“The Real Housewives of New York City” has been renewed for another season, which starts filming in 2 weeks. Last season, so much of the ladies time was spent in the Hamptons the show could have been called “Real Housewives of the Hamptons.” Considering the Hamptons is the premiere spot where New Yorkers summer, we got a small peek at the luxurious beach homes where the ladies spend their leisure time. Newsday got a chance to get behind the sand dunes and hedges and into their Hamptons homes. TGIF
The Season 2 arrival of Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a model-author-fashion editor with the ultimate Hampton address, stirred up the estrogen cauldron. Some of the housewives, so eager to befriend the East Hamptonite in the beginning, were put off by her in the end. They hoped out loud she wouldn’t be asked back. But she was. “I think they were really offended that I didn’t know who they were,” says Bensimon, 41, of the other women. “Next season we’re going to have fun.”
Ten years ago, when Bensimon and her then-husband, fashion photographer Gilles Bensimon, set about building their East Hampton home, she was intrigued by the East End tradition of a memory box. So she made her own. “I used the Tiffany box from the diamond earrings my sister gave me when I got married” on the property, Bensimon says.”I put in my dog’s collar, pictures of me and my husband, what the land looked like before and wrote a couple of pages about what the Hamptons meant to me, and why I wanted to build the house.” She placed it inside the entry wall.
The 5,800-square-foot house has 4½ baths, maid’s quarters, three fireplaces, a two-car garage, a heated gunite pool and an apple orchard. Bensimon’s home has been on and off the market, listed for sale with an asking price of $14.5 million and on the rental market for $335,000 for the summer. She says it was her ex’s idea to list it, but the process became too public. “This summer, I’ll hang out as much as I can with my kids, on the beach and riding horses,” she says. “We live a very relaxed life in the Hamptons.”
Her design of the house is very eclectic. “An antique chandelier juxtaposed with Philippe Starck plastic chairs in the kitchen, a shark that was caught in Hampton Bays behind Yves Halard leather couches in the living room,” she says. “But you could take all the furniture out of the house and the archways, woodwork and floors would still speak quality.”
She’s the Jewish girl from the Five Towns (Woodmere) who mothers all her friends. Her boob job was a breast reduction! The impressive rock on her finger? “It’s the baby diamond. Mother’s in the vault.” For Jill Zarin and husband, Zarin Fabrics czar Bobby, this year will be their last in the 7,300-square-foot Sag Harbor house on two acres they sold in 2007 – with a twist.
“They were asking $3.395 million,” says broker Amelia Doggwiler of the Southampton office of Brown Harris Stevens, who represented both seller and buyer. “My buyer offered $2.85 million.” So, Doggwiler says, “Bobby and I got creative. We threw in all the furniture (Zarin fabrics, natch), but asked for the house in June and July for two years.” Zarin said they’ll rent or buy in the Hamptons, depending on the market and the deal.
The house has three floors, six bedrooms, 5 1/2 baths, two fireplaces, a ground-floor game room and a gym. The master suite has a fireplace, steam, a spa and a private terrace. There’s a 50-foot heated pool and a tennis court. “It’s 10 minutes from everywhere,” says Zarin, 45. “It has great light and energy. But there’s no sun on my pool in the afternoon when I like to be there, and the kitchen is a flight above, making it harder to entertain.”
Entertaining means “15 guests every weekend and people always dropping by,” she says. Freedom reigns. “The unofficial house rules are: ‘If I’m going to a charity event, you’re under no obligation to go,’ “she adds. “And, if I’m invited to a private dinner party, I don’t want to feel guilty if I can’t take everyone. We’ll meet up later. At night, if it’s cold, we put restaurant heaters outside and listen to music.”
“I want my next house to be in the estate section of Southampton, smaller and lower-maintenance: four bedrooms, one acre, beautiful landscaping. I want it done like the house in ‘As Good as It Gets.’ Maybe I’ll decorate it on Season Three.”
“Because we travel a lot, we don’t get out here that often,” says Alex McCord. When they do, Alex and her husband, Simon Van Kempen often rent masseuse Gina Michael’s Southampton home (Michael lists it for $3,000 per weekend; $4,500 on holiday weekends).
They usually plan their Hamptons trips around charity events. “I know that we have a whole bunch of invitations that we have to go through,” says McCord, 35. “We typically like to go out for Fourth of July and support the Southampton Fresh Air Home.”
McCord says she likes the heated pool area with its Greek statues and columns. The house, 1,800 square feet on one acre, has two Jacuzzis and a sauna. With five bedrooms and 21/2 baths, there’s plenty of room to bring their two young boys, their nanny, her son – and friends.
This summer, they’re going to Australia, where he’s from, and the Caribbean, where she had a family home until she was a teenager. “Everyone makes fun of Simon and me because we think the ocean in the Hamptons is too cold,” McCord says with a laugh.
