When I heard that Sally Quinn is renting out her iconic East Hampton home, I was eager to see what it looks like today. She and her late husband Ben Bradlee bought Grey Gardens in 1979 for $220,000. At the time it was in such bad shape that most of the prospective buyers saw it as a tear-down, but they were determined to restore it instead. Here’s how it looked then:
The house was made famous by a documentary that described its former owners as “Big and Little Edie Beale — high-society dropouts, mother and daughter, reclusive cousins of Jackie O. — thriving together amid the decay and disorder of their ramshackle East Hampton mansion.”
Here’s a photo of the Beales taken in the entry hall in the 1970s:
Bradlee and Quinn (bravely, if you ask me) set out to restore its original classic beauty. The house was featured in Architectural Digest in the 1980s, and here’s how the entry hall looked then:
Quinn said, “My goal was to have anyone who entered the house feel good.” Here’s the front hall in the listing today, and it doesn’t look like much has changed since then:
Quinn said that when they were renovating the house, a neighbor came by with a message from Big Edie, who had died several years before and told her, “I talked to Big Edie the other day. She wanted me to tell you how pleased she is that you have bought Grey Gardens. She wants you to know that she believes you will make the house as beautiful as it once was, and that she will be watching over you to make sure that everything goes perfectly and that this will be a warm and loving and happy house.”
Edith Beale and her husband Phelan bought the house in the 1920s, but he took off in 1934, leaving her without the means to maintain the property. The story was told in a 2009 HBO film starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange:
The sets in that movie, which recreated Grey Gardens in its 1920s heyday, were pretty fabulous. For instance, here’s how the living room looked in the movie:
You can see a framed poster from the movie on the upstairs landing in the listing today:
The shingle-style home was designed in 1897 by Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe, an architect who designed many of the Arts and Crafts-style summer cottages in East Hampton.
At the time, it stood on 4 acres of oceanfront land. Today 1.7 acres remain with the property and it’s a short walk to the beach.
In a 2003 article for Town and Country, Sally Quinn said that when they bought the house, “The attic was filled, literally, to the rafters with broken furniture, old wicker chaises, antique tables, boxes of china and silver, trunks full of letters, baby pillows of handmade lace, figurines, crates of books — it was like finding a shipwreck and discovering unimaginable treasure buried among the detritus.”
“I was so overwhelmed,” she said, “and in such a state of agitation that I actually started smoking again. But discovering all these extraordinary objects made the whole prospect of renovating and decorating so easy.”
Here’s how the sitting area in the kitchen looked in Architectury Digest in 1984 (below), which said, “A part of the large kitchen is given over to a sitting area, comfortably appointed with a trio of sofas. The stove—a new one—resembles the antique version it replaced.”
The furniture looks like it’s been reupholstered in a lighter fabric, but the sitting area in the center of the kitchen remains today:
A friend of mine was just telling me how the new trend is to replace tables and chairs in the kitchen with comfortable seating areas. She put a loveseat in hers and loves it. I think I’d need a table, though! Maybe they eat in the dining room?
AOL Real Estate reports: “Quinn and Bradlee spent Augusts at the beach house. But Bradlee died in October at 93 and Quinn is planning to travel this summer, so the 10-bedroom, 6.5-bath house is being offered as a rental for $250,000 from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It also is available at $295,000 for one year or $225,000 for just July and August.”
That sounds like a lot of money to us mere mortals, but those are Hamptons prices for you. Some places rent for a million or more for the summer.
The thatch-roofed cottage in the yard is a charming playhouse:
Visit Architectural Digest to read the article from 1984 that Sally Quinn wrote about the house and see more photos by Peter Vitale. You can learn more about the history of the house on Grey Gardens online, too.
BTW, a lovely replica of the house was built by a Grey Gardens fan in Massachusetts on Cape Cod a few years ago. They did their research and learned that it had originally had shutters, so they replicated those, too. How cool is that?