You might have seen the story on November 22 in the New York Times, about Grey Gardens, the legendary East Hampton vacation home owned by journalist Sally Quinn and her late husband, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. The 28-room home at 3 West End Road and Lilly Pond Lane in the Georgia Pond neighborhood of East Hampston, NY, is one of a handful with somewhat of a cult following. Those followers and more descended on the home for an estate sale the weekend before Thanksgiving, the most faithful camping out for first place in line at four am.
But was anyone in line from Dallas, or even Texas?
A young Dallas man with deep family roots in real estate was there. John Perry-Miller, 18, nephew of Dave Perry-Miller, whose name is on the door of one of the most successful luxury brokerages in North Texas, says he first learned about Grey Gardens from Uncle Dave and his father, Ralph Perry-Miller. They talked about it, he saw the movie, and he was hooked. Piggy-backing the trip east onto an audition at American University, John was fifth in line for the sale, staking his place at 7 a.m. for the ten a.m. opening.
Oh yes. The temperature was 33 degrees outside while he waited.
In the days of Camelot, “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little Edie” Beale — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin— made the house famous for their style and dreadful lack of housekeeping. The Beales bought the vacation estate in 1923, by 1971 the house was in squalor and actually once condemned. What is better than peeking behind the rodent-infested draperies of high society? The Beale women became the subjects of a Broadway musical and an HBO movie that brought the house into focus.
Quinn and Bradlee, the power couple who ruled the DC social scene since their marriage in 1978, bought the house in 1979 for $220,000 — “all it needs is a coat of paint” Edie had said breezily. (The Bradlee’s poured millions into it.) Bradlee died in 2014, and Quinn put the house up for sale earlier this year. It has a contract, but like most real estate transactions, the identity of the buyer is being kept secret.
The contract stipulated that the house would be empty of furnishings, so Sally Quinn did what any homeowner would do: she had an estate sale. People came in from afar to see the fabled estate, and buy a piece of memorabilia. The home was quickly emptied of everything, even the personalized drinking glasses, even the stationary.
John, age 18, was on his way to a college interview at American University the following day. There was no way he could stay away, and his enthusiasm was apparent to the New York Times reporter who was covering the sale:
“They really lived on their own terms,” Mr. Perry-Miller said of the Beales. “I think they’re incredible role models. Their discourse, their arguments, always ended in mutual respect. They lived in the moment, which is a good thing and a bad thing. As Little Edie said, ‘It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.’”
“My parents said: ‘When are you ever going to get a chance to see Grey Gardens?’”
Buyers started lining up at 4 a.m. despite the cold, and the items were sold by Friday evening, the first day of the estate sale.
John Perry-Miller bought a pair of Adirondack chairs ($295 each); an original slipcovered armchair ($350), and a set of plastic cups printed with the words “Grey Gardens” ($25), the latter, he says, commissioned by Sally Quinn.
“The sale was civilized, but cut throat,” says John, who found himself talking to another shopper, Josh Klinghoffer, lead guitarist for Red Hot Chili Peppers, while waiting in line. He also met the son of the author of Fiddler on the Roof.
Most of the buyers were middle aged interior designers and architects, including the very first buyer in line, who was from Maine. The pricing on pieces was surprisingly reasonable, says John, $750 each for the original chaise lounges, one of the original Louis IV chairs with a rattan back and threadbare fabric on the skirt, covered in cat scratches, $650. House stationary sold out early. People were even buying up the original flagstone in the yard. Which led me to ask John, instilled with Perry-Miller real estate curiosity and intuition — will Grey Gardens be torn down?
“No,” said John, “and we were all trying to get an inkling of who the buyer is, but the house will not be torn down. They are saving the Tiffany lamp in the kitchen and the original iron stove.”
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About the cut throat customers: while perusing the furnishings, John spied a beautiful desk and phoned his dad to describe it.
“There is this desk I need to buy,” said John.
Another buyer overheard, literally ran up and ripped the tag off the desk, and said, “nope, too late.”
The same buyer snagged the $650 chair with the cat scratches and carried it downstairs. On the way down, he lost his footing and dropped the treasured chair, which fell to the first floor.
“It was like time froze,” says John. “Everyone was gasping, looking to see if the chair was okay as it fell, definitely more concerned about the chair than the person holding it.”
It was, after all, a treasure of Grey Gardens.
Oh yes, John did miss his flight out of Islip, but told the Times it was well worth it.
“I felt like I got to really take my time and have my moment with the house that has meant so much to me for most of my life.”