Truman Capote’s Sagaponack House


I’M FOREVER LOOKING for clues to the origins of my Long Island beach house. The town records, which go back only to 1957, when zoning was adopted, are useless, since the house was built before then. But when? And by whom? And was it designed, or did it just sort of happen?

I Googled the name of a long-dead previous owner, and came to this lovely blog postwritten by a visitor to the house, recalling hammock-swinging and gazpacho-making in the summer of 1975.

I’ve asked the last owner to dig out any photos he might have, and I have hopes he may get around to it one day. I’ve been to the Long Island Collection at the East Hampton Public Library, and read Alastair Gordon’s Modern Long Island: The First Generation of Modernist Architecture 1925-1960, which accompanied an exhibition at East Hampton’s Guild Hall in the 1980s.

But I still know very little about the architecture and design of my own house. Occasionally I come across something that strongly reminds me of it. One of these recent discoveries was on the website The Selvedge Yard, which reproduced an article published in Architectural Digest in 1976, about Truman Capote’s house in Sagaponack, a boxy wooden structure he built in 1962. It had, the magazine said, an “intentionally untended” look. (The house still stands but has lost its untended look, and with it, its charm.)

Truman Capote Standing by Fireplace

For Capote, this was one of three homes (the others in Manhattan, California and Switzerland), but it seems he spent as much time out there as he could, especially in autumn and winter. He was, of course, well-heeled enough to winterize the house, but quirky enough to do it in such a way as to make it look unfinished by choice. (My as-yet-unwinterized house also looks unfinished, because it is.)

I love the dark glossy floors, the walls of books, the exposed-beam ceilings — and the typically pithy Capote-isms in the article, such as this: “For me, it’s a bore to use a decorator. I know exactly what I want. I don’t care to have someone come in and tell me what I need to live with. I know.”





Annie’s Porch


SOMETIMES YOU DON’T NOTICE A HOUSE, however interesting, until your attention is forcibly called to it. That was the case for me with the Annie Cooper Boyd House, owned by the Sag Harbor Historical Society. I only visited it last Friday because I happened to see an ad in a local paper for an event called ‘Annie’s Porch,’ which promised a) blog material and b) free wine.

Turns out Annie Cooper Boyd (1864-1941) spent an idyllic childhood in Sag Harbor as the daughter of a whaleboat builder. Her family lived in the fine Main Street house, below.


She grew up boating, fishing, collecting shells and seaweed (there’s a display of magnificently pressed and catalogued seaweed samples), and riding her horse to the ocean in Sagaponack. On reaching marriageable age, she turned into a proper Victorian young lady, got dressed up in white finery, and spent time with relatives in New York City, where she found a spouse.


She married John Boyd in 1894. Their primary residence was on Lincoln Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Her father bequeathed her the old house next door to his, set back from the street, where some of his workers had been housed. That became her own family’s summer home.


Now open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4PM, the house was built originally as a simple saltbox around 1790; the Boyds added the porch and dormer in 1906.


Annie Cooper Boyd became a watercolor artist, covering the interior walls of the house with painted decoration.


Her paintings of local scenes provide a valuable historical record. Many are stored  in an upstairs room, recently fitted with racks to properly preserve them.


Her diaries have been published as a book called Anchor to Windward (her name for the cottage). Along with hundreds of paintings, they were given to the historical society by Annie’s daughter, Nancy Willey, who died in 1998. The diaries cover the period 1880-1935, from the waning days of the whaling industry to the Great Depression, when she augmented the family income by setting up a tea room in the house and selling her artwork and handmade holiday cards.


It all comes to life in the house itself — which, incidentally, is only one of 37 sites on a self-guided walking tour of Sag Harbor’s historic district. For more info, call 631/725-5092, or go here.

Bridge and Sagg


I’M STILL VERY MUCH IN THE DISCOVERY PHASE concerning the East End of Long Island, where I moved just under a year ago.


One of my favorite areas is Bridgehampton/Sagaponack. Between Montauk Highway and the ocean, there are quite a few Colonial houses on quiet lanes. It still has a rural, old-timey feel, with a windmill, farm stands, a classic general store on Sagg Main Street, greenhouses (that’s Liberty Farm Nursery, below), and tractors moving about.



Of course, all that rural charm, as well as unspoiled ocean beaches minutes away, attracted the newly rich in the 1980s and ’90s; there was a lot of building, which continues more slowly today. Thus there are some massive contemporary houses, a number of which qualify as ‘important’ modern architecture. Others are McMansions in ersatz Shingle Style. Happily, they are mostly set back in the fields, hidden at least partly by dune grasses.