‘I’m Miss Switzerland, the neutralizer on the show,” says Countess LuAnn de Lesseps. In fact, she was an Italian beauty queen (Lady Universe) who once lived in Switzerland. Not even the Countess – who got her title by marrying into the family that built the Suez Canal – could stay completely above the fray on the show. But she did seem to be trying.
This spring, the Count told her he wanted a divorce in an e-mail. Publicity-wise, his timing was impeccable: just before the launch of de Lesseps’ autobiographical book of manners, “Class With the Countess” (Gotham, $24). They built the 6,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom, 7 ½-bath Bridgehampton home in happier times. “We came over from Switzerland to look for property in 1994,” she says, adding that they fell in love with the two acres and persuaded the owner to sell it to them. “We built the house around a barn we moved from Pennsylvania. I love the unfinished whitewashed cedar walls and their comfy smell. I call it my Barn Chateau Chalet, because of the eclectic mix of furniture: Louis Quinze, Chinese antiques and American country. There’s also a large pool and oversized pool house, a tennis court, steam room, a sauna and a three-car garage. “If I had to do it again, I’d connect the garage to the house,” she says.
The de Lesseps divided their time between Switzerland and Bridgehampton until 2002, when they moved to the Hamptons full-time. “We’re very social people, and it gets very quiet here in the winter, so we would give dinner parties once a week just to bring people over,” she says.” Three years ago, I got the town house in New York to pursue my television career. I was doing etiquette segments on Fox 5’s ‘Good Day New York,’ and CBS.” Then she met Zarin, who asked her if she wanted to be on “this show.”
Next season, the Countess will be a single mother. She says she’s planning to spend more time in the Hamptons. “Right now, I’m so busy trying to get my life in order, I don’t even have the time or desire to think about dating,” says de Lesseps, 44. “Whether that changes by the time we start taping, who knows.”
‘This is the home I never had growing up, the first home I ever owned – my heart and soul,” says Ramona Singer. She bought the 7,500-square-foot, three-story Mediterranean-style house 14 years ago for $875,000 with her husband, Mario Singer, when daughter, Avery, was 6 months old. “The playpen was our first piece of furniture,” she says. This is where they took care of Mario’s mother for the last nine years of her life, celebrated every holiday and spent romantic weekends alone.
The house sits on a little less than two acres, on a pond. “My backyard is magical,” Singer says. “There are seagulls and swans on the water and unbelievable English gardens. I feel like I’m in a slice of paradise.” The lush view through the double-storied living room hits you as soon as you enter. The upstairs master terrace – where Ramona and Mario share sunset cocktails – has an even more dramatic vista of her pool, gardens and pond. Downstairs, there’s an 800-square-foot kitchen that opens onto the back.
“We planted every tree,” says Singer, 52. “I picked out every flower. We put in 20 tons of stone for our English rock garden. Mario had them sink the tennis court. I designed everything. The only thing here was the bocce court. We both worked in the garden,” Ramona continues. “I’d put on my bikini, suntan lotion and fill bags full of weeds. Every year we add something. Working on the house is our labor of love.” The last addition was a basement guest suite for Avery’s friends, adjacent to the American Doll dressing room that Ramona sentimentally holds onto. The only thing missing is Mario’s hot tub. “That’ll be next,” she promises.
This year, like so many owners seduced by the prices these properties command, the Singers put the house on the rental market. “I was thinking of renting it for August,” says Singer, who listed it at $100,000 for the month. “I’ve gotten some offers, but I might want to stay and enjoy it. We’ll see.”
Last summer, Bethenny Frankel’s Hamptons home was Zarin’s guest room. This summer, it’s a waterfront villa suite at the Montauk Yacht Club Resort & Marina. “Two years ago, I could barely pay my rent,” says Frankel. “Now, I’m looking to buy.”
Frankel is reaping the benefits of marketing her SkinnyGirl Margarita and New York Times bestseller “Naturally Thin: Unleash Your SkinnyGirl and Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Dieting” (Fireside, $16). Between book signings, she’ll be weekending in what she calls the “UnHamptons” – Montauk. “I’m a pretty private person, so I love being in a small waterfront house with a semi- private pool,” says Frankel, a natural foods chef. “And I have all the hotel amenities. They have a great chef. There’s a spa, fitness center, steam room, tennis court and massage. I get manicures and pedicures by the pool. In the afternoon, I have drinks on the outdoor couch areas.” One drawback: “There’s a refrigerator, but no mini- kitchen. But, I guess its better that I can’t work.”
Who wants to work weekends when you’re with your new boyfriend, to be introduced, presumably, in season three? “He’s not in the, quote unquote, business,” says Frankel, 38. “He’s an incredible guy who treats me like gold.”
Frankel’s favorite suite has one bedroom, one bathroom and a living room – a total of 501 square feet. Peak season one-night rates start at $599 for the private villa suites. This summer in the Hamptons, Frankel will be a celebrity guest at Super Saturday at the Wolffer Estate Vineyard and will also be signing books at the Parrish Art Museum. “But,” she says, “you’ll mostly be seeing me drinking SkinnyGirl margaritas at the lounge.”