Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The unimaginable but true mansion - Grey Gardens

I've seen the posters up in the subway for HBO's movie "Grey Gardens," but I hadn't paid much attention until this morning. I was cyber-flipping through the New York Times Home & Garden section when a black and white thumbnail image of a dilapidated mansion captioned "Inside Grey Gardens" caught my attention. I clicked, and thus began my morning-long search on the back story and photos of this intriguing house.

From the New York Times:

A 1975 documentary captured the eccentric lives of Edith Bouvier Beale, known as Big Edie, and her daughter, Little Edie, in Grey Gardens, the filthy, dilapidated mansion they occupied in East Hampton.

Two years after Big Edie died in 1977, Little Edie sold the house to Sally Quinn and Benjamin C. Bradlee, who undertook a massive renovation. These photographs, which have never been seen by the public before, were taken by a photographer hired by Ms. Quinn at the time she and her husband purchased the house, in order to capture the extent of the decay.

When Ms. Quinn touched a key on this piano in the living room, the whole thing collapsed and fell through the floor.

Ms. Quinn recalled that after Little Edie put the house on the market for $220,000, she turned down several potential buyers, fearing they would tear it down and build something new. "I walked in and said 'this is the most beautiful house I've ever seen,' And she said, 'it's yours,'" Ms. Quinn said. "Then she did this little pirouette in the hall of the house, put her hands up in the air and said 'All it needs is a coat of paint!'"

Among the debris Ms. Quinn and Mr. Bradlee found in their house were the corpses of cats and skulls of raccoons. Here, scattered seashells and piles of books occupy one of the ten bedrooms.

Ms. Quinn said she fell in love with the house as soon as she entered it. "There's something magical about this house. You couldn't walk into it without putting a handkerchief over your nose, but I thought it was just beautiful," she said. "It just absolutely gripped me. I looked at it and I saw what the house could be like, saw what the garden could be." Above, the main staircase as seen from the second floor.

"I wasn't sure I wanted to buy the house," Mr. Bradlee said. "There were 52 dead cats in it, and funeral arrangements had to be made for each one." Above, the master bedroom, which had been used by Big Edie.

Just before closing on the house, Ms. Quinn was sitting in the sun room with her mother when Lois Wright, a longtime friend of Big Edie, unexpectedly entered the room. "She said, 'I just appeared to bring you a message from Big Edie. She wanted you to have this house and wants you to know that you were meant to have it and that she's watching over you and that everything will go absolutely perfectly,'" Ms. Quinn recalls. Above, Big Edie's glass menagerie fills a cabinet in one of the bedrooms. Ms. Quinn had both the cabinet and the figurines restored.

Quinn Bradlee, the couple's adult son, says he and his mother sometimes joke that they will end up like Big Edie and Little Edie. "My mom and I, we do argue a lot. But I think the way [the Beales] argued was due more to their craziness than love. The way my mom and I argue, it's because we care about each other so much and love each other so much,” Mr. Bradlee said. Above, the bedroom used by Little Edie after her mother died. A single light bulb hangs in a bird cage above the bed.

Nora Ephron, a friend of the Bradlees, says Grey Gardens is a sight to behold. "It's quite a fabulous restoration because they didn't tear the house down, they rebuilt it," she said. "All the original bones are there. All the grace of the original house is exactly as it was." Above, a small bedroom with a porch that has views of the ocean. Ms. Quinn had all of the furniture seen here restored, and it is still in use.

A detail from the master bedroom used by Big Edie. Today, the home is a summer residence for Ms. Quinn and Mr. Bradlee and has become a destination that guests routinely describe as "magical." Lauren Bacall, a friend of the Bradlees, says she has many fond memories. "It is a happy house," Ms. Bacall said. "There is life there."

the garden in 1900

Thirty-four years after a documentary film introduced the world to Grey Gardens and its eccentric occupants, a new movie on HBO is again casting light on the legend of this East Hampton property. In 1979, when this photo was taken, Sally Quinn, the writer and Washington hostess, and her husband Benjamin Bradlee, former editor of The Washington Post, purchased the property, which had fallen into complete disarray, and set out to restore it to its earlier splendor.

Prior to restoring the house and hiring Victoria Fensterer to reinvent the gardens, Ms. Quinn arranged for photographs to be taken. This never-before-seen shot shows a sunroom with doors leading outside, where years of neglect had hidden the low grey cement walls that gave Grey Gardens its name.

As various components of the property were cleared, friends and neighbors, like Nora Ephron, were amazed at what Ms. Quinn and Mr. Bradlee uncovered. "Ben began cutting through the thicket and found the wall that once surrounded the walled garden," Ms. Ephron said. The extent of neglect was "truly unimaginable, even if you had seen the movie."

The beautiful gardens now

Ms. Quinn envisioned a garden that preserved the spirit of the Beales' Grey Gardens. "I wanted it to be wild. I wanted it to be just on the verge of being over the top," she said. "I wanted it to look like it happened by itself. I didn't want it to be manicured in any way, because the house isn't that way."

