Modernist East End house becomes home for women’s art

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A Half a century ago, Betty Friedan addressed braless activists and other women’s freedom supporters mingling on the pool deck of one of the legendary summer houses of East Hampton. As The New York Times reported, after thanking the hosts of the rally – taxi magnate Robert Scull and his wife, Ethel (famously captured 36 times in a Warhol serigraph) – Friedan announced to the overpowered crowd that it was “time to end the unfinished revolution of American women.

At least one paying guest, psychiatrist Robert Gould, admitted that while he was all for the feminist cause, he attended, in part, hoping to steal a glimpse of pop and minimalist masterpieces inside the modernist abode, only to learn that the house was securely locked.

Later this month, thanks to the singular vision of the house’s current owner, collector and designer, Lisa Perry, its doors will be swung – or more likely slid – wide open. Additionally, the mid-century glass and steel architectural gem designed by German émigré architect Paul Lester Weiner will be given a second life as a backdrop for the art exhibit and advocacy for women.

“The stars were aligned,” Perry, 64, said of directing his most recent project. “It’s a little house that needed a lot of love and probably got torn down.”

American author and feminist Betty Friedan speaks at a party on August 8, 1970, hosted by patrons Ethel and Robert Scull in support of women’s rights. The Sculls’ home in East Hampton was redesigned as Onna House.
Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images/Tim Boxer

“As if I was at home”

Dressed in white jeans, a black v-neck top and a bright red serape, Perry recalled the dark but fortuitous January day when she first visited the property listing real estate and her concept of “Onna House” (“on’na” is the Japanese word for “woman”) began to take shape. “It gave off those Zen vibes,” she said, sitting in the bathed living room light on a modern take on the classic Windsor chair by London-born New York designer Anna Karlin.”I grew up in a Japanese-inspired home in suburban Chicago. It was almost like I was my house.

Perry, however, already owned a residence in nearby North Haven, purchased with her husband, hedge fund manager Richard Perry, some 25 years ago. “But I fell in love,” she said, citing her attraction to the sleek minimalism of the House of Scull, attributes that also described her eponymous fashion and lifestyle brand. “I wanted to save it and renovate it and then decide how I was going to use it.”

Perry credits his keen eye and sense of design to the creative influence of his parents. With the success of his family’s textile business, his father, who was also an abstract expressionist painter, and his mother, owner of a local art gallery, bought a modernist house by architect George Fred. Keck – creator of the “House of Tomorrow” at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair – and decorated it with period classics by Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames.

The Onna House show features Brooklyn designer Isabel...

The Onna House salon features Brooklyn designer Isabel Rower’s teapot, aptly titled ‘All in Bloom, Most Reckless Teapot II’ and ‘Waltz (8)’, a vibrant and graceful weave by the artist Japanese Mitsuko Asakura. Credit: Jordan Tiberio

Moving to Manhattan to study the art and science of textile dyeing at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Perry continued to pursue a longtime thrift-shopping habit. Ultimately, the vintage ’60s mod styles she collected, reminiscent of Courrèges and Cardin, inspired her own fashion line with A-line dresses and wide-leg pants in contrasting colors. She quickly expanded into children’s clothing and home accessories sporting her signature fun, Pop aesthetic.

More recently, the tastemaker designed and sold a Lisa Perry-branded home in Palm Beach, accenting its crisp white spaces with chic, sculptural furnishings and whimsical decor in vibrant hues. “I even organized the closet,” she said.

Then the pandemic hit. “I missed interacting with people,” Perry said. “At this point in my life, I didn’t need to start a new practice and felt my highest and best use was to help other women get an eye on their work – to let them shine.”

Perry’s conception of Onna House as a refuge and showcase for female artists and artisans emerged from early activism. “I come from a very liberal family,” she explained, remembering her mother and older sister as strong women’s rights activists throughout her childhood. Later, Perry became involved in efforts to correct the gender imbalance in the US Senate and now includes Hillary Clinton – who wrote the foreword to her book, “Lisa Perry: Fashion/Home/Design” (Assouline, 2019) – among his close friends. .

Local talent

Finding available works by women to add to the couple’s top-notch art collection has often been difficult over the past 35 years, Perry admitted. “Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner were just as talented, if not more so, than most Abstract Expressionists, but unfortunately they fell back.”

