I nearly missed last week’s New York Times article by Julie Scelfo about the transformation of the Grey Gardens property. Sally Quinn, the writer, and her husband Benjamin C. Bradlee, former executive editor of The Washington Post, acquired the derelict East Hampton, NY manse and overgrown grounds in 1979. Today, the surrounding lush gardens by Victoria Fensterer are breathtaking, as both the Times article and images will attest. Unfortunately, pictures of the resuscitated 10-bedroom dwelling (c. 1897) are not featured, but exquisite black and white before shots set the scene for what must have been a Herculean home-improvement project.
You may have noticed Grey Gardens much in the news lately, thanks to the recent airing of a new HBO Films production titled Grey Gardens based on the 1975 Maysles brothers’ documentary also titled Grey Gardens. There’s even a Grey Gardens book coming out in May, 2009, and there was a 2006-2007 acclaimed Broadway musical inspired by the same story. Both films, the musical, and the book feature Edith Bouvier Beale, known as Big Edie, and her daughter Little Edie who were, respectively, aunt and cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Despite lives among New York’s high society in the late 30’s, by the 70's the Beales were isolated on their East Hampton estate, living in squalor among cats and raccoons. It’s this bizarre later phase that the Maylses captured with cinéma-vérité. In 1976 the Times published an interesting review of the uncomfortable documentary. The story of Grey Gardens has what Malcolm Gladwell might call the stickiness factor. It continues to capture our attention and imagination.
The re-imagined gardens further tap into the property's mystique. In the Times recent piece, Nora Ephron, a friend to Quinn and Bradlee, says of the grounds, “…I’ve never seen a picture of it that ever conveyed how amazing it is because, in some way, it’s a sort of a distant cousin to the wildness that was there when the Bradlees bought the house.” It sounds and looks like it’s full of enticing, exuberant vignettes. There’s even a little thatched-roof vintage cottage out back. How I’d love to see that featured in detail.
by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast