The House That Calvin Built

Calvin Klein’s soon-to-be-finished beach house on Meadow Lane in Southampton, N.Y., was still bustling with workers on Aug. 24. The property includes a guest wing and a building Mr. Klein plans to use as a screening room. More Photos »

For just $15 a day, Suffolk County residents can drive up in an R.V. and stay at the park at the end of Meadow Lane in Southampton, N.Y., where the views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Shinnecock Bay on the other are considered to be among the most spectacular on the East End.

Not surprisingly, Calvin Klein had a slightly more expensive vision of how to be here.

For nearly half a decade, on a 10-acre plot  that was once owned by Henry Francis du Pont, Mr. Klein, the fashion designer, has been erecting a minimalist palace the likes of which is seldom seen in an area of increasing architectural homogeneity.

He has done a gut renovation and then a complete demolition of  the enormous house that once stood there, been through three different architects in the process of building his new one, scoured the Western world for the best monochromatic furnishings money can buy, and even done extensive work to the dunes so that they are exactly to his liking.

Mr. Klein is hardly the only famous person to have taken up residence on this narrow band of very expensive land. Neighbors include David and Julia Koch and Aby Rosen and Samantha Boardman, as well as the investor Leon Black and the hotelier Ian Schrager.

But it’s Mr. Klein’s house that has been the topic of conversation at recent affairs like Larry Gagosian’s end-of-summer event at the Blue Parrot and Robert Wilson’s benefit at the Watermill Center.

“Every two or three years there’s a house that captures the imagination of the people and the press out there,” said Peggy Siegal, the movie-screenings queen. “This year it’s this one. Am I one of those schmucks biking up and down Meadow Lane to look at the house? Yes. Did I drive up with Julia Koch? Yes. She said: ‘The sign says no trespassing. We’re going to get arrested.’ I said, ‘No, we’re not.’ ”

In Ms. Siegal’s estimation, the house is “drop dead gorgeous.” Certainly it’s a striking home — and one that has cost Mr. Klein about $75 million, including the price of the land, according to two associates. (Mr. Klein declined to comment. “At this time, Calvin really doesn’t want to participate in any editorial on the house,” said Paul Wilmot, a spokesman for Mr. Klein. Mr. Wilmot added that Mr. Klein was “less than pleased” that aerial photographs of his house were going to be published with this article.)

On a recent afternoon, the place was bustling with workers. Two irrigation trucks were parked out front, as were more than a half-dozen other vehicles with signs on them that said things like “I like tattooed girls.”

“All I know is that there are trucks parked illegally and no one bothers them,” said someone who came jogging by (he declined to provide his name).

Moments later, on the upper level of the house, the figure of a wiry man with spiky hair and a white T-shirt was spotted from the road walking through the place. It was clearly Mr. Klein, and friends of his say this comes as little surprise.

As they tell it, he is here six days a week, sometimes for several hours at a time. He talks about the house nonstop. He has personally vetted and approved every floorboard and object inside, even designed much of the furniture himself when he thought there was nothing out there that quite met his exacting design standards.

Now, it is nearly done, and Mr. Klein has more or less moved in.

There are sliding glass doors in every room, so that anywhere he is can essentially become an outdoor space. Rooms are filled with white sofa after white sofa. Danish modern chairs by Poul Kjaerholm are in one of the sitting rooms downstairs. Other vintage pieces by Jean Prouvé and Le Corbusier have arrived.

The infinity pool in front is done, as is a nearby building he plans to use as a screening room. (On the opposite side of the main building is a guest wing that connects to the house via an underground passageway through a basement garage.)

Part of the fascination with the property comes from its unusual provenance. In the first half of the 20th century, it was owned by Henry du Pont, a scion of one of the nation’s wealthiest families. After his death, it was sold by his daughters to Leonard Holzer and his wife Jane.

Jane Holzer, better known as Baby Jane, appeared in Andy Warhol movies and gave many a lavish late-night party for her Factory compatriots there in the ’70s. Mr. Holzer’s finances, however, soon took a beating and he defaulted on the house.

In the ’80s, it was owned by Barry Trupin, a financier who taped a 24-karat gold mezuza to the front door, installed a 20-foot waterfall out back and built an indoor shark tank and a private zoo for burros.

