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?
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