Little Edie Beale, 1972, the year Life Magazine discovered Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and cousin living in absolute squalor.
When the HBO movie Grey Gardens starring Drew Barrymore came out a few years ago, I think almost every other design blog, including Cote de Texas, wrote about the Hampton’s beach house. Just in case you missed the movie, Jacqueline Kennedy’s cousin and aunt – Little and Big Edie Bouvier Beale - lived in squalor inside their once beautiful house along with hundreds of cats and all their…droppings. Mother and daughter had once been the toast of town, beautiful, rich, glamorous, and chic. The story 0f the two Edies’ inexplicable downfall proved irresistible. In 1971, the press discovered the two recluses, with the very famous relatives, thus shaming Jackie and her sister Lee to pay for a total clean up of Grey Gardens. The house stayed tidy for about a day, and quickly slid right back into its dismal state, becoming even more filthy after its infamous clean up. In 1975, the filmmakers, the Maysles Brothers, came calling – they stayed for several months filming the two eccentrics and their documentary, Grey Gardens, became a cult hit. A number of books were written about the two, and there was even a hit Broadway play about the Edies. Eventually Big Edie died in 1977 and Little Edie moved out in 1979, selling everything to Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee. Little Edie traveled around, finally landing in Florida where she lived in a clean and tidy apartment and swam in the Atlantic every day. She lived for 23 years after moving out of Grey Gardens, dying at the age of 84.
Grey Gardens, 1915. The house before the solarium was built and the famous upstairs balcony was not enclosed. Also, the landscaping hadn’t been installed yet. The original carriage house can be seen behind the house. The carriage house was sold, enlarged, and still stands today.
Grey Gardens Today
Once Sally and Ben Bradlee took over the house, they completely fixed it up – cleaning it from top to bottom and returning the house to its former gracious beauty. The Bradlee’s have spent every August at the house, renting it out during the rest of the year to one tenant. But two years ago their arrangement changed when their longtime tenant left and Grey Gardens was leased for five years to NYC designer Celerie Kemble and her husband. The Bradlees shortened their usual August stay and have been renting the house out for short durations during that month. The house is now currently up for rent again, August 20 through September 5, for a cool $135,000. Wow. Takers anyone? At least it includes Labor Day.
The particulars for the rental say the house, built in 1900 has 8 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. It is 6,000 sq.ft.
'A very special 2 week rental. Fully renovated historic "Grey Gardens" on 2 acres of lush landscaping with pool, pool house, and tennis court. Very close to Georgica Beach. Living room opens to old- fashioned sunporch, formal dining room, eat-in kitchen with staff bedroom. Second floor with 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, plus 2 office/studies. Third floor with 3 bedrooms, 1 bath. '
Today: the back yard showing the pool. The solarium is on the left.
I was so excited to see the rental listing because it showed new pictures of the house that I had never seen before. Included in the rental pictures is one of the kitchen – the elusive room that I couldn’t find a picture of when I was writing my own blog story. There are also new images of the living room with its beautiful, old-fashioned chintz fabric. When I wrote the article on Grey Gardens, I researched it for days, studying every picture of each room I could find, looking at you-tube videos, watching the original Maysles Brothers movie – trying to put all the images together so that I could get a true feel for the layout of the house and its gardens. I think that story is the longest and most in-depth article I have ever put on the blog. I can’t explain why the house interests me so much. Perhaps the appeal is its early romantic history, the historic Kennedy/Bouvier connection, and the way that Sally has designed Grey Gardens, inside and outside. All combine to make an alluring story. Today, the beautifully landscaped “Grey” gardens are magnificent and I can only imagine how gorgeous the yard will look on Labor Day for the lucky few who get the rental.
To read my original story, go HERE.
The Bradlees bought Grey Gardens in 1979 and in 1985 Architectural Digest came to photograph it. The entry hall has always been a favorite of mine with its crisp, beachy Cowtan and Tout wallpaper. The table (along with most furnishings) was original to the house and refurbished by Sally.
TODAY: the entry hall remain the same, including the rush rugs. The chair was recovered in Bowood, the famous Colefax and Fowler fabric. Original photographs from the early days sit on the console table.
THEN: The living room with Little Edie showing it all off. Rather than be ashamed, the mother and daughter felt there was nothing odd about how they lived and they appeared to quite happy in the documentary made by the Maysles Brother. They contended the house needed just a little paint and dusting to fix it up.
1985: Architectural Digest showed the house as it was furnished by Sally with the wicker and chaises she found up in the attic.
Today: the romantic chintz filled living room as seen in the rental brochure. It looks the same as when the Bradlees first decorated it, but at these prices, I would hope the fabric has been updated! The solarium is through the French doors which the Bradlees installed. Part of the appeal of the house is rather than remake it into a fancy, Hamptons mega-mansion, Sally has kept it all cozy and welcoming.