All images above via The New York Times

via Life

via Life
All of those cans are empty cat food cans. I simply cannot comprehend putting on stockings and heels every morning and then teetering around about the squalor...

via Life

via Life
Like her mother, Edith Beale considers herself an artist and a performer, she explains in the 1975 film "Grey Gardens." Allowing their Easthampton, Long Island mansion to decay into decrepitude is apparently part of the free-spirited, independent lifestyle that distinguishes the Beales from high society types like their relative, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

This is the resorted home today.
via La Dolce Vita

via Grey Gardens News
The 5 above images are production designer Kalina Ivanov's creations for the HBO film. The bedroom images depict Big Edie's bedroom at it's glamorous state, followed by the set house, before disrepair and during.

What are your thoughts/reactions to the Beales' life?


Hudson Goods said...

I LOVE this story and the photos. Putting the occupants aside, when shopping for homes, I believe that when you walk into the right one, you just know it. On a much smaller scale I had the same experience. Was told to buy this great new house, instead I bought the old, dirty one that everyone tried to talk me out of and now they all say I was right. It is a great feeling, don't think everyone GETS it, but those that can imagine are the lucky ones! If you get a chance, check mine out on Rhoda's Southern blog... too bad I didn't have before photos like this one!

Maya@Completely Coastal said...

I can't imagine that to let a home decay has anything to do with a free-spirited life style, more likely rebellious behavior..., but I know nothing about the story and look forward to watch film. Awesome post!

home before dark said...

Saw the documentary. Saw the HBO movie. Had read about Sally Quinn's redo of the house and garden. I would love to hear what a mental health professional would say about the relationship between mother and daughter and the decay they lived in. And what about big Eddie's two boys where were they when all of this happened?

My Notting Hill said...

Very interesting - thanks for the photos that weren't seen before. Racoon skulls - yikes.

Brandi said...

What an incredibly amazing story! It's so interesting to see the photographs from long ago and what the house looks like restored. It's fantastic that someone was willing to undertake such a big project -- it certainly paid off.

RespiteandReverie said...

I had no idea what happened to their house...I guess I assumed it was probably torn down. What a surprise to find out it was restored! That's wonderful--thanks for the pictures. Like many others, I've been fascinated by the home and story since I saw the documentary years ago.


I was told right after filming of the HBO film wrapped up in the fall of 2007, that I would be blown away at the last scene, where Edie sings Tea For Two at Reno Sweeny, and I was ! I had supplied the film company with the only recording in existence of Edie singing the tune, only this wasn't from her actual performance at the club, but rather her singing it just for me at one of my many visits to Grey Gardens. Drew sang it exactly, phrase for phrase as I have it on tape. Edie and I actually met that night at Reno Sweeny, and my relationship with Grey Gardens has now spanned over 3 decades. For our complete review, check out our blog at (HBO film review by Robb Brawn & Lee Arboreen), and be sure to check our Youtube video uploaded 4/18/09 the same day as the HBO film release. Click
GREY GARDENS PROMO to view the video

Tami said...

Great post! Very interesting story.

Grace@PoeticHome said...

What incredible fascination! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. I really look forward to finding and seeing the upcoming series. I think it's fantastic that the home was restored to its splendor, with its history and character kept in tact. One day, I would love to find an old home that needs love and carefully restore it to its heyday glory.

I'm happy to have found your blog via your post at City Sage!

Anonymous said...

thanks! well done on these posts...i couldn't look away. *fascinatingly shocking* xx.

Madison Avenue Baby said...

Wow! This is quite a post.
Thanks for taking the time to post all of these photos. What a fascinating story.

Sharon said...

Thank you so much for putting this together! I was curious to know more about Grey Gardens, what happened to the house etc

pbutler said...

The people, the story, and the house hold an undying fascination for me. Are there additional images of the remodeled house and gardens?

ashley@decorology said...

These were the only photos I was able to find of the renovated home!

maven mama said...

Wow, what a fascinating post! I'm definitely going to be up late tonight reading more about those two. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I just rewatched the movie Grey Gardens. I recorded it on my DVR the night it was shown on HBO. I watched that movie like it was the first time. I love the Beale's free spirit it reminds me of myself, but not to that exstint. I love the house now the way they restored it is sooo amazing. I would love to travel to the Hamptons just to see that house. I'm so intriqued by these people and their story.

Anonymous said...

I love this blog! Thank you so much, as a true lover of big and little edie, thier life and thier story fascinates me. I adore them. I have seen the documentary over one hundred times, and the new movie many as well. I am a collector of Edie memorabilia and greygardens artifacts and photos. Thank you so much for sharing this with me! I have posted you on my favs and am having your blog sent to my inbox. Thanks again for the edie stuff. much apprreciated.

YStudio Photography said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful blog. Tonite my husband and I saw both of the movies. We first saw the remake and then we saw the actual documentary. In case anyone is wondering the documentary from 1975 is available on Watch Now status for Netflix.

A sad true story, I am so glad they did not tear it down but they built it up just like Lil' Edie wanted!


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