The locals went ballistic, lawsuits were filed, and the master of the house became a virtual pariah, according to Steven Gaines, who wrote about the saga in his book “Philistines at the Hedgerow.”

“It looked like a Disney castle on LSD,” Mr. Gaines said.

By 1992, Mr. Trupin was in a financial quagmire, fighting off allegations of fraud (he later was convicted of tax evasion), and the place was sold to Francesco Galesi, a former director of WorldCom, for $2.3 million.

In 2003, after 10 years of rapidly escalating property values in the Hamptons, Mr. Klein bought the place from Mr. Galesi for just under $30 million. He did a gut renovation of the house and moved in, though friends said they were not surprised when he decided to tear it down and start over.

After all, this is someone who takes his real estate very seriously.

In 2000, Mr. Klein bought a triplex penthouse in the South Tower of the Richard Meier buildings on the West Side Highway in the Village. According to Vanity Fair, one of the first things he did was get in a helicopter with Mr. Meier and fly to where the windows were going to be so he could get an exact idea of his future view.

Then he did extensive work on the apartment, during which time he lived at the Mercer Hotel. When he finally moved into the penthouse and realized it still wasn’t to his liking, he moved back into the Mercer for a second round of renovations.

The first architect hired by Mr. Klein for the house in Southampton was John Pawson, who had collaborated with Mr. Klein on several projects, including the designer’s West Village residence and his flagship store on Madison Avenue. Edwina von Gal, a landscape architect who has worked with clients like Frank Gehry and Richard Serra, was retained to oversee the grounds.

Then, in 2008, Mr. Klein switched from Mr. Pawson to Michael Haverland, who was on the Yale faculty and lives in East Hampton part time. Mr. Haverland and Mr. Klein began meeting two to three times a week and bonded over a love of architects like Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra and Joe D’Urso.

With a design concept mapped out — a glass house built in wood, all clean lines and super-edited — the old castle was demolished. In an effort to be as green as possible, the concrete was chopped up and trucks from the village came in and carted it off to be used in road construction. The toilets, sinks, doors and door knobs were donated to nonprofits and salvage yards.

After that, a life-size mock-up of the two-story house was built of plywood on the property. That project was so substantial that it required a building permit from the Village of Southampton and wound up costing approximately $350,000, according to two sources close to Mr. Klein. So that Mr. Klein could get an even better idea of what it was to be like, the furniture he had in mind was created out of foamcore.

Unlike most of the larger Hamptons estates, it would have no front hedge, making it fairly easy for passers-by to view it from the beach or the street.

Mr. Klein thought it was a naturalistic approach that suited the surroundings of the beach and the bay. But when the mock-up was complete, he came to the realization that it wouldn’t even be possible to shower without giving a show to half of Southampton. So Ms. von Gal did something with bayberry to give him cover.

Then, after Mr. Klein made further tweaks to the design of the house, a third architect, Fred Stelle, was brought in to make the last refinements to the concept and execute the construction.

Around three years ago, construction began. As things rolled into high gear, Mr. Rosen, who lives next door, began texting Mr. Klein photos and updates on what was happening on the property whenever he couldn’t be there.

Throughout, Mr. Klein was on the phone with Axel Vervoordt, who owns an antiques and home furnishings store in Antwerp, Belgium. Mr. Vervoordt helped construct custom pieces and gave guidance on the finishings. Mr. Klein also shopped at Wyeth, the SoHo furniture store known for its midcentury modern aesthetic, and received advice from its owner, John Birch.

By the time the project was nearing completion earlier this summer, Mr. Klein and his friends began receiving phone calls asking whether there was to be a housewarming party.

“I think it’s going to change the way we think about houses in the Hamptons,” said Sam Shahid, an old friend of Mr. Klein’s who has worked on many of his most famous ad campaigns. “Like when Charles Gwathmey built his house, and it changed everybody’s idea of what the future was. I can’t wait to see it.” (To date, no party has been scheduled.)

Naturally, some of the area’s residents were a little annoyed that it went on for so long. “I think there’s probably a sense of let’s get it finished strictly because of the traffic,” said Tim Davis, one of the area’s best-known real estate brokers. “The last three or four weeks, it’s been rather congested because they’re trying to get the house installed.”

Still, Mr. Davis said, it was nice to see a different sort of house of this scale go up in the neighborhood.

“It’s rather exciting,” he said. “People have been talking about it for years.”

 

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