Panic Over Grey Gardens Redo

New owners’ associates insist preservation is aim
Grey Gardens, the East Hampton Village house made famous in the documentary film of the same name, has changed hands again, and work is being done to shore up and improve the structure. Jamie Buffalino

Grey Gardens is in a state of upheaval. The house’s front porch has been removed, the chimneys have been taken down, and the entire structure is set to be lifted off its foundation to allow for the existing crawl space to be transformed into a full basement.

The extent of the ongoing work was noted with alarm on social media last week, with, for example, one East End resident posting front-yard images and expressions of anxiety over its fate on Facebook. Anyone passing by 3 West End Road in East Hampton, the official address of the house made famous by its most eccentric inhabitants, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, might indeed assume that it was in the midst of a drastic re-envisioning, but that is not the case, said colleagues of its newest owners.

In the fall, when the new owners bought the property for $15.5 million from Sally Quinn — a journalist who was married to the late Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks in The Post, the recent Academy Award contender) — they used a limited liability company, which concealed their identities. They remain anonymous. However, Frank Newbold, an associate broker at Sotheby’s International Realty who represented the buyers during the purchase, vouched for his clients, describing them as “a young family who know and love East Hampton and who are eager to respect and restore Grey Gardens.” Mr. Newbold is also the chairman of the village’s zoning board of appeals.

Kevin Hummel, a partner in the firm John Hummel and Associates Custom Builders, has been hired by the owners to oversee the renovation. He said last week that he has been tasked with salvaging as much of the original structure as possible. “They’re adamant about saving every piece of trim and paneling,” he said. “When we took down the chimneys, we saved the original bricks to be reused.” After the house is lifted, and the basement expanded, “the house will be put back down in its original position on a new foundation,” added Mr. Hummel. “Nothing is changing with the aesthetics. The owners have been researching books and documents about the house for years. They really want this house to go back to the way it was 100 years ago. They don’t even want it to look like a new paint job was done.”

Building plans for the house, which are on file at the East Hampton Village Building Department, feature a series of demolition notes that contain directives such as “salvage wainscoting and all decorative trim in dining room for reuse,” and “remove existing gravel driveway and salvage existing bluestone edging for reuse.”

The building plans also show that some high-end adjustments are in store for the classic shingled structure. Hydronic radiant floors are slated to be installed in all the bathrooms, the kitchen, the sun room, and the master bedroom. The new basement has been designed to contain a wine room, an exercise room, and a recreation room. 

  If the plans come to full fruition, the house will end up with a total of 33 rooms, including seven bedrooms, eight full bathrooms, and two half-bathrooms.

Outside, on the 1.7 acres of land Grey Gardens is set on, the documents lay out a plan for the rectangular backyard pool to be replaced with a circular one. Three gates will be installed on the perimeter of the property, two on West End Road and one on Apaquogue Road. 

As for the house’s infamous landscaping — which reached a state of picturesque wildness and overgrown neglect before the Beales were confronted by village code inspectors back in the 1970s —  Mr. Hummel said the owners were also intent on reviving its past. “They’ve hired a landscape architect to bring the garden back to what it originally looked like,” he said.