The Home Observer: The Hamptons, Honey

A bee yard, a Frenchman, a few down-on-their-luck chickens: worlds collide at Blue Spruce Farm, the Water Mill home of Pylones-USA owners Alan Ceppos and Frederic Rambaud. 

SLIDESHOW: The Hamptons, Honey

No, buffalo don’t roam here (it is the Hamptons, after all), but a mule does, alongside a few horses with a past and several rescue chickens. But that’s a long story.

The house is a Long Island farmhouse, but not the old, quaint variety so familiar and sought-after on the East End. This one, a nondescript ’70s build, was purchased in 2001 by its present owners, Alan Ceppos and Frederic Rambaud. The two globe-trotting merchants are the owners of Pylones-USA (the chain of five Manhattan giftware shops where one can buy colorful, whimsical French doodads like cheese graters shaped like the Eiffel Tower) and Tea and Honey (the small store on the Upper East Side where one can buy tea, and honey). Ceppos and Rambaud got their start in the giftware industry 25 years ago as the manufacturers and distributors of the miniature Zen Rock Garden, the one that sat on everyone’s desk for decades. But that’s another long story.

There are many long stories at Blue Spruce Farm, a 15-acre property with two barns, a 3,500-square-foot farmhouse, and a bee yard with six hives that are part of a larger apiary. The stories all began years ago, when the two urbanites were searching for a quiet place to hole up in on weekends. They had three requirements: “It had to be within two-hours drive of Manhattan, near water, and gay-friendly,” Mr. Ceppos said. They found what they were looking for in Water Mill, a quiet village a few miles east of Southampton.

The couple, partners for 38 years, met in Paris in 1973 but came from backgrounds worlds apart. For Mr. Rambaud, a Frenchman  born and raised in Dakar, Senegal, the hills and fields north of Montauk Highway are reminiscent of his childhood home in West Africa, minus wild gazelles. “When I look out at the pasture in front of the house, I see the savannah with herds of deer,” he said.

For Mr. Ceppos-who was raised in Bayside, Queens-the wide, sandy beaches of the Hamptons are a reminder of his childhood summers in Rockaway and Long Beach, minus the boardwalk.

The men have created a life and a home that is a mélange of their disparate backgrounds, an interior décor one-half French-African, one-half Jewish-American: matzoh ball soup with sauce-piquant.

No professional designer worked on the interior of the house, and no design dictates or formulas were followed-but every inch of the house is decorated. Both men contributed ideas and objects from their own travels and families. The result reflects their personalities rather than rules. “I might not have picked some of the things Alan inherited from his grandparents, but it is his legacy and it had to work,” Mr. Rambaud said. “As our style is eclectic, it wasn’t a problem. It might have been a problem had it been minimalist or Louis XV or Buatta-esque.” He added, “If there is one thing that Alan doesn’t question about me, it is my taste. I pick, I place, I change, I archive. So we never had a decorating fight.”

Living with another person’s belongings is not always easy. At Blue Spruce Farm, an eyebrow may rise once in a while, though fights do not. One of Mr. Rambaud’s collections is not one that Mr. Ceppos would have chosen, Mr. Ceppos said. A stash of animal skulls collected from the property, an Australian crocodile head and a cow skull from Bhutan, are kept on the wide front porch next to the front door.  “It’s part of my 21st-century Victorian curiosity cabinet,” Mr. Rambaud said.

The property is at its heart a farm and “bio-dynamic,” according to its owners, who maintain the land according to the spiritual and scientific gardening principles set out by Dr. Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. “There hasn’t been one ounce of chemicals, fertilizer or herbicides used on the property since we bought it,” Mr. Ceppos said. The 200-square-foot vegetable garden feeds them all summer; eggs from their Rhode Island Red chickens (the ones the men rescued from a certain fate as McNuggets) supply breakfast year round; and honey from the hives is extracted and bottled to be sold locally. Their venture, the Hamptons Honey Company, bottles honey from other sources and sells it online and in stores.

The solar-heated swimming pool was purposely set to the side of the house, hidden from view from the back deck where the men entertain all summer and sit in the winter catching whatever rays sneak through. (“We didn’t want to look out at a covered pool all winter,” Mr. Ceppos said.) Large stone boulders separating the pool area from the rest of the backyard create a distinct outdoor room.The boulders, placed with precision, are reminiscent of a Zen rock garden, a large version of the miniature ones the two men produce and market. Each boulder was chosen for its size and shape and brought onto the land from a local stone yard.

The grasses surrounding the pool, though carefully planted, are wild-looking and create an un-manicured effect. Here at Blue Spruce Farm, the landscaping, too, eludes easy categories. “Our garden is neither French nor English,” Mr. Ceppos said. “It’s supposed to look natural.”

  The Home Observer: The Hamptons, Honey