A panel of local real estate experts explores the relationship between art, culture, and commerce here on the East End.
Michael Braverman: Let’s talk about how the world of art and culture in the Hamptons influences your business. But let’s turn that question on its head and begin with you, Tracy. How do businesses affect your world of the arts? Tracy Mitchell: Well, clearly everyone in this group’s business of building and commerce and Main Street affects any artistic institution, but especially one like Bay Street Theater, which is literally on Main Street in Sag Harbor. The most simple example being the new condos being built—we can’t wait until people move in, just for more of a general population. But beyond that, people understand that we have a vibrant, year-round community, and we need their support as well.
The Hamptons was founded as a haven for artists—how has that influenced where we are and where we live now? Sarah Minardi: It really began with Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, and Alfonso Ossorio, and today, we have vibrant, contemporary artists out here, such as Raphael Mazzucco and David Salle. What I find is that a lot of people, because of their affluence, are buying second homes out here and have a good amount of art to display. So the contemporary artists have the clientele to sell to, which is fabulous. Christopher LaGuardia: I moved here 30 years ago, and Larry Rivers was one of my neighbors; Paton Miller was one of my first friends. In our [landscape] work, we see a lot more exterior art and sculpture being implemented into our designs. Some clients have collections for which we create landscapes as backdrops; it’s a big part of our landscape design today.
I think when you have artists and writers mixed in with the general population, it makes it beautiful. That’s what i love about the Hamptons. That’s what I love about Hamptons real estate—the different lifestyles. Matthew Breitenbach: It makes you proud of this place, too, because artists come out here for creative inspiration, which is cool. It makes me think, Yeah, that’s my hometown. When Tracy was speaking about the year-round community, I’ve also watched that grow soº much over the years. I have so many clients who work so hard in the city during the week; they come out here every weekend for the solitude. TM: The other interesting thing is that the artists and the writers [who came out here] have stayed, where in other places, they keep moving on to find a new place. Many of the artists have stayed, and now the next generation is here. CL: Let’s not forget our clientele is very sophisticated and engaged in the arts. They understand it intellectually, aesthetically, and so we need to know it, too, and we try to integrate that into our work. Nunzio Zappola: When we talk about art, we’re not just talking about portraits and sculptures. There’s also media, film, architecture.... When we do buildings, I consider that sculpture; they’re art you can live in. CL: A lot of interiors have become monochromatic to set off the art; we do that on the outside, too. We set up calm, simple, elegant backgrounds for art to be displayed [against].
“It’s as important to think about cultural conservatIon as it is [to preserve] our [natural] resources.”—Tracy Mitchell
Do you think the Hamptons is an extension of people’s New York City lives, or is it something different? SM: I think it’s certainly an extension, but a relaxed extension. In the city, they’re in the grind of everything, but when they come out here, they can breathe. There’s an effortlessness to what we have out here in the Hamptons. NZ: I’m often impressed with the people for whom we build homes. When they go back to the city, they’re daydreaming about their house in the Hamptons. It’s just a part that is inside of them that makes them feel appreciative of this property. Matt B: A second home, sometimes, is a different extension of a person’s city life. You see that sometimes in architecture in homes; I think you’ve also seen that in the evolution of styling of Hamptons’ real estate. It used to be extremely traditional, but now I think it’s more like a hotel. [Buyers here] go to beautiful hotels in Bali or wherever, and they like that styling. Their home in New York City is a little more formal, a little more traditional, but out here they model their home for relaxation, [with a] design that’s a little edgier. CL: We’ve seen a shift over the years from traditional-style architecture. Now we see a big shift toward modern architecture. It’s great for us because it’s more creative; it’s less shingle-style, commodity-driven design. SM: Most people who come out here looking for a second home want that open concept, because that home is where they’re doing all their entertaining and relaxing. They want to be able to walk in the front door, look outside, and see that pool, or see that beautiful landscape design—that’s important to them as well.
How do the cultural institutions reflect or influence the potential buyers of the Hamptons? CL: The Parrish Art Museum is a big one. People can critique the building all they want, but it’s a huge win for the town. It’s not just the art; it’s a community gathering place. Bay Street Theater has increased its size and scope as well. These institutions form our community, and we didn’t have a lot of that when we first moved here. TM: The more our cultural institutions, like Bay Street and the ones you just mentioned, can support the artists, keep them employed, that’s a great help. CL: Even something like the Hampton Classic has grown tremendously; 20 years ago, it was not that big of a deal. Same with the Hamptons International Film Festival—that has really grown, too. We’re really seeing our whole community grow. SM: I grew up out here, my parents grew up out here—I feel very fortunate that I have deep roots in the Hamptons. We have so many different cultural things at our fingertips—fantastic restaurants, theaters, art galleries, even just taking a walk on the beach—it’s no wonder people keep coming and keep adding to the cultural base that we have. Matt B: It’s nice to know when people come out here, they can get what they need in regards to art. If they want to go see a great show, it’s there for them. One of my good friends, Tripoli Patterson, started his gallery when he was 22, and I’ve watched his gallery grow, and now he’s expanding into East Hampton. That’s a testament to the growth of art in this community. TM: And the artists who are here year-round, if we give them a place to perform]… We sold out on a Friday night in January with Nancy Atlas and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Selling out Fridays in the Hamptons in January, February, March used to be unheard of.
We started with what draws people here, but what keeps them here? SM: I’ve worked with a number of people who are not necessarily famous artists, but they love to paint and sculpt, and while they’re not necessarily looking for a home that has a studio, they want a house where they could either add one or change a garage around to maybe have sculpting downstairs and the fine arts upstairs. It’s become more and more of an aspect that people are looking for in real estate, as far as a second home. So they can continue to produce their works out here in the light.
Is this Hamptons we’re creating going to be a good legacy for the next generation? CL: It’s becoming more compartmentalized. The vast vistas of Sagaponack are getting chopped up. There are preservation efforts—but it’s not what it used to be. Deerfield recently got abruptly changed by developers. Change is inevitable, but environmental planning is not like it used to be. NZ: Restrictions on building, restrictions on how much change you can make to an existing property are keeping the character of the Hamptons intact. I don’t think that’s going to change. I think, if anything, it’s probably going to have to get stricter as things progress. We don’t want to lose what we have already. TM: We are at sort of a watershed moment, especially in Sag Harbor, because we do have beautiful condos and things that are coming into being. But I also think we have lost a few of the small mom-and-pop shops, so I think it’s as important to think about cultural conservation as it is [to preserve] our [natural] resources. Matt B: I think the Hamptons has improved drastically on a cultural level. When I was growing up, it was just dead here in the winter, and now there’s a certain life. We do have to be careful about losing these artists, losing these institutions, but I think that we’ve done a pretty good job of really developing this place in a way that the culture has changed; architecture has become another level. I think we’re on a pretty good path.