Location: It’s been about a decade since you wrote Philistines at the Hedgerow, the Hamptons tell-all. What’s changed there since then?
Mr. Gaines: It’s gotten worse—and it’s gotten better. The reason why people came out here in the first place has been completely obliterated: the landscapes, the beach, the open fields, the great sense of country and being away from New York City. That’s gone. Now all those beautiful potato fields are filled up with McMansions, and this place has become a shrine to ego and money.
But doesn’t every generation think “it couldn’t get any worse”? You once wrote that East Hampton was founded because Southampton was too congested, way back in the 1600’s.
But I can tell you we’ve come to the end of the available amount of land. That’s how it has to stop …. It will in a year or two, maybe three, be completely built out.
Who is the villainous mega-builder now? Your book mocks Barry Trupin, who tried to build gaudy “Dragon’s Head” with an indoor lagoon.
You know who lives in that gaudy dream castle now? Calvin Klein. He removed the 20-foot high Foo Dogs … but it still looks like some bizarre aberration of a castle.
There was Ira Rennert [the Hummer magnate], who built a 29-bedroom house about eight years ago in Sagaponack. And now on the field next to him, Billy Macklowe, Harry Macklowe’s son, [has] a strange sort of … wall right out on this potato field; and he has in his plans that he filed a chauffeur’s waiting room.
How do these get built?
Money validates you in the Hamptons, money makes you a big man. And the more insecure you are in real life, the more important these kinds of representations are in the Hamptons. It’s like a guy who has a small penis who has to drive a flashy sports car.
Where can you get away from small-penis McMansions?
Not here. This is what the Hamptons are, and I make no apology for it, nor is one entitled to make an apology for it. If you don’t want a peacock walk, where people are driving expensive cars and people have houses that are inappropriately big, you should go somewhere else. This is what the Hamptons are, and this is what people enjoy out here. It’s a stage where nouveau society can show itself.
What’s gotten better?
In the mid- to late 90’s, people started coming in from California, people from the movie industry felt they had to be here in the summer. They were quickly disappointed! It’s not really a place that’s easy to break into. But that attention, that huge surge of selling of houses, has quieted down to a roar; it’s not quite as nasty.
What about hedge-fund and Wall Street buyers?
They’re still buying up the houses above $15 million, but there aren’t thousands of those coming in …. The common man, the man who can only afford a house under $5 million, isn’t really buying.
I think the real-estate market is healthy, but I think it’s calmed down a bit. I think the people have calmed down a bit. The Hamptons, believe it or not, are not as trendy as they used to be. How can you be trendy forever? Is Fifth Avenue trendy?