A hobby in the Hamp­tons

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - LEAH MCFALL -

There’s a ghastly same­ness to the in­te­ri­ors. Ex­cept per­haps We­in­stein’s, where there was a TV be­side the stupidly placed bath.

I’ve found a hobby, and I need you to know how great it is. I’m not even go­ing to bother with a build-up, that’s how ter­rific this is – and, frankly, I’m de­vot­ing ev­ery spare wak­ing minute to do­ing it (adding up to a daily av­er­age of eight min­utes). It’s this: look­ing up real es­tate in the Hamp­tons. Scream, right? I’m not ex­actly sure where the Hamp­tons is or where it ends. It seems to be a net­work of pretty, coastal sub­urbs with ei­ther dully ob­vi­ous names (East Hamp­ton; West Hamp­ton; Bridge­hamp­ton) or rem­i­nis­cent ones (Mon­tauk and Sa­gaponack, al­though I imag­ine any res­i­dent indige­nous peo­ple were hur­ried along quite some time ago).

What I can tell you is that crazily rich New York women tend to spend their sum­mers there while their ex­ec­u­tive hus­bands toil in the swel­ter­ing city. Th­ese guys come up at week­ends for pool par­ties, cock­tails and dou­bles ten­nis. They con­ve­niently leave again at day­break each Mon­day, while their wives down­ward dog on the break­fast ter­race with their pri­vate yoga in­struc­tors.

There’s some­thing quite avian about this ar­range­ment. One bird does all the hard yards be­yond the ter­ri­tory, toil­ing for worms, while the other pea­cocks around close to home in a strangely re­dun­dant sta­tus dis­play. Re­dun­dant, be­cause ev­ery­body else is as rich and as leisured as they are. They’re birds of a feather, hard to tell apart.

There’s no ap­par­ent pri­vacy in the Hamp­tons: from what I can tell, the man­sions are too ex­trav­a­gant to be screened by a sim­ple fence. Of­ten noth­ing stands be­tween th­ese vast, shin­gled, beach­front homes and the open sea.

Pri­vacy isn’t the aim, any­how. That’s why Gwyneth is al­ways host­ing par­ties – I mean, brand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties – in her Hamp­tons or­chard. What’s the point of liv­ing like this un­less other peo­ple see you liv­ing like this? Any­way, the houses. Squeak! There’s a sur­pris­ing rate of turnover, which makes this such a sat­is­fy­ing hobby. On oc­ca­sion, I might see the same man­sion reap­pear in the list­ings as lit­tle as a year later. It seems for­tunes can turn on a dime among the mega-rich and there ap­pears to be no shame in it, as real­tors will rat­tle off who pre­vi­ously sold the prop­erty to whom, in the way of a dog breeder iden­ti­fy­ing pedi­gree.

Har­vey We­in­stein, for ex­am­ple, just sold his 9000 square foot home­stead in Ama­gansett (nope, me nei­ther) for the knock­down price of US$10 mil­lion. I know, that might be a bit of an icky thought, but there’s noth­ing that sugar soap and el­bow grease can’t wash away; be­sides, you should see this place.

To be hon­est, it looks ex­actly like ev­ery other Hamp­tons mega-man­sion, which means there are gables and wain­scots, bay win­dows and follies; sweep­ing lawns, an in-ground pool, fussy con­ser­va­to­ries and sash win­dows. It’s sym­met­ri­cal and pre­dictable, all th­ese Ge­or­gian win­dows and maple floors. The en­tire Hamp­tons are very Jackie Kennedy, who seems to re­main the ar­biter of ul­ti­mate chic in Amer­ica: beau­ti­fully white and fea­ture­less, while tightly hys­ter­i­cal un­der­neath.

Still, the hobby never gets dull. As I scroll the pic­tures, the more con­vinced I am that can iden­tify which­ever stylist dressed the house for the pho­tos. There’s a ghastly same­ness to the in­te­ri­ors that gives me the home dé­cor hee­bie-jeebs.

To be truly Hamp­ton, you must have match­ing pairs of lamps with ging­ham wing-backed arm­chairs ei­ther side of a fire­place. You must set a pair of oc­ca­sional chairs in con­trast­ing up­hol­stery per­pen­dic­u­lar to two op­pos­ing so­fas. You won’t be able to move for wooden bar­ley-twist lamps and twiggy-legged fur­ni­ture of the kind favoured by Hamp­tons ma­tri­arch and former felon, Martha Ste­wart. Th­ese im­ply class, even if you have none.

There’ll be a cin­ema, a wine cel­lar, and a claw-foot bath in a stupid place. There’ll be no dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics in any of th­ese homes, ex­cept per­haps We­in­stein’s, where there ap­peared to be a TV be­side the stupidly placed bath. This tells you ev­ery­thing you need to know about the man (tack-o-rama), and his court case hasn’t even started yet.

I find it com­fort­ing that the ob­scenely rich ap­pear to have no more taste than the rest of us. They out­source the cre­ativ­ity of their homes to in­te­rior de­sign­ers so rigidly in thrall to a set of rules that you could ex­change one de­signer for another, one ad­dress for another.

Don’t we, fur­ther down the food chain, do the same thing, with our iden­ti­cal spot-de­cal walls, Kmart bed linen, dipped-leg stools and trib­ute Eames chairs? When was the last time you went to some­one’s house and thought OH MY GOD, FLAMINGO WALL­PA­PER, ARE THEY OUT OF THEIR TINY MINDS?

Ac­tu­ally, scratch that: ex­trav­a­gant wall­pa­per, of­ten fea­tur­ing wading birds, has made a come­back, and ev­ery­body’s buy­ing it. We’re birds of a feather, whether we nest in the Hamp­tons or Hataitai. We flock to­gether.

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