Friday, April 17, 2009

East Hampton Style

The set design for the HBO movie Grey Gardens is quite lovely. It captures the essence of Hamptons style perfectly. The great summer houses, called cottages, that were built in the early 1900's and many of which still stand today, evoke a gracious lifestyle that is captivating.

Being summer houses, the homes were furnished in a more casual way, often reflecting the "fun" side of the socially prominent and wealthy people who inhabited them. These houses were places to let your hair down, to relax, to play.

The Beale ladies who owned Grey Gardens were two such people. Their summer cottage in East Hampton was their play house.
Production Designer Kalina Ivanov depicts this with lovely attention to detail. There is another interview with her HERE and is well worth the read.

As you look around this living room, you see such a wonderful collection of art objects like the little sculpture of the torso, the faded oriental carpets, the precious little side tables, the plant placed in a bird cage, odd little decor touches that are very feminine and very bohemian, very much like the ladies of this house.

The wall paper used throughout the house is oriental in feeling, hand painted perhaps. The floral draperies are very much like the type used in English country houses, very Colefax and Fowler if you will.
What's so hard to imagine is how the house got to the squalor those ladies lived in. Like when was the first empty cat food can thrown in a corner, and who threw it there, and why didn't anyone pick it up and put it in the trash? Where did the furniture go? Did they have to sell their lovely things to survive? How do you go from wearing lovely clothes and jewels, from being so beautifully groomed, to becoming those unkempt tragedies? How many years did it take for a house to die?

And all those cats! The day I pulled into the driveway on my bicycle, and listened to the house to tell me if anything alive was in it, I did not see one of those cats! It was only after Edie spoke to me, did they start to appear from every corner, almost as if summoned by this magic good witch. She really did look like she stepped out of an enchanted forest in a Grimm fairy tale.

Did this glimpse of the remnants of the draperies help inspire
the set design of Kalina Ivanov?

Edie kept this list of the names of all the cats

I love the lipstick red Chinoiserie dining room chairs, again a great pop of bohemian pizazz.

It is so heart wrenching to see the house as imagined by Kalina Ivanov for the movie. Filmed mainly in Toronto, she says creating the outdoor sets of the house was a huge accomplishment. There aren't many existing old photos that depict the house as it was in its happy days, still intact, perhaps as intact as the minds of the women who lived there were then. So Kalina used her imagination, creating a charming and layered feminine and bohemian atmosphere.

That lovely dining room as it was when the Beale ladies lost their minds

Each detail is lovingly attended to. There are signs of lives lived, of pretty things accumulated, but without overt ostentatious displays of wealth: Hamptons Style - or at least as it was before the influx of newly created wealthy people of the last twenty years to this once exclusive playground.
My favorite rooms in the set design, are the bedrooms (there are 14 of them at Grey Gardens!). These are the rooms every woman could live in. The colors, the wallpaper, the bedding, the lamps, the rugs - its all so charming.
I wonder if this is meant to be Little Edie's bedroom.

Maybe it's meant to be the mother's room, Big Edie's room,

Again, the hand painted wallpaper is exquisite without screaming a rich girl lives here. I love the detail of the kimono hanging.
The headboard is posh, and I am just loving the draperies again.

The sweet tufted headboard never showed up again in the photos taken of Big Edie as she took to her bed in the squalor.

Here's another bedroom. Maybe this is meant to be Little Edie's. It has a younger feeling.
I love the art deco bed, again something a little fashion forward for its time, something an artistic person would purchase for an otherwise traditional home. The Chinese lantern and poster to the right of it are very bohemian touches, as are the colors of the pillows on the bed. The skirted side table is lovely.

The needlepoint chair is spectacular! And I love peeking into the wardrobe.

Little Edie may have lived in a demented house near the end of her time at Grey Gardens, but she still kept up with the social graces of writing notes, making little presents for people, and also of getting notes from people.
Here's a note she got from Jackie along with a clipping telling how mad Jackie was when Edie sold the house to Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee.

It just confuses me that the whole Bouvier clan neglected those ladies.
Lee Radziwell was interviewed somewhere recently, maybe Vogue, about this movie coming out. She said she loved and accepted the two Edies, was not ashamed of them. But I still don't understand why they didn't provide basic housekeeping for them.

Kalina Ivanov, brilliant designer of the sets for Grey Gardens


Anonymous said...

An entirely beautiful set of rooms. As you pointed out, rich and comfortably layered without gaudiness. I especially covet the bedrooms. (And the list of cat names is so sweet and telling, so personal)

Paul Pincus said...

vv: your posts on grey gardens are epic! beyond. the image of little edie at reno sweeney got me a little choked up. i'm damaged like that ; )

east hampton is a very special place. it's magic. if you've lived there and made friends there and fallen in love there ... it becomes a part of you. forever!

xoxo, -paul

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

I'm swooning. One of my favorite posts EVER. I'm bookmarking it so I can study those photos over and over and over again. Thank you! xx

Jill said...

I'm trying to type this around my normally aloof cat Luigi...he refuses to leave my lap. Maybe it's your haunting post. "How many years did it take for a house to die?" almost left me in tears and I promise I'm not typically this dramatic.

tinkalicious said...

Lovely post! Thanks.

vicki archer said...

Wonderful images and such an interesting subject Valorie - my interest is really spiked for the movie, xv.

Renée Finberg said...

i saw the orig. documentary in nyc at the paris theatre, by the plaza.
i feel as though, for most single woman (like myself) , this is a common end up like that . yuck.

when i was married the 1st time . those were my dining room chairs.

love you cutie pie !! xxxx

jerseygirl211 said...

I don't know how I stumbled upon your blog, but you have completely captivated me with your account of Grey Gardens. I've already come back to re-read everything three times, I can't seem to get enough. A heartfelt thank you for sharing.


Renae Moore said...

I cannot imagine either how family members can neglect their own. Very sad. I am sure those ladies were so very lonely.

Retromodgirl said...

This is such a wonderful post. Do you mind if I post an entry highlighting the post and your blog, with links to both? My blog is at Thank you!

Sue said...

I am captivated by these ladies and your reporting about them. My husband just came in from an afternoon out with the boys and asked if I would like to go out for dinner. When I told him there is a movie starting at 8:00 that I wanted to see he offered to get take-out.
So, we will be eatting take-out ribs on the coffee table infront of the TV. Very Grey Gardens style.
Thank you for bringing these ladies to the attention of this new fan of yours.

Anonymous said...

Can we ever really understand "who, what,where, and when"? My mind saddens to the squaller these two ladies came to live in rather it was by choice or otherwise or, by sanity or insanity. Surely, a loving family would not intentionally allow this no matter how far removed! Just how long does one try to help oneself and then just give up as it seems here? LindaLinda


beautiful .. she did great job !

Anonymous said...

I find the story of the Beales to be so sad and disturbing. However, this is a wonderful post for us design addicts who take delight in perusing the decorative aspects of the film. Thank you!

abby jenkins said...

What a fairy tale gone Grimm. So sad that their family members did not step up more.

Both Edies had lovely style to the end though, I think.

I would have loved to dig through those piles, with gloves on of course! Great post.