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January 2009


Deeds & Don'ts
by Lily Oliver and Scoop Drummond



Mrs. Astor Sells
Busy as we are scouting Connecticut listing, we seldom cross the border into New York State. But we couldn't resist the invitation to tour Holly Hill, the late, great Brooke Astor's estate in Briarcliff Manor, NY. Let it be said that rumors of neglect are pure fabrication. Holly Hill is gloriously immaculate, decorously decorated by Sister Parrish herself with Mrs. Astor's antiques, paintings of her beloved Dachsies and loads of books, still in their proper places. Holly Hill, on 64 acres, features 13 bedrooms, six fireplaces, seven garage bays, indoor and outdoor pools, pool house, spa/hot tub, guest suite and sunroom. There's also a greenhouse and a four-bedroom gardener's cottage. The property, with sylvan views of the Hudson and its hillside, is offered for $12.9 million by David Turner of Sotheby's International Realty, (914) 767-9685.

Retailers call it "inventory shrinkage"—sometimes truncated to just "shrink"—a euphemism for merchandise that simply disappears. The real estate market experienced its own version of shrink after Thanksgiving weekend, when a rash of sellers yanked up for-sale signs and de-listed their homes, at least until January.

"It happens every year. Sellers hate buyers trooping through their homes during the holidays. But this year the fall off was much more dramatic," said a Realtor who admitted to unalloyed relief after severing ties to at least one of her former sellers, with whom relations had become "a little bit horrible" after long months marked by little traffic and no offers. "They were getting on my last nerve," the now-liberated broker confided.


Other Realtors persuaded their remaining sellers to use the holidays as an excuse to drum up traffic. In Rowayton, a glorious new-construction listing designed by Barbara Garfield also got its glam on to showcase Ethan Allen's 2009 collection of contemporary furnishings.

Offered at $2,195,000, the home will be featured in the furniture company's catalogues (Joanne Townsend of Wheeler Real Estate, 203-656-6559). And in New Canaan, the William Pitt Sotheby's International office threw a holiday party at its grandest listing, an $11.9 million Tudor-style estate that, fittingly, was built in 1929, the year often evoked as 2008's rival in sheer awfulness. With wine flowing, fires roaring in the hearth and carolers warbling from on high, Realtors and their guests could forget the bad, sad economy—at least for an evening.

In the cold, clear light of the new year, those same Realtors are scrambling to promote the handful of new and notable listings on the market. Here, some of the best ones we've toured.

Spectacular Spec Home

The news about spec homes has not been encouraging of late, with developers simply pulling work crews off unfinished projects and walking away, leaving investors and lenders to deal with the mess of trying to sell a shell of a home.

But in Darien, a brand-new and immaculately finished Dutch Colonial is designed to sell—and fast. Sited across the street from the Ox Ridge Hunt Club and backing up onto Wee Burn Country Club property, it has bucolic pastoral views in every direction but is only four minutes from the Darien town center and train station. Knowing that hard times were ahead, this developer decided to invest in every graceful touch and luxe detail imaginable. There are solid-silver sconces, mahogany cabinets and fireplaces with absolute-black marble surrounds. The kitchen has two-inch-thick Calcutta gold-marble counters, two dishwashers, two Sub-Zero refrigerators (hidden behind custom cabinetry) and a six-burner Wolf range. There's also a lovely library with a wet bar and walls upholstered with plush Italian linen.


And here's an amenity so singular that it deserves a little love, in the form of its own paragraph (sorry, but that's all writers have to give away these days): In the capacious, three-bay garage there's a tiled, hot-and-cold shower for washing the dog, that could also be used to hose down Wellies—and even kids—come mud season.

In all, the nearly 10,000-square-foot home has 20 rooms, including six bedrooms and six full bathrooms (plus two half-bathrooms). June Anderson of Wheeler Real Estate in Darien has the listing, (203) 223-1470.

Playwright's Playground
$4.2 million

Playwright ("The Normal Heart"), AIDS activist and ACT UP founder Larry Kramer has created the perfect retreat in this barn-style, post-and-beam home overlooking Lake Waramaug. Together with his partner (and architect) David Webster, Kramer has reimagined every corner of the circa-1977 home, which has served as a setting for many a weekend party—including the fête thrown for his 70th birthday a few years ago, with sizzling fireworks and celebrities.

The home features a gourmet kitchen with a butler's pantry, adjacent to a four-season porch, a lower-level screening room with a wet bar. There's also a heated pool and cabana with a shower and hot tub, terraces and gardens with distant lake views, a croquet court and orchard on the 15-acre grounds. It also offers four bedrooms and five bathrooms (plus two half-bathrooms), including a master suite with a fireplace, dressing room and steam shower.

Best of all is its super-private location with easy access to one of Litchfield County's best-kept-secret towns: Warren has a profile much less star-studded than nearby Sharon (Carolyn Roehm, Jasper Johns) and Cornwall (Sam Waterston, Oliver Platt). But it's starting to shine, thanks to a village center that now boasts a jewel-box-of-a-shop called Privet House, owned by Lambertson Truex partner Richard Lambertson. Gael Hammer of Klemm Realty in Washington Depot has the Kramer listing, (860) 868-7313.

Ivy-Covered Estate
New Canaan

This romantic, ivy-covered stone manor was built in 1937 with every gracious—and, as it turns out, enduring—feature of its era. Inside there are high ceilings, random-width floorboards, solid-brass hardware, 12-over-12 windows, four fireplaces and an elegant, front-to-back foyer with a dramatic bridal staircase. Outside, a slate roof, wisteria-covered loggia, stone courtyards, pea stone drive and rolling lawns grace the nearly 3.5-acre property. Modern updates include a saline pool set in a stone terrace, a covered outdoor kitchen and, back inside, a new kitchen that flows into a pretty family room. The home's 4,800-square-foot interiors also include four family bedrooms, plus a separate bed-and-bath suite for a guest or au pair. Debra Gailhard of Waterfront & Estate Properties at the Higgins Group has the listing, (203) 221-7721.