wood anything they want to deal with. The cost to attempt to clean it up--refurbish, get rid of mold and termites--is too time-consuming and cost prohibitive. Every time I build, I promise myself the next one will have a big sloped roof, like the barns I loved when I lived on Nantucket. But codes, setbacks and what the buyer wants always prevails."

For those who want new, modern-style barns are a popular choice. Plum Builders began designing the Modern Barn in 2006. Mary Giaquinto, chairwoman of Plum Builders, explains its appeal.

"The Modern Barn is designed with much more glass than the average house," Giaquinto says. "Oversized glass sliders and oversized windows with large planes of glass allow natural sunlight to come through. We cannot help but be uplifted by the good light--it affects our moods positively. The other piece of the attraction has to do with the large spans of empty space we call breathing room. The views of nature outside gives us a connection to our natural surroundings--a good feeling. Without walls, the positive influences of nature and sunlight reach us no matter where we are in the house."

For homebuyers tired of shingled traditionals, enormous boring McMansions, or soulless glass boxes, the emotional appeal of a barn, whether ancient or modern, just can't be beat. Maybe our farming forebears should stop chuckling.

My Hamptons: Eric Firestone
October 31, 2019

Eric Firestone opened his eponymous gallery on Newtown Lane in East Hampton in 2010 and Eric Firestone Loft in 2015 on Great Jones Street in New York City. Exhibiting post-war and contemporary artists, one speciality of the galley is re-examining historic work and major figures deserving of reintroduction. Firestone and his family live in East Hampton.

BTH: What brought you to the Hamptons?

EF: I've been here almost 10 years now. I was doing business here at the Hamptons Art Fair and just fell in love with the area. I was living in Arizona and thought that it would be a great opportunity to pick up my life with my family and take a shot at coming to the Hamptons.

We specifically chose East Hampton versus New York City, which would be a more natural place for a gallery to open, because we just fell in love with the small-town feel, the village feeling, with the beaches and so on. We were very fortunate when we opened the gallery space in 2010 to be  able to offer such an incredible space to use for exhibitions.

BTH: How did you get into the art business?

EF: I opened a gallery when I was 22 years old in Arizona. I was dragged to a lot of art and antique shows as a child. And obviously that influenced me. And that's why I'm kind of broad about what I like artistically, not necessarily one specific thing. It just has to be something that I feel I could be really enthusiastically behind if I'm going to show it.

BTH: Are you an artist yourself?

EF: No, but I have a strong curatorial kind of vision about how to present works. I feel like that's an art in itself. It's something that I feel I was gifted with. It isn't something you can learn from a book. You have to have a natural instinct, and that's my art.

BTH: You eventually did open a gallery in the city. What differences do you see between the two audiences and the kinds of shows that you put on?

EF: The big difference between the city and East Hampton is access to institutions and critics, so they can see what I'm doing. I don't want to slight the Hamptons, but The New York Times or ArtForum aren't writing reviews of shows out in the Hamptons. The gallery in the city has been getting quite a bit of press, but more importantly it's been getting a lot of institutional support. I only do two to the three shows a year in New York, and they tend to be pretty long-running shows, so again there's an opportunity for the work to be really seen and contemplated, so to speak. The big difference is just accessibility to the larger mass of the art world.

In East Hampton, I keep my doors open year-round, I don't close shop. I'm open basically every day of the week. I want to be accessible to the community, whether it's collectors, whether it's designers, whether it's just somebody who wants to come in and look at work but has no intention of buying it. I pride myself on having that amount of visibility and accessibility with the gallery.

A lot of the same work is rotated from New York City to East Hampton. It's interesting to see how different the work looks in different venues. In the city, I'm in a walk-up loft space versus the ground-level beautiful windowed gallery in East Hampton; it's just a different vibe completely.

BTH: What is your house like--is it filled with art?

EF: We live with material, but I'm not obsessed. I love art and design, but it's my business; I'm around it so much that it's almost like my home is a little bit desensitizing. I have a very kind of fluid feeling about all this stuff. If it can pass through my hands and touch my hands, I get to enjoy it. But it's a short moment or a little bit longer. If the art has proper stewardship after me, I'm great with that.

BTH: Since you opened the gallery when you were 22, this is obviously your dream job and what you've always wanted to do. Is there anything else that you're ever been tempted by?

