Designer Robin Standefer’s insider guide to Montauk
Montauk has always been a place for artists and thinkers: Edward Albee, Stanford White, Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger all spent time here, each drawn to the dramatic landscape of “The End”, as the eastern tip of Long Island is known. I first came here as a teen, and when my husband and business partner Stephen [Alesch] and I needed a retreat from the city, it seemed like the perfect place. We have now called the area home for over 20 years and we love everything about it: the ocean, the farms, the fishing boats and the history.
This is our spiritual home – the place that centres us – and it’s where we’ve developed ideas for everything from the British Galleries at The Met to homes for Gwyneth Paltrow and hotels for André Balazs. It’s also the place that has inspired our lighting and furniture lines and even our menus at the restaurant at our New York store RW Guild, because the produce and seafood here are so phenomenal.
Montauk offers two entirely different experiences just a few miles apart. There is the calm Long Island Sound on one side, where Sunset Beach and Gin Beach offer gentle swimming and walks, and the noisy Atlantic Ocean on the other, with its dramatic cliffs and surf breaks.
People love to talk about the traffic getting to the Hamptons and beyond, so at peak times the train is a great option, as is the Hampton Jitney [a motorcoach company]. I love watching the landscape fade from dense to wild as you leave Amagansett behind and enter Montauk. There are no manicured lawns out here – or even manicures, for that matter!
There are plenty of places to stay, from the hip and sexy Crow’s Nest by Sean McPherson of The Bowery Hotel, to the minimalist Marram hotel, which sits right on the beach and has yoga and biking. And Gurney’s is an old school institution that has the excellent Seawater Spa, and feels like a total escape.
I like to get a morning coffee at Left Hand. For fish, Gosman’s Gourmet Fish Market is my go-to, and I’ll get up at 6am to buy tuna that’s just come off the boat. There’s also the seafood market Multi Aquaculture Systems, aka the Fish Farm. The place is scattered with buoys and nets and you can pick up incredible takeaway – they’ve got it all, especially local colour.
There is much less of a party scene out here than in the Hamptons. Duryea’s Lobster Deck – a seafood restaurant on the dock overlooking Fort Pond Bay – has a south of France vibe, and is perfect for a glass of rosé at sunset. Alimentari Beach on Montauk Highway has great coffee and pizzas that you can eat outside in the little plaza.
To live like a local you need to surf and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to surf with the harbour seals. Stop at Air + Speed Surf Shop to rent a board – they give lessons, too – or just to buy a cool T-shirt.
There are also great bike tracks and walks around the coast – much of it is state parks, like Shadmoor Park – as well as ferry rides to Block Island for whale watching. For the best views of the coast, visit the Montauk Point Lighthouse – the oldest in New York state. The 19th-century Pollock-Krasner House – once the home and studio of artists Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner – is wonderful, too. The farmhouse is just as they left it in 1984, right down to the drips from Pollock’s paintings on the floors. A bit further on, in Water Mill, is the Parrish Art Museum. It was designed by Herzog and de Meuron and you can see works by artists such as Sol Lewitt and April Gornik, who have ties to the area.
The summer is high season, of course, and while places like Ditch Plains can be crowded, you can be blissfully alone and left just to collect rocks in spots like Camp Hero State Park – even in August. Autumn is spectacular. You can still surf and hike, the air is crisp and cool, and there is fantastic apple-picking. We always host a harvest dinner in late October. Winter feels very Scandinavian – there is lots of fog, and sometimes it snows. Our Reed candlesticks were inspired by the dried stems you see in Montauk in this bleak but beautiful season.
Montauk is so environmentally protected that I don’t worry too much about it all changing, or the wild beauty of the gardens or the shape of the coastline deteriorating. I do, however, want it to remain a place for explorers, and I also want to see it stay balanced, because that’s what makes Montauk so cool.
CAFÉS & RESTAURANTS
Multi Aquaculture Systems Inc (The Fish Farm)
WHERE TO STAY
HOW TO GET THERE
British Airways flies from Heathrow to JFK, from £398 return