The 14-room Grey Gardens home located where Lily Pond Lane meets West End Road in East Hampton, Long Island is just as much a character in the Beale legacy as any living being; it was once a physical manifestation of the trials and tribulations of the two Edith Beales.
The shingle-style home was designed by Arts and Crafts architect Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe in 1897. A Princeton graduate, Thorpe designed many of the summer cottages in East Hampton during the late 19th Century. The home was completed several years later for Mrs. F. Stanhope Phillips, the daughter of the first editor of the Detroit Free Press.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Hill bought the home in 1913 as a summer cottage. At the time, the home stood on four acres of oceanfront land. Anna Gilman Hill, a dedicated horticulturist and garden writer, imported magnificent concrete walls from Spain to enclose the garden and temper the fierce winds and sea spray of eastern Long Island. With the walls and gorgeous wooden arbors in place, she then designed the garden with assistance from her landscape architect, Ruth Dean. They planted a variety of pale colored flowers including climbing rose, lavender, phlox, and delphinium. “It was truly a gray garden,” she wrote. “The soft gray of the dunes, cement walls, and sea mists gave us our color scheme as well as our name.”
In 1972, the squalid living conditions of the Beale women were exposed to national and international media in articles printed in publications such as National Enquirer and TV Radio Mirror. The women faced certain eviction by the town of East Hampton if they did not clean up the home and comply with local building codes. With financial help from Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill, the
After Big Edie died in 1977, Little Edie was forced to put Grey Gardens on the market. Edie was distraught when she found that most of the prospective buyers wanted nothing more than to demolish the home and build a brand new one on the beachfront lot; never one to waiver, Little Edie refused to sell the home to anyone that did not promise to restore the mansion to its former glory. Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, and his wife, the writer Sally Quinn, made that promise and bought Grey Gardens from Little Edie in 1979.
The home was fully restored, the gorgeous gardens were brought back to life, and a swimming pool was added. The home now hosts many parties and charity events yearly and has been featured in several architectural and home décor magazines. In the June 2003 issue of Town and Country, Sally Quinn says that her real estate agent initially tried to discourage her from buying the home; however, Little Edie was the ultimate salesman declaring, “All it needs is a coat of paint!”
Quinn further noted, “I told Edie that she could either leave the house ‘broom clean’ (ha!) or exactly the way it was. I think the prospect of cleaning it up was too daunting for her, so she did what I had hoped and walked out, abandoning everything inside. 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 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.”
My wife and I attended a cocktail party at Grey Gardens in 2007. The home has been restored with great attention to detail and still maintains the architectural integrity of the original home. The garden and landscape is absolutely stunning and certainly rivals that of Martha Stewart, whose home is located just down the street!