EF: I would have liked to have been a professional golfer but my game's awful. I didn't really dream of running a gallery, I just do it. It gets me up in the morning.

BTH: I'm really impressed that a 22-year-old had the guts to open his own gallery.

EF: All this stuff comes from within. There's a generational thing--I think the younger generation sometimes takes things for granted. I have a very strong internship program in New York City; a lot of the students come from Barnard or NYU. Some go through the motions and some have a passion.

BTH: If you could have anyone to your Hamptons dinner party, dead or alive, who would you invite?

EF: I would definitely invite Alfonso Ossorio. He was just such a cool collector and also a brilliant artist. And he had had such a great rich history with the Creeks. I would also invite Jack Lenor Larsen, because I think he's the greatest textile designer of 20th century America. He happens to be a national treasure and lives in East Hampton. I would invite Perle Fine because I just like her work, and she did this really cool cookbook back in the day, so she would have some great recipes. I think I would invite Thomas Moran. He depicted East Hampton in the late 19th century. It was such a different era and I'd like to hear more about what it was like to be in the Hamptons at that time.

I'm also going to invite Miriam Shapiro, because I represent her estate and because she was such a force in her vision. She falls into the canon of American art history. I have to invite my wife. And then Elena Glinn, because she tells such great stories about being a kid growing up in the Hamptons. She's been a dear friend since I've been in East Hampton.

North Fork Real Estate Market Q3 Reports Revealed
October 30, 2019

Ah, the signs of fall on the North Fork, a cornucopia of apples, pumpkins...and Third Quarter real estate reports. As that traffic on Sound Avenue might indicate, we aren't the first ones to arrive.

"The secret is out," says Town & Country Real Estate CEO Judi Desiderio, whose most recent report notes that overall the North Fork saw an 11% increase year-on-year in home sales over the summer, with 90 closes. "The natural beauty of the North Fork is no longer a secret. The media has done a bang-up job letting the public know about the farms, vineyards and rural nature of the region. Couple that with a very attainable price point and the result is heightened demand."

Indeed, price--make that accurate pricing for the market--has played a major role all the way out to Orient Point. While the entire fork was a mix of ups and downs, Corcoran's Q3 report shows that while sales volume dropped 15% and the number of sales fell 16% to its second lowest figure in six years, the average price on the North Fork was up 1% year-over-year, and median price increased 13% (a rise driven by fewer reported sales under $350,000).

"Buyers are finding value in these areas," says Ernie Cervi, Regional Senior Vice President East End at Corcoran, "and properties priced well for the current market are trading."

Across the board, the report notes, "East Marion/Orient reported closings were the same as Third Quarter 2018 and Southold had a notable 29% increase in sales. However, these positives were overwhelmed by double-digit declines in Aquebogue/Jamesport, Greenport and Mattituck/Laurel." As for price changes versus last year, they were relatively minor in most areas. In Greenport, where the biggest changes were seen, they note, the average price was up 7% and median price up 25% year-on-year.

Prices in the maritime village have been on the rise for some time now, and interest remains strong for the right property at the right dollar amount. "Greenport has really attracted that Brooklyn crowd," says Ann Conroy, President, Long Island Division, with Douglas Elliman Real Estate. "It's hip, it's a walkthrough town, it's got a great young buzz."

Greenport, with its hip appeal, is only part of the story. Douglas Elliman's report notes that the North Fork saw the second-largest share--an impressive 29.3%--of total East End sales in more than 11 years. On the luxury listing end, inventory increased year over year for the fourth straight quarter, while median sales price declined for the first time in 10 quarters. "The more inventory you have, there is a downward pressure on pricing," Conroy says. "The luxury market in every single marketplace hasn't been doing as well as everyone would love it to do, or as it has done in the past, and that's in Manhattan, Nassau North Shore, the Hamptons--so as more and more sellers put their houses on the market and fewer and fewer buyers are biting at the prices they're asking, that causes that."

Supply, demand, inventory, asking price--a market responds to and is driven by all these factors, and then some. Desiderio notes in the Town & Country report that Southold (which includes New Suffolk and Peconic), showed a "45% explosion in the number of home sales and a 33% leap in total home sales volume, largely due to a 300% increase in the $1 million to $1.99 million price range, which included the highest North Fork sale for the quarter of the Butz residence on Hyatt Road for $2.45 million." Mattituck (which includes Laurel and Cutchogue) may have seemed to "lag a bit from its eastern and western counterpart markets," the report says, "but realized the greatest statistical increase (+13.2%) to $665,000 ­for the highest median home sales price on the North Fork for the 3rd Quarter 2019."

