Seven years ago, long before Kate Spade bags became such a status object that knockoffs were for sale on every midtown corner, when the former Katherine Noel Brosnahan of Kansas City, Missouri, was just starting up a business with her then-boyfriend Andy Spade, the couple went to the Hamptons and began a romance with a house. The shingled structure, built as a barn in 1870 and converted into a farmhouse in the twenties, was utterly dilapidated, with a crumbling roof, leaky patches in the walls, and peeling wallpaper in the bedrooms. “We fell in love with it – and we needed it for our mental health,” Andy recalls.
Mental health indeed. These days, Kate Spade is a $70 million business, with six freestanding Kate Spade stores nationwide, boutiques in most of the country’s big department stores, a line of shoes, eyewear, stationery, raincoats, pajamas – and, starting in spring 2002, a beauty-and-bath collection, thanks to a newly minted megadeal with Estée Lauder. “Kate to me is a cross between Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Holly Golightly,” says Lauder group president Robert A. Neilsen. “The beauty line is really about capturing the essence of her.”
And she’s not the only designer in the family; Andy launched Jack Spade men’s accessories in 1999 – after test-marketing them for true grit in hardware stores – and does a burgeoning business in his boutique on Greene Street. This year, he was nominated for a Perry Ellis award for emerging talent, the winner of which will be anointed at the CFDA awards June 14 (Kate has won CFDA awards twice, in 1996 and 1998). In addition, he’s just finished his first documentary, Paperboys, a look at five paperboys from Stillwater, Minnesota, filmed by commercial-director wunderkind Mike Mills (Andy himself is a refugee from the ad world) and slated for national release, if all goes well, later this year.
So it’s no wonder that the couple needs a refuge, something that the Hamptons retreat delivered in, well, spades. “We both got a little of what we wanted,” says Kate, whose midwestern childhood gave her an affinity for the magnificent old trees on the property, in particular a giant weeping beech in the front yard that provides a leafy enclave for reading or cocktails. “Andy is a summer person, having grown up on the West Coast, so for him it was proximity to the beach.” But neither one of them was looking for something high-maintenance. “Our schedules aren’t set up for it,” Kate says. “We designed around that in terms of what we chose for the house. I didn’t want it just to be a summer home, so it’s kind of somewhere in between.”
Enter designer Steven Sclaroff, who had collaborated with the couple before, working on the Kate Spade and Andy Spade boutiques in SoHo (he’s also currently enmeshed in reworking their new Manhattan apartment). He combined the Spades’ existing furnishings with finds from local antiques stores, and replaced the old bedroom wallpaper with vintage paper bought at Second Hand Rose in TriBeCa. “We wanted everything white,” remembers Kate, “but then we realized all the character was stripped away!” “Part of the mission statement was to pull it back to where it was,” says Sclaroff, who also catered to the couple’s disparate aesthetics. “Andy likes the rich patina of objects and Kate is polar – she likes things to be really fresh and bright.”
Fortunately, the result is exactly what the designing duo had in mind: “I look at the house as complete relaxation. I spend a lot of time just sitting and reading. I love it; it’s just peaceful,” says Kate. And that’s always in style.”We wanted everything white,” remembers Kate. “But then we realized all the character was stripped away!”