In her quest to bring female artists to the forefront at Onna House, Perry has not only cast her insightful eye all the way to the West Coast and even Japan, but resolutely at homegrown talent.

“There are great artists here in the Hamptons that weren’t on my radar,” she said. “A lot of them are not represented right now, and some have felt invisible. It’s heartbreaking for me.

“Onna House is a great boon to them,” East Hampton antiques dealer Russ Steele noted of the many East End artists in his own growing stable, whom he introduced to Perry , a long-time customer. “It’s so special and important what Lisa does – instead of tearing down the house, she gives it new life and gives female artists a platform, a vehicle, in which to be seen.”

Among them is Almond Zigmund (the namesake of a popular Bridgehampton restaurant), whose site-specific collages have been applied directly to the kitchen walls. An architectonic weave by her friend Toni Ross (of East Hampton’s flagship restaurant, Nick and Toni’s) hangs nearby in the main entrance.

“We are a group of women who share a strong circle of friendship and artistic practice,” noted German-born artist Bastienne Schmidt, whose monochrome canvas and wire grids are installed further down the hall and in the equally well organized guest house.

To strengthen these bonds, Perry designed Onna House as a hub for female designers as well as a place to exhibit their work.

“I want them to leave their studios and literally come for a swim, have tea in the moss garden, or gather in the living room to chat,” she explained.

This intimacy is reinforced by his decision to preserve the domesticity of the rooms instead of transforming them into standard white and stripped spaces for exhibitions. Artist Janet Goleas, represented by two gouaches exploring natural patterns and fractures, is grateful for this unconventional place.

“Growing up in Chicago, I memorized the galleries of the Art Institute, but I always thought, why couldn’t there be a couch, a table lamp?” she thought. “The livability of Onna House transforms your relationship to art.”

To realize her vision, Perry enlisted the help of female architect Christine Harper, with whom, over the past 23 years, she has collaborated on numerous projects. “We’ve done retail, residential, Florida, flips — each marking a moment in time where Lisa is,” Harper noted.

The main room of Onna House, which has a...

The main hall of Onna House, which features a collection of works by female artists and designers. Credit: Jordan Tiberio

A dynamic space

With Onna House, Perry insisted on staying as true to the original mid-century structure as possible.

“The big word here was ‘restoration,'” Harper said. “The house is self-contained and creates opportunities for the collection to inhabit.”

Nevertheless, some changes were deemed necessary to facilitate the new mission of the house. A wall between the kitchen and a very small bedroom was removed, for example, to create an informal dining room, with exposed beams and floor-to-ceiling windows installed to reinforce the link with the renovated exterior. The remaining three bedrooms have also been repurposed as work and entertaining spaces, including a largely commissioned tea room by Brooklyn designer Isabel Rower aptly titled “Everything Is Blooming Most Recklessly Teapot II” and “Waltz (8) “, a vibrant and graceful weaving by Japanese people. artist Mitsuko Asakura.

Newsday covered the Women’s Liberation meeting on August 8, 1970, at the home of Ethel and Robert Scull on Georgica Road in East Hampton: a basket of buttons reading “Women’s Strike for Equality”, at right, sits on bushes near guests, who included Gloria Steinem, left. | Newsday Photos / Naomi Lasdon

As part of Onna House’s inaugural exhibition, which opens on May 28, Asakura’s silk-thread creations will also occupy adjoining rooms and hallways, intertwined with the other works of art, furniture and objects from the permanent collection. The studio space adjoining the guest house will be reserved for Swiss designer Ligia Dias’ DIY-style accessories and “Paper Dress” series, a riff on late ’60s fashion.

Perry makes it a point to only show or sell works by artists and designers she has purchased for Onna House, further confusing the notions of museum, shopping gallery and collector’s paradise.

“If I love someone’s work, I really believe in them enough to own them,” she said.

While Onna House’s rooms are arguably designed to perfection, Perry said she typically considers each of her selections at three different locations on the property before buying them.

“I have to keep it dynamic,” she explained. “I want people to want to keep coming back.”

How to see it

WHAT “Mitsuko Asakura: Listening to the Wire” and “Ligia Dias: Around Mininity” at Onna House

WHEN | OR May 28-June 25, Thursday-Saturday, by appointment, 123 Georgica Rd., East Hampton

NEWS onnahouse.com

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