The Jamesport area--which includes Aquebogue, Baiting Hollow and South Jamesport--closed 43% more deals and saw an increase of 9.45% in total home sales volume, a testament to the attractive nature of its being "the most western North Fork hamlet [and] the ease of travel in and out of the city and points west," Desiderio notes. 

Looking at all North Fork markets combined, Desiderio says, "we see a very deliberate shift--as we predicted--to higher-priced home sales. The $1 million to $1.99 million price category increased year over year by 120%."

That is just one of the intriguing observations among the numbers. "More sales were reported on the North Fork in the $750,000 to $1 million and $1 million to $1.5 million price ranges, causing these categories to grow markedly in market share," Cervi notes. "The biggest drops occurred at the extreme ends of the market. Reported sales under $350,000 decreased from 9% of the market to only 3% this year. Over $1.5 million closings were also 3% of the market but were 7% in Third Quarter 2018."

With all these numbers and analysis, however, don't expect any crystal-ball gazing as we close out 2019 and head into 2020. "We won't try to predict the future markets," Cervi says. "However, the level of activity agents are experiencing appears to be promising."

"The North Fork still has a long way to go--they haven't peaked yet in terms of pricing," Conroy adds. "Every single year it just gets better and better. There was a time when it was second to the Hamptons, but right now it's just a different buyer. A lot of people from Brooklyn, Garden City, millennials from Manhattan. It really has become a whole market segment that is attracting a very different buyer than the buyer that is normally attracted to the Hamptons. It's young, it's vibrant, it's really great."

That is not to say, of course, that buyers are necessarily comparing the North Fork and the Hamptons. Nor should they. "They're apples and oranges," Desiderio says. "But for anyone who loves fruit, they will explore both--maybe live on one fork and invest in the other fork."

Michael Nenner of Gurney's Resorts
My Hamptons: Michael Nenner of Gurney's Resorts
October 25, 2019

As Area General Manager of Gurney's Resorts, Michael Nenner has been instrumental in elevating the classic Montauk name into a world-class brand and destination--complete with its own ice cream flavor...

Describe your perfect day on the East End. My family enjoys walking throughout the quaint village of Sag Harbor, perusing the small shops and galleries. We love to top off our day with a treat from Grindstone Coffee & Donuts, a modern-rustic hot spot serving hot brioche donuts in creative flavors. As the Area General Manager of Gurney's Resorts, which are all waterfront properties, being by the water is an integral part of my life and brings great joy. When not by Lake Montauk at Gurney's Star Island or near the beautiful beach at Gurney's Montauk, Sag Harbor presents just as beautiful of a coastal atmosphere.

What are some other favorite spots and activities? The sunrises on the beach at Gurney's Montauk are truly special in the winter, as there is no one around and all you can hear are the waves crashing down. Another of my favorite sites with the family is watching the Golden Hour at Sunset Beach on Shelter Island. For a top-notch sunset, we often go to Navy Beach or The Montauket.

Tell us about the origins of "Weekend at Gurney's." At the Montauk properties, we're focused on partnering with like-minded New York brands to elevate the guest experience and create a memorable destination. We approached Van Leeuwen Ice Cream to offer our guests the best ice cream to enjoy in a vacation setting. Now, Gurney's Star Island is home to Van Leeuwen's first brick-and-mortar hotel store.

While developing the partnership, I presented the idea of making an exclusive Gurney's Resorts flavor that spoke to the waterfront atmosphere and summer months. We knew the flavor had to have a bonfire element, as s'mores are an integral part of our offerings at both Montauk properties. As we like to provide effortless elegance at our properties, we sought to make the flavor smooth and added peanut butter and chocolate. The finished product was an ice cream with a peanut butter base, chocolate swirl, marshmallow bits and a graham cracker crumble. With every bite, "Weekend at Gurney's" delights the senses.

If you could have any three people at your dinner party, who would you invite and why? There are so many--this is so difficult to narrow down! I'll go with Robin Williams, Leonardo DaVinci and Nelson Mandela. This unique mix of individuals in one setting would tap into different aspects of my brain and present the opportunity for fascinating conversation. We'd have humor, intellect, creativity, humanity, and the sheer volume of cumulative life experience would be mind-blowing.

