A Rental House in the Hamptons

Written By: Geraldine  Chrein

Our first summer rental in the Hamptons had been a classic country store that sold staples like bread, milk, butter, cheese and beer as well as sweet treats for the young and old. An authentic antique. The original owners lived in back of the store where they carved out two small bedrooms directly off the kitchen-dining room area. Unfortunately, the only bathroom remained in the store area.

When the now owner, my colleague Sandra, bought the store in 1976 for $2000, it had been vacant for many years. An art history teacher from the University of Minnesota as well as a Francophile and artist, she had a vision for this run down old store and a need for inexpensive housing during the summers when she taught at Long Island University.

I met Sandra at the NYC Board of Education in 1989 where we were both working on the evaluation of a gifted and talented program. One early spring day at lunch she mentioned that she and John, her new husband, also an artist, planned to spend the summer in France. She had a house for rent in Southampton from Memorial Day to Labor Day for only $4000. Sandra made a point of saying, “My house is located in North Sea.” I knew nothing then of Hamptons’ geography. To me “ The Hamptons” was one glamorous place. I immediately thought, “what a marvelous idea to rent Sandra’s Hamptons house.” This rental also appealed to my husband, Stan, and our two adult children, Lloyd and Jennifer, who didn’t live with us in the city, but were willing to spend summer weekends with us in “The Hamptons.”

Hot summer weekends in the city usually confined us to our air conditioned apartment. We had a small terrace with an unfortunate southern exposure where you didn’t need a grill to barbecue meat or bodies. Traffic took the joy out of schlepping to any nearby beach. I was ready for a new summer experience.

Friends who escaped to the Hamptons on summer weekends told us stories of easy access to pristine beaches and charming towns. They advised that since we were night people we could avoid traffic by leaving the city on Fridays at 10:00 PM. The alluring mystique of the Hamptons called us.

With great curiosity and anticipation we travelled to Southampton on a sunny Mother’s Day in 1989 when both Sandra and John planned to be at the house. Sandra’s house was certainly not the charming Southampton cottage I envisioned. Located on the inner tyne of a two pronged fork on Noyac Road, it was very convenient for a store but not so much for a house. John recently had cedar shingled and painted the exterior trim white and powder blue so that it had what real estate agents call, “curb appeal.” It looked like a pretty hybrid of a store dressed up to be a cottage.

Sandra and John greeted us warmly at the front door, which opened to a large great room/studio that once housed the store. The light peach painted walls were covered with huge paintings of threatening mechanical objects. John’s favorite subject. Bookshelves filled with a lifetime of Sandra’s papers, photos, and magazines cluttered the long back wall.

Further back in the original living quarters, the newly tiled black and white kitchen resembled a classic French bistro. An old sink, a small stove and a new refrigerator lined one wall. Best of all, neon beer signs salvaged from the general store lighted the bland white wall dividing the store area from the residence. Budweisser, Schlitz, and Pabst Blue Ribbon blazed out colorful invitations for summertime refreshment. The two small dark bedrooms were perfumed by old house mustiness. Colorful patchwork quilts and lacy curtains struggled to brighten these dingy spaces.

I was so disappointed by the house that I was ready to leave until we exited from the kitchen to a French provincial garden patio that promised roses and hydrangeas in the summer. In the center of the slate patio was one perfect tile table anchored by an authentic “Cinzano” umbrella where I pictured my family dining alfresco after we cooked our dinner on the red kettle grill. Beyond the patio was a spacious lawn where I could see us playing ball, or just lying in the sun or luxuriating in the hammock under the maple tree with a good book.

With all its possibilities, we were still not sold. The fantasy garden and affordable price were a plus. On the larger negative side, the bedrooms were small and a long walk to the one ancient bathroom. I told Sandra, “We need to think about it.” She suggested, “ Take a walk on the beach. Get back to me later. I’ll be here all day.”

On the way to the beach we discovered a perfect “barefoot beach” community. The narrow road divided two bodies of blue green water. Small houses on both sides of the road resembled the Catskill bungalow colonies I enjoyed as a child, but with this dramatic water feature.

While sitting on the bay beach at the end of the road watching the tide gently roll in, Stan and I weighed the pros and cons of this unique summer rental. Definitely not a glamorous Hamptons house. Located almost directly on heavily trafficked Noyac Road. Perhaps too small for our family, but Sandra’s keen artist eye and Francophile passion gave it a quaint bohemian charm, and a beautiful garden. Also, the price was right, actually very reasonable, for a house so near a beach in Southampton.

On our way back to the house, we discovered that these tidal waters were home to swans, egrets, geese and a variety of ducks. Two majestic osprey scanned the beach and bay from their nest high on a man made pole. Stan and I squealed and pointed like two kids discovering a new world, We longed to join this beach community, to be part of this watery paradise. We signed the lease that afternoon! Decision made, a decision that was to eventually change our life.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day we spent every weekend and two full vacation weeks in our “general store.” It was like a fairy tale where we fell off the real world  (via the Long Island Expressway) into a calm, magical paradise. Both Stan and I had demanding jobs. For us, city life was beginning to suffer from abundance: too many people, too many cars, and too much noise. Everything that energizes city life, also makes it stressful.

Our daily activities were not newsworthy but we found our Hampton. After waking up late we ate a delicious breakfast on our French patio of food purchased locally: pecan raisin bread, scones, cheese, fresh local berries and fruit. Then we would decide the afternoon activity among the many restful choices: The bay beach, the ocean beach, antiquing in Sag Harbor or further east or, just reading a book in our grassy backyard. As I imagined it we had dinner alfresco on the French patio. The family together eating local corn, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles with grilled fresh caught fish followed by a cold slice of watermelon or pie.

We enjoyed a perfect summer in an imperfect house. We were sad to leave on Sunday nights so we often extended our weekends to Monday. Then we hated to leave on Monday too. We were hooked on our Hampton, so much so that two years later we bought a house down the road on Davis Creek. A three bedroom shingled cottage with a lovely garden. Sunday nights continued to be a detachment problem, we still hated to leave.

When we retired in 2003 we renovated and winterized our house so we no longer had to go back to the city on any night.

Geri Chrein !5 Norton Place Southampton, NY 11968 631-283-3972