Designs on The Hamptons

Design insider New York's summer getaway is not so much a place as a look which reflects a lifestyle.

The Hamptons, Long Island, rustic beach house look developed from the area's surrounding sunshine and sea.
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I'm not one to follow celebrity divorces but one detail which caught my attention in the case of the former supermodel Christie Brinkley and her architect husband Peter Cook was the fact that Christie was awarded the family homes in New York, Sag Harbor and 18 other houses in The Hamptons. Yes, 18. Credit crunch or no credit crunch, property in The Hamptons is prime real estate and the cost of an "average" weekend retreat (as opposed to a massive compound) is between $2 million and $10 million (Dh7.3 million and Dh37 million). I should know, having spent much of my adult life wistfully dreaming about a summer house on a beach there.

I blame Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford for this. The Hamptons first flashed into my psyche when I watched The Way We Were back in the Seventies, and a succession of other films increased its mythical appeal, culminating most recently in Something's Gotta Give, where Diane Keaton's beach house is the epitome of chic. The Hamptons refers specifically to the towns of Southampton and East Hampton on the South Fork of Suffolk Country in New York on the east end of Long Island. Today it's accepted as the collective name of the summer colony and playground of the rich New Yorkers who own summer houses in Montauk, Sagaponack, Bridgehampton, Quogue, Hampton Bay and North Fork. It's not so much a place as a look which reflects a lifestyle.

The poet John Hall Wheelock described the landscape of eastern Long Island as "bird-haunted, ocean-haunted - land of youth and desired return". And the Long Island look developed naturally from its surroundings of sunshine and sea, when early seafaring whalers and lobster men constructed simple clapboard huts for shelter along the seafront. When New Yorkers began to look to the seashore for holidays, the basic fishermen's hut became a rustic summer beach house: the wooden floors and walls were painted in light pastel colours, while faded florals and handmade quilts softened the interiors. The design ethos was informal, classic and nostalgic, which is something both Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren have bottled, sold and made a fortune from in the process.

Sadly, today the fishermen's shacks have been replaced as each generation has added its own style. Think Bauhaus on the beach and you won't be far wrong. Today, the Hamptons design style which I have in my minds eye is redundant. The Hamptons is the ultimate place for trophy houses, trophy wives and trophy husbands which is at odds with the look it spawned. Tongue-and-grooved walls, wooden floors, daybeds, floral and gingham bunting accessorised by shells and driftwood seem too innocent for homes acquired by high profile divorces or hedge fund bonuses, don't they?