You have a glass of your wine in your hand right now--what toast would you like to make? May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows.

Sea Farm Reimagined: From Norman Jaffe to Nick Martin
October 24, 2019

Norman Jaffe left a legacy of more than 50 houses on Long Island. Some have been lost, some are maintained lovingly by the original owners, and then there is this property, Jaffe's own last home, known as Sea Farm, which has been thoughtfully redesigned by Hamptons architect Nick Martin.

Laid out on a 1-acre flag lot are three buildings. Their sharp rooflines are reminiscent of Jaffe's beloved Katsura Imperial Villa in Japan, as well as Jaffe's own Jewish Center of the Hamptons. The main house is 4,000 square feet, and there are two studios, one for the artist husband and one for the writer wife. These are arranged around a simple rectangular swimming pool.

It would have been natural for Martin to feel trepidation abut altering the home of one of the East End's most revered architects, but he says not so. "My relationship with the client started earlier. I helped the client [Conrad de Kwiatkowski, a minimalist painter] find the house and then helped him choose to do this project," Martin says. "The house had a lot of extreme and visible issues; it had not been cared for. It needed quite a bit of work and it needed quite a bit of cleanup. But we were intrigued by the history of its being Jaffe's house, and also I knew the potential quality that we could get from it."

The property was originally a single shingled structure, but over time, Jaffe had added several more buildings, all pinwheeling around the central pool. Martin comments, "The original premise that Jaffe had was about circulation. He was a master planner."

Jaffe's studio had been located farther away on a parcel of land that was sold to another and made into a tree farm. Martin therefore had to reconfigure the uses of the property to reflect its smaller size and to make best use of the space.

"Our initial layout had a garage, which oddly enough had the best southern exposure," he says. "So what I did first was move the cars to the least elegant part of the property, the north part of the flag lot. When we converted the garage into studio, it allowed the whole southern portion to be completely about the view." The serenity of the area and of the layout is what attracted the owner initially.

Now the property consists of a complex of structures arranged around a central area with a simple pool and with several intimate outdoor rooms. It feels like a rural farm, with the main house and outbuildings all perpendicular to one another.

As for the buildings themselves, Martin "purified the forms," he says. All trim work and corner boards were removed from the siding; a balcony was removed from the main house and large windows were added to frame the farmland views from the master suite. He also enlarged the living room by joining it with the original foyer and added new entry points on a north/south axis with the pool.

Martin also removed risers that Jaffe had used to enter and exit the house. "We lost a lot of square footage that way, but the risers took up a lot of space from areas that should have been more of a priority." Now, the stone patio now flows seamlessly into the main living room and dining areas.

It's no accident that the resulting area has a Zenlike purity to it. "We wanted the pool area in particular to be meditative and less about distraction," Martin explains. The current owner has spent a lot of time in South America and Peru, and he is very interested in the Inca courtyard and how the sun moves through it through the day. "We enlarged the pool and added the spa and then added to the courtyard to make it more monolithic," comments Martin.

"In the house, we removed a double height space which was really too small, and then we extended the second floor right to the window. We then added a very large opening to clarify that geometry. All the details of the house were purified and made very crisp, like the edge of shingles."

Does Martin think that the modifications are a reflection of the way we like to live now, as opposed to the way we liked to live in the 1980s when Jaffe lived there? No. "I think it was about purifying the forms. Part of it is personality, too. I did another Jaffe renovation on Sam's Creek years ago. Honestly, it wasn't built very well, but the form was elegant and the materials were strong and had a lot of potential.

"But in the end, you know there's lots of ways to clarify and make forms more minimal so that the overall picture remains the important story, not about how high a wall was and how many stairs up or down the way. We tried to pay homage to him as an architect. We looked at his original plans and I tried to edit the work to make the best of it."

What about the future? Will a generation from now a new architect rework's Martin's work? "We actually have plans for another structure on the site," he says. "The thing about this project is that the scale is not too large. It's a minimal house. And I think it is possible that it will undergo another iteration in the future, and that's great."

As for now, Martin thinks Jaffe would have gone in the direction he has taken the property had he had the budget. Martin's latter-day work on the compound demonstrates how to update and at the same time improve an iconic work of architecture.

