Haute in the Hamptons

Natural beauty is the East End’s most precious commodity, and a true picture depicts far more than a voyeur’s view. Here we offer you a sight to behold: a vision of Hamptons heaven.

By Diane Strecker


Visitors come to the East End to enjoy the beauty, history, and quaint, small-town feel that is unique to the Hamptons. They trade the frantic pace of the city or the humdrum of home for farm stands in Sagaponack, an antique show in Amagansett, or quiet curbside dining in Bridgehampton. They sail, fish, surf, and swim on some of the most pristine waterways in the world and stroll down some of the most beautifully maintained and luxuriant streets in the country. On a mid-summer afternoon, the Hamptons can surely feel like heaven.

On one such afternoon, a smooth summer breeze cooled the air as a small private plane glided down in a whisper, landing lightly on the runway at the East Hampton Airport. There was no smell of jet fuel or sound of screaming engines, just the pleasant sight of smiling pilots heading on to Newport or Nantucket. An occasional helicopter landed to drop off one high-profile passenger or another, as this locale is just a half-hour jaunt from a Wall Street heliport. A four-vehicle precession awaits a famous rapper and his entourage-entertainment for a private party taking place that night. On occasion, the ten-seat seaplane streams in from New York Harbor. The small airstrip and terminal resembles more of a state park than an airport, where visitors are free to sit while they wait for an arrival.

In Hamptons Heaven

Bruno Schreck of Aerial Aesthetics lifts his Cessna Cutlass off the strip, heading over to soar above the many expansive East End estates to photograph his next project. He has researched the weather conditions and studied NASA photos, all to precisely time when the sun will hit his mark. He has full control of his hand-held camera. Both pilot and photographer, Bruno heads down low, flying close over the ocean, waiting for a light wind to pick the water up just enough to cause that sparkle and- Snap! He has the perfect shot. Schreck has been taking aerials of the estates on the East End for twenty-six years. His archived gallery of estate photos is a tremendous portfolio that includes the Rennert Mansion in Sagaponack-the largest private residence in the country-and Jerry Seinfeld’s estate and private baseball diamond in East Hampton. His breathtaking work has been commissioned by most of the area realtors that broker the more elaborate estates on the East End. Schreck said that although properties may change brokers’ hands many times in the life of an estate sale, owners hold tight to his striking photos. “The photo is what sells the property,” he says, and it is easy to see why.

Schreck spins his magic in the photos without compressing their authenticity, all the while enhancing the hues and qualities yet disguising possible deterrents. Aerials are essential in capturing the essence of a property and exacting its location by baring views not visible from the ground, such as outlying bodies of water or impressive neighboring estates.

Not all aerial photographs come from planes, as Mario Novak can tell you. His shots are so artistically executed that they appear surreal. His camera works like a paintbrush, defining the geography down to the very last detail to illustrate the intricate beauty of the East End.

Novak, who has also been working the Hamptons’ airspace for twenty years, lifts off inside a Jet Ranger helicopter piloted by former US Army or Navy pilots in order to capture his very unique shots. “It gets extremely turbulent at beach level,” says Novak, whose appointments take him dangerously near the oceanfront. His work has not only been used by some of the area’s premier brokers, but also displayed at multiple galleries throughout the Hamptons.

Novak has demonstrated a creative approach when it comes to marketing estates throughout the Hamptons. His lengthy repertoire includes The Burnt Point Estate in Wainscott, Hare Hall in East Hampton, and Swans Way in Southampton. He recently added Starr Estate in Remsenburg (listed with Norman Reynolds Sotheby’s International Realty for $13,500,000) to his portfolio. Remsenberg, a posh and private hamlet adjacent to Westhampton, is home to countless noted estates, and Starr Estate, a Mediterranean-style villa on 2.6 acres facing Moriches Bay, is a prime example. Novak, who recently added publishing to his impressive resume, just completed a stunning pictorial coffee table book on his native country, Croatia.

Give Me Shelter

If you blink on the North Ferry from Greenport, you miss the ride over to Shelter Island. Despite its proximity, upon arrival at the small island, one feels like they have traveled to a distant locale. Driving off the small marine transport and up the hill known as Shelter Island Heights invokes thoughts of New England. Shelter Island, set clear in the middle of Peconic Bay, can only be reached by ferry, boat, or private plane. Those seeking isolation or hoping to commune with nature can do so on the island by hiking the massive Mashomack Preserve, cycling along its open coastal route, or kayaking in its many inlets and bogs.

Like a getaway inside a getaway, the small island is filled with turn of the century Victorian homes, each quainter than the next. Sitting center court is the grand dame: The Chequit Inn. The Inn has a total of 35 guest rooms, along with a formal restaurant, hillside patio, and lower-level bar and grill. On a warm summer evening, a table at the Chequit’s restaurant transports diners to another time. A stunning view of the bay provides the backdrop, while lanterns provide a soft glow and the scents of the local flora drift to the table.

Historic landmark properties are not the usual on the Shelter Island market, where privacy is very highly regarded. On Shelter Island, there are no ‘For Sale’ signs; they are prohibited. Two years ago, the island revived a hundred year old ordinance preventing realtors from displaying them as a reminder of the island’s unpretentious and reserved philosophy. The only way to obtain a historic property like the Chequit, which is for sale, along with its historic sister, the Rams Head Inn, is to contact its exclusive realtor, Prudential Douglas Elliman.