An early photograph of the Bradlee dining room.
Today: the dining room appears exactly the same with more chintz and more matting.
THEN: The kitchen stove in front of the brick wall.
1985. The same fireplace showing the sitting room which overlooks the backyard.
TODAY: Finally – a view of the kitchen! I never realized the kitchen was right off to the left of this sitting room. Here it looks like the sofa and chairs have been newly slipped in blue fabric with white trim. Beyond the fireplace is the breakfast room – the former servant’s dining room.
TODAY: Another view from the listing. The beadboard ceiling and walls are original to the house. I believe this was once a warren of smaller rooms which the Bradlees opened up. There was at once time a large butler’s pantry between the dining room and the kitchen. Today the pantry is open to this room. In the servant’s dining room – you can see the stairs which lead upstairs to their sleeping quarters.
TODAY: a new picture never seen before of the upstairs landing. The master bedroom is behind the French door. A poster from the Maysles movie hangs here. There are no pictures of the third floor which has 3 bedrooms and 1 bath.
THEN: The large guest room where the two Edies lived. Big Edie stayed in bed and didn’t go downstairs for years at a time.
TODAY: On the rental brochure – the bedroom is now clean and sunny and bright.
1985 Architectural Digest showed the master bedroom with its frilly curtains.
TODAY: The rental master bedroom has a new rug, new curtains, and a new quilt.
THEN: The solarium as Little Edie left it for the Bradlees.
TODAY: The solarium as pictured in the rental brochure. Looks like it could use some freshening up.
At a charity function Celerie held last year – you can see she has added pillows to the furniture to cozy up this room. I wonder what other decorative touches she has added? It must be hard for her to rent a house for five years and not be able to furnish it as she would like to.
TODAY: Looking from the walled garden to the solarium.
THEN: the original walled Grey Gardens. You can clearly see the pergola to the right. These walls were completely overtaken by vines and were not visible when the Bradlees took over the property. It took Sally years and years to get the landscaping looking like it does today.
TODAY: From the real estate brochure, inside the walled garden with the thatched pool house nearby. Behind the chair the pergola is barely visible under the vines.
A very rare shot inside the pergola. Look at the original stone benches.
TODAY: the swimming pool. Gorgeous!
Looking from upstairs down at the swimming pool.
To die for! The Atlantic is very close. Here you can see into the walled garden and the little thatched house. Tennis courts are right behind the pool, hidden by bushes.
The landscaping around Grey Gardens is full of hydrangeas. Hydrangeas have been on the property since Big Edie’s days.
Last summer gorgeous potted hydrangeas surrounded the pool. The Bradlees had replaced the shingles a few years ago and now, they have finally reached the gray stage. The turquoise trim offsets the gray perfectly. I just love the backyard.
Gorgeous Grey Gardens hydrangeas.
The Grey Gardens Collections is an online store – the brainchild of Big Edie’s granddaughter-in-law, Eva Marie Beale who is married to Bouvier Beale, Jr.
Recently the Grey Gardens Collections came out with this Belgian cotton/linen fabric in a hydrangea print in honor of Grey Gardens’ garden.
Also available are pillows with the hydrangea print in different color ways! For information on ordering the hydrangea fabric, see the web site.
Everything for sale is either from the two Edie’s era, or was inspired by their style. I love these velvet cuffs and actually own one! All these cuffs are now on sale.
Looking around the collection today, this vintage compact caught my eye. It looks like tortoiseshell.
There are all kinds of different items for the home, including a great collection of ironstone.
And there is a beautiful collection of antique and vintage china.
Also available is this rare book by Eva Marie Beale. A new exclusive edition is soon to be released, but copies of this book are available only at Grey Gardens Collections. Many of the photographs in my original blog story came from this book.
Ms. Beale writes of the book: Edith Bouvier Beale of Grey Gardens: A Life in Pictures, the latest installment in a series that includes photo-biographies of John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, and others, presents the most in-depth look at the life of Little Edie since the Maysles’ film vaulted her into the public consciousness. Conceived by members of the Beale family, the book traces a line from Edie’s childhood through her heady days as a young socialite and her later years at Grey Gardens, the decrepit East Hampton estate where she and her mother lived in near-total isolation for decades. Featuring over 150 newly uncovered photographs and letters, Edith Bouvier Beale of Grey Gardens offers unprecedented access to the personal history of this twentieth-century woman of mystery.
To visit the Grey Gardens Collections, go HERE.
To rent Grey Gardens in August, go HERE.
Thank you for taking a second look at Grey Gardens. If you didn’t read my original story and you are interested in the house, I urge you to take a look at it. It’s much more comprehensive with many pictures, floor plans, and interesting comments left by people who added important information to the story. HERE.