Real Estate Roundtable: What to Ask Your Agent
October 23, 2019

How well do you know the market? Who's going to be showing my house? At what price should I list? Our panel of experts explain what buyers and sellers need to ask.

Buyers, before you meet with a prospective broker, you should simply go online and research the broker. Then ask, how knowledgeable are you on the market? Can you educate me on areas available in my potential price range? How do you differ from the competition?

The same applies to sellers--research your broker's recent sales and current listings. Pricing and exposure are the essential elements for selling a property. Therefore, sellers should ask: What is the right price to sell my property? How will you market my property? What should I do to prepare my property for sale/showing: repair/renovations, addressing potential inspection issues and staging? -- Enzo Morabito, Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Buyers should ask their broker for testimonials from past buyers to see how they work with clients. They should make sure everyone is on the same page, and finally, they should ask what benefit they get from working with that particular broker. 

Sellers should be asking what exactly their broker will do for them to sell their house, how they will do it (to make sure they follow through) and for a thorough CMA (comparative market analysis) showing that the broker truly understands the market on their particular property. -- Doug Sabo, Nest Seekers International

The buyer should ask, why should I buy in this market and which areas in my budget will bring the best return when I want to sell? How well do you know these areas? What additional expenses will I have to budget for, such as transfer costs? Can you recommend an attorney and inspector?

Sellers should ask what kinds of things they should do to sell their houses in this market, such as repairs, decluttering, depersonalizing, and improving curb appeal. Finally, they should ask what price will get the most traction for their house in this market. -- Martha Gundersen, Douglas Elliman Real Estate

The truth is, three questions are the tip of the iceberg. A prospective buyer should ask a million questions or more. A good broker's greatest asset is the ability to listen carefully. The more questions a customer asks, the better their broker can help them on their search. When your broker acts annoyed when you ask "too many questions," it's time to find a different broker!

As for sellers, two questions come to mind. Now that so many agents have formed teams, before you choose a team, the seller should ask specifically "Who will really be showing my house?"

A seller should no longer be asking, "What can I get for my house?" A buyer should be asking, "At what price should we be listing my house to get it sold?" You don't call a broker to list your house, you call a broker to sell your house! The days of list, pray, wait are over. The best thing a person can do when selling a house is get it in their rearview mirror. -- Ann Ciardullo, Sotheby's International

The one question that is asked of most agents concerns pricing. What can I sell it for and what can I buy it for? Sounds simple, but like all things, it depends. Is it a rising market--more demand than supply--or a decreasing market, more supply than demand. My recommendation to sellers is to lead the market and not to follow it. If the market is rising, price your home above the last comparative sale. The opposite is true for a down market. Price your home below the last comparative sale. Our market today is over-supplied. I have seen sellers who priced their homes at what their neighbors sold for two years ago and then have to lower it over and over as the market decreases. -- Alan Schnurman, Saunders & Associates

Every buyer should ask their broker about their experience--how long have they been a broker in the Hamptons--and knowledge. A broker should talk to a buyer about the market, specifically the market they're interested in, and tell them what's available and what has sold. Also, not a question, but rather a gut feeling: Do you feel good about this broker? You'll be spending a good amount of time with him/her, so it would be best if you liked who they are and how they do their business.

Every seller should ask their broker the same three questions, along with: How much time and attention will you be giving my listing? Does your firm have a marketing department and/or professional photographers? The web has certainly leveled the playing field for exposure, but how that information is formulated and projected is important. Most of all, sellers should make sure their brokers have negotiation skills. It's the last thing to develop in any broker, yet so very important. -- Judi Desiderio, Town & Country Real Estate

The three questions every buyer should ask their broker are as follows: How experienced are you? How knowledgeable of the area are you? How good are you at negotiations?

The three questions every seller should ask their broker: How experienced are you? What's your philosophy on pricing? How good are you at negotiations? -- John Christopher, Sotheby's International

Buyers should ask their broker three simple things. How long have you worked in Hamptons real estate? Do you work full time as a broker or only part time? Do you have patience?

Every seller should ask their broker three more complex things. Why should I hire you and your firm above the others? How dedicated are you to finding the right deal and getting to closing? How much time can I expect you to spend on my listing weekly? -- Mary Slattery, The Corcoran Group