Rams Head Inn is located on an isle within the isle known as Little Ram. Since opening in 1929, many a guest has passed an evening enjoying the serene view of Coecles Harbor while relaxing in the signature white Adirondack chairs that line the front porch. The inn sits on 4.3 acres with 800 feet of shoreline that includes a private dock, beach, and tennis courts, and has proven to be one of the highest income locations on Shelter Island. The rare opportunity is now listed at $17,500,000.

The Hamptons by Design

The Bridgehampton monument at the head of the village invariably represents “Hamptons Central,” a point by which East End towns are connected from every direction. Ocean Road in Bridgehampton is lined with magnificent estates before it dead-ends at one of the Hamptons’ most popular beaches. So it is appropriate that the 2007 Hamptons Designer Showhouse, one of the highly anticipated fundraisers on the East End calendar, was set in its hub. The Showhouse has become one of the summer’s “must see” events. Each year, the project moves to a new and extraordinary Hamptons locale where it is carefully crafted to epitomize what true haute living in the Hamptons is about. This season, the show, now in its 7th year, was held at 536 Ocean Road, where the finest in architecture, building, and design were showcased.

The Showhouse, sponsored by House & Garden magazine, portrays design ideas and techniques as demonstrated by some of America’s premier talents. The gala preview party, which benefited the Southampton Hospital, was the place to be on July 21, when Showhouse manager Mary Lynch, who has run all seven Hamptons shows to date, premiered the property to a privileged 550 guests in an event co-hosted by all contributors. The collaborative efforts of 25 design masters, craftsman, and artisans were unveiled in classic Hamptons fashion at the Showhouse, resulting in a masterpiece of design.

All of the intricate interior woodwork and window details were originated by George Gavalas of Gavalas Builders, whose goal was to mesh the home into the area’s landscape by constructing inside and around existing trees and plant life. Gavalas’ very creative and unique approach to building makes the house itself a work of art that is only further enhanced by the interior fashions. The seven-bedroom, nine- and a half-bath home has four fireplaces, a media room, gym, and pool house all included on the 1.4-acre property that faces the reserve. Views from the pool and pool house softly open to the pristine farmlands of Bridgehampton, allowing the home to feel as a natural part of the landscape, as if it has been there forever.

This summer’s Showhouse doors opened up to a dramatic foyer entrance as designer David Scott immediately introduced a natural world motif, thanks to a striking zebra runner climbing the length of the rich mahogany winding staircase. Celerie Kemble of Kemble Interiors lent an open beach-like feel to the living space, while New York designer Rick Livingston truly captured nature indoors with the theme, “The Serenity of Nature… Brought to the Table” in the dining room. Livingston created custom wall coverings from transposed images shot in the woodlands of East Hampton. The stunning effect was a room encompassed by a forest for 360 degrees. A breathtaking wall-length buffet was meticulously inlaid with mother of pearl in a mosaic fashion, covering the front of the entire piece. Hints of nature’s elements filled the room, such as through the driftwood-inspired chandelier, coral embellishments, and hand-hewn textures that collectively symbolized the natural beauty of the Hamptons.

The Showhouse opened for public viewing on July 22, and will continue to wow visitors through September 2. Following the event, the home will be listed for sale for $9.5 million, although the interior designs and furnishings showcased during the Hamptons Showhouse will not be included in that price.

In Land We Trust

Looking out onto the fields of Bridgehampton, the beach off Sagg Main, or the virgin dunes of Amagansett, astute East End realtors identify with the well-deserved presence and significance of establishments protected by the likes of Peconic Land Trust in the Hamptons. While the land protected by the trust is worth its weight in gold, organizations of its nature are the basis for keeping the Hamptons as we know it. If land and historic sights were not protected, they would surely lose their allure and, potentially, their worth.

The Peconic Land Trust, based in Southampton, is one of the most valuable institutions on the East End. The group has partnered with most of the area realtors to help them appreciate the sensitivity of dealing with the exchange of large and ecologically vulnerable parcels and estates. John Halsey, a fifth generation Southampton-ite, founded the trust in 1983 with a group of concerned residents. The trust currently preserves more than 8,600 acres of open space and historic sights in the area. Contrary to the popular belief that the trust attains most of its funds from the two percent land tax imposed on buyers, the group raises the majority of its capital and land through charitable gifts and professional services.

Frequently, realtors look to the trust for knowledge that may be crucial to understanding the complexity of the estates and parcels they are brokering. In 1997, Deborah Ann Light came to the trust before she downsized her 213-acre estate in Amagansett. With the guidance of the organization, she was able to sell 20 acres that included the main estate and windmill, and obtain a conservation easement for the remaining 193 acres, of which she generously gifted to the land trust. That property today is known as Quail Hill Farm, widely considered one of the East End’s most precious assets.

Whether one comes to the Hamptons to enjoy a day at the beach, catch a glimpse of a celebrity mansion, shop in an upscale boutique, view the Designer Showhouse, or opt to purchase a piece of paradise, it is vital to understand what makes the wheels go round. For as much as the Hamptons have evolved, they have remained the same. And that is its draw. Each year, mega-estates will be built and bought, and thousands of people will file through the villages and beaches each season. When one looks at the unspoiled waters, pristine beaches, open fields, and historic towns that stand today much as they did 100 years ago, it is easy to understand why that is.