The 17th century bridge that gave Bridgehampton its name is now a functional modern overpass, below, but the view is still exhilarating.


I was in the area the other day looking for a group of six houses known as Sam’s Creek, designed in the 1970s and ’80s by architect Norman Jaffe (I’m writing about Jaffe for Home Miami magazine). I found them; you’ll see pictures in an upcoming post. Though I was impressed by their design, siting, and modernist landscaping, my heart was definitely more moved by the houses and scenes in this post.


The Barely Bearable Fleetingness of Spring


Magnolia in East Hampton village

THE ONSET OF SPRING, I’ve realized, is kind of like an LSD trip (or so I remember – this goes back a few years). You take the pill, you wait and wait, you’re convinced nothing’s ever gonna happen, and then all of a sudden, all hell breaks loose.

Or as my wasband put it, “Is there a switch somewhere that says, ‘Garden ON’?”


Sheared forsythia

Nothing much was happening around here, flower-wise, until the past week of warm weather. Now it’s going so fast I’m already mourning the turning green of the forsythia, the lavender Exbury azalea in my neighbor’s yard past its peak, the mature magnolias in the village (that would be East Hampton, N.Y.), already dropping their pearlescent petals.


The exbury azalea next door

Spring is the season for exercising the gratitude muscle, for not clinging, not grasping. For appreciating what you’ve got when you’ve got it, and letting go when it’s time.


My best daff

Maybe spring has extra meaning for me this year. I’ve just had a major birthday. I’m now officially a senior, if not according to the Federal government, at least according to the East Hampton Cinema. I can see a movie for $7.50, and save $12/month on my gym membership. All to the good. As my friend Diana said, “You chafe against it at first, but then you want all the discounts you can get.”


Vinca minor (periwinkle)

I had a memorable birthday celebration, below, drinking Prosecco with good friends in the garden on Sunday; then lunch at the Maidstone on Tuesday, and a walk along the beach at Sagaponack in unseasonable warmth.

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Senior in pink

Tomorrow I’m off to Mexico for a week, where I’ll meet my daughter at Rancho La Puerta, the fabulous fitness resort in Baja where I’ve been many times before. One of the chief pleasures of the place is the magnificent landscaping, and I’ll be blogging about that in days to come.


Beach at Sagaponack

But today, I walked around my own modest property, observing. I saw a bleeding heart and some epimedium poking through the soil. The little blue flowers of vinca minor are everywhere, and I see May apples and lily of the valley pushing up. They are gifts – I didn’t put them there. I’ve put very little here so far, in fact, but that will change upon my return from Mexico.


Birthday lunch at the Maidstone

My goal for the next six months is to spend every possible day working in the garden, weather permitting, or even weather not permitting. And to stay in the moment and enjoy it all while it, and I, last.


Sunset over Three Mile Harbor

Dean Riddle’s Japan


I VISITED JAPAN LAST SUNDAY, through the eyes of Dean Riddle. A garden designer based in upstate New York, Dean spoke at Madoo Conservancy here in Sagaponack about his trip last fall to Kyoto (that’s Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, top and below) and Tokyo.

Though the highly controlled and obsessively manicured Japanese gardens, some centuries old, couldn’t be more different from Dean’s own exuberant, ever-changing gardens here in the Northeast, they share the same essential purpose: to showcase the beauty of nature. Dean mentioned tearing up more than once at gardens as uplifting as a symphony or great work of art.


Beyond the pristine plantings, Dean showed pictures of the stone block paths he loves for their “homemade feeling” and dry gardens of stone — the most famous being the Zen rock garden of Ryoan-ji, below, with rocks still in place where they were positioned 500 years ago. Considered by some the greatest masterpiece of Japanese culture, there are 15 stones at Ryoan-ji, though you can never see more than 14 from any vantage point.


As Dean presented his photos, carefully shot to avoid crowds of people, he pointed out elements of traditional Japanese garden design, like the use of borrowed scenery to make designed gardens “look like they melt into the mountainside,” and the extensive use of moss — almost exclusively at the otherworldly Siaho-ji, below, where 150 species of lovingly groomed, emerald-green moss long ago took over two acres.


At the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, a fallen cherry tree, instead of being chopped up and hauled away, was protected with mounded soil, surrounded by a small fence, and allowed to remain, where it put out new branches from the fallen trunk, and is revered.

“Everything is so highly aestheticized,” Dean says. “Sometimes I feel I was born in the wrong country.”