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Big Shack Attack

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North Haven, many blips off the social radar only five years ago, is suddenly a veritable Georgica Road for the artsier, non-Maidstone set. Celebrity painter Eric Fischl, fashion designer Nicole Miller, and even seafaring zinc-oxided songster Jimmy Buffett live there. Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola has his spread right at the Sag Harbor Bridge, which reportedly attracted Rosie O'Donnell's attention at $8.95 million but is now said to be off the market because Mottola decided he wanted to summer there.

"I had a show down in West Palm Beach about four years ago and was complaining to Jimmy Buffett's wife, Jane, that I was getting priced out of the Hamptons," says gregarious painter Dan Rizzie, who had been looking at Amagansett at the time. " 'Well, Rizzie, why don't you stop your complainin' and come on down to North Haven,' Janie said." They had bought there a year before. Rizzie jumped at a sixties ranch house there and is not sorry he did.

"If you're worried about not having 'an Address,' " says Rizzie, "just wait a couple of years, and you'll have one."

Even Sag Harbor next door -- with its gingerbread houses sardined together along picket-fence-lined streets -- is experiencing house-price inflation.

"I've got a friend in Sag Harbor Village who just paid over $500,000 for one of those little houses that I think was built by Sears and Roebuck back in the twenties, where you just ordered it from the catalogue and they constructed it for you," Rizzie says.

"Sag Harbor is the new SoHo," says Hamptons writer Steven Gaines. "They have the best restaurants, the artsy people, the galleries."

Tara Newman, whose husband, Ted Conklin, owns one of Sag Harbor's hipper hangouts, the American Hotel, laughs a bit at the comparison. "I would say Sag Harbor is more like the meatpacking district," Newman says lightly. "Not everyone is confident enough to live in the meatpacking district. We have galleries but not Wally Findlay. We don't have Cartier, like East Hampton -- where I still remember a store on Main Street called Pets Painted With Love. That's the Ralph Lauren boutique now! In Sag Harbor, up until a few years ago, the IGA supermarket didn't even sell Woolite and all they had was iceberg lettuce."

"There's a whole new class of people moving to Sag Harbor," Newman says. "All these way-south-of-the-highway people are here: Philip Morris scion Lewis Cullman and his wife, Dorothy, moved here within the last three years; Metropolitan Museum vice-president Ashton Hawkins is here; art dealer Barbara Gladstone bought this incredible historical house and restored it -- she did a remarkable job. These are people who could live anywhere in the world."

The Cullmans bought two small buildings on two adjacent lots once owned by P.R.-crisis guru John Scanlon; a former train station is the guest house. This past year, they added a third lot (and main house) right next door for around $650,000, which is still a healthy price for Sag Harbor; the whole place together cost almost $2 million. "The lesson is very 1999: If you can't buy an estate, buy two smaller lots together," says Newman. "It's like building your own Kennedy compound."

"There is a new reverse chic taking hold," Frank Newbold says. "Marshall Cogan just sold his house on Lake Agawam and moved to Sag Harbor. Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger are living in Amagansett. Pete Peterson just moved from Southampton Village to Water Mill. He moved from the ocean to the bay. This was unthinkable just a few years ago. It's saying, 'I'm so secure, I can do what I want.' "

Of course, the sudden increase in wattage now being observed in formerly second-tier Hamptons quadrants doesn't make everyone north of the highway feel quite so smug. Says Rizzie, with an audible shudder, "I just dread the day I finally see one of those Hollywood stands by the side of the road selling maps to the stars' homes."


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