By Donna Bulseco
History has earned its place in the Hamptons, alongside rolling dunes, Sagaponack celebrity sightings, the spicy penne at Nick & Toni’s, and the banner galas that notoriously reticent artists want to attend. History—and what life on the East End meant back in the day—can be considered, even honored, certainly cherished.
That was true when legendary architect and designer Thierry Despont, who passed away this summer at the age of 75, purchased the Rosewood Farm Estate, as well as two other contiguous parcels between 2011 and 2013. Rosewood, a premier horse complex that included a barn, stables, paddocks and an iconic ringside gazebo, was the site of the original Southampton Riding and Hunt Club.
Naturally curious and intellectually rigorous, Despont was known to delve deeply into the history of a place before starting a project. “You cannot practice architecture without knowing history,” he told Vanity Fair when asked about working on the centennial restoration of the Statue of Liberty in 1984, four years after he opened his architecture firm in Tribeca. “That project taught me that you need to learn as much as you can about a structure before you touch it.”
Rosewood’s storied history is tied to the Hampton Classic, the world-class equestrian competition that this year drew some 50,000 people to the Bridgehampton show grounds, among them fans such as Jane Seymour, Billy Joel, Donna Karan, Brooke Shields, Gayle King and Michael Bloomberg. The Classic, as it has come to be known, began as a summer competition in the early 1900s on the field overlooking Lake Agawam. In 1922, the enthusiastic equestrian group formed the Southampton Riding and Hunt Club, building stables and other structures to create a showpiece that opened in 1928 and hosted the Hampton Classic.
Anyone setting foot on the bucolic grounds will feel that history and see how Despont honored, yet changed it. Initially, as family members recall, Despont was looking for a home near Southampton ideally large enough to take walks within the property; he also wanted to landscape an infinite view from the main house. His requirements were clear: “I don’t want to see, hear or smell my neighbors,” he said, referring to pool noise and smoky barbecues, “and I need to drive door-to-door from Tribeca to Southampton in no longer than one hour and a half.” Time was valuable for the prolific architect, who in his lifetime transformed the The Carlyle hotel and the Cartier flagship on Fifth Avenue; designed iconic homes for Bill Gates, Calvin Klein, and Mickey and Peggy Drexler; and most recently, transformed the Battery Maritime Building at the southern tip of Manhattan into the luxurious private club Casa Cipriani, among many other projects.
Despont saw potential in the equestrian farm, which counted the young Jacqueline Lee Bouvier among its students. “Rosewood is not only a house. It’s a place with history, charm and character; it has a DNA of its own,” he said. Sometimes honoring history means ripping it up: The main house and the barns, which had to be torn down because of many years of erosion from housing horses, were identically rebuilt with the stables transformed into bedrooms in two wings off the nearly 6,000-square-foot residence. Despont also placed a new fountain in the center of the cobblestone courtyard, which became the heart of Rosewood in the summer. A 14-seat table welcomed guests for meals, lounging and vivid conversations. “The days are too short here,” Despont would complain every Sunday, when heading back to the city.
The landscaping was generously conceived with mature trees to balance the main house with the infinity pool and pool house Despont built directly opposite the courtyard. A picturesque meadow and a walking path leading to the gazebo also enhance the more than 34 acres of the private estate.
His family has memories of Despont being blissfully happy there. The charming powerhouse, a native of Limoges, France, who earned his degree in architecture from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and a master’s degree in urban planning from Harvard University, reveled in the simple life. On a typical morning, he would take a drive in his bathrobe to the beach and in 15 minutes was swimming in the ocean; afterward, a long meditative walk allowed him to photograph the area’s birds and the idyllic scenes of nature surrounding him. Back at Rosewood, the architect would jump in the pool and follow with a copious breakfast in the courtyard overlooking the pampas grass, with the sound of the fountain and Bach in the background.
“In Rosewood, I can meet all my needs,” said Despont. “I can make myself super busy painting, drawing or working, doing sports and enjoying long dinners, or peacefully reading by the fountain and watching the moon go down over the pool house at night. The generosity of Rosewood makes it a self-contained universe, away from the stressful world.”
Rosewood Farm Estate is listed with Paul Brennan, Martha Gundersen, Michaela Keszler and Paulina Keszler of Douglas Elliman (Bridgehampton) at $19,950,000.