Design Duo Tony Ingrao and Randy Kemper Love Their East Hampton Garden More Than Ever
Influenced by Belgian gardens, the principals of Ingrao create a rambling East End refuge defined by sculptural trees
When it comes to creating striking interiors for major collectors, Tony Ingrao and Randy Kemper hold no punches. Their audacious mixes of blue-chip art and cutting-edge collectible design net one-of-a-kind interiors that leave one’s jaw on the floor. But for all those high-impact moves, there remains a consistent and admirable attention to more subtle details that make the homes remarkably and fantastically livable.
While the world went on pause, they escaped to their East Hampton home to continue scheming and designing the homes their firm, Ingrao, is synonymous with, but it’s also given them ample time to continue working on their favorite project—their rambling multi-acre garden in the heart of the town’s village. Here, they share how this idyllic collection of outdoor rooms came to be and exactly why they love their outdoor haven more than ever.
Randy Kemper: Being here all the way through spring has been amazing. We never to get to see it unfold when we’re usually just out on the weekends. Now we’ve been here every day since March.
Tony Ingrao: With the cool spring, everything suddenly started popping at the same time in one month, but usually it’s a two-month cycle. There was something new every day. When I sit at my desk and look out the window. It’s almost shocking how gorgeous it is. It’s like a painting.
The entry border is actually planned to flower every two weeks in stages, so if you skip a weekend or two being out here, you might miss an entire part of that orchestrated symphony from magnolia, cherries, dogwoods, weeping and upright, red buds, and even a weeping styrax that flowers.
Kemper: We’re in the village, so the property sits on 18 acres but is right on a preserve. You’d never know you were in the middle of the town. We put the five-acre property together in three pieces over the last 12 years. It’s a little bit of a U-shape that goes around what was the main house called the Playhouse, a famous building designed by Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe in 1919. Since it’s on the preserve, it feels more like 40 acres.
Ingrao: In the preserve, there’s a large wetland that drops, but the property’s original trees blocked those vistas. When things were leafed out, you really lost any kind of sight lines of the reserve we border. There’s only one tree left that was here on the entire property—it’s a large London plane that sits right on top of the house. We moved the others to different locations, since they were behind the pool—and no one wants to spend all year picking pine needles out of the water. We raised everything with 150,000 yards of soil to fill in, and now everything is on different levels, all at a 30-degree angle.
Since we can’t have fences on the preserve, we live with deer. Because of that, we didn’t want a fussy garden; we wanted a tree garden. We spent time in Europe, and both lived in Paris. But it’s more Belgian—since it mixes English and French. We’ve done more formal gardens for clients, and we were inspired by the gardens at Sudeley Castle in England. But this is more chill but not really chill.
Kemper: It’s grandly chill. It’s such an extravagance to have a big private park to walk around and take in the nature and it’s private to you. It’s a lovely way to spend the quarantine.
Ingrao: You realize the influence of plants on human nature is really necessary. We actually have people come over and ask for walks in the garden. There was a watercolor class that came and painted the trees. We collected trees from different places—Hamptons, Rhode Island, Connecticut. All the deciduous trees were picked for branch structure, so they look good in the winter. Even when they’re not leafing or flowering they’re beautiful. The evergreens have different colors and textures, so all winter long you get these canopies of color and texture you don’t normally get in a Hamptons gardens.
We planted every single tree and bush ourselves. We work with Marders as the contractor. We planted the back garden for two years and side gardens in a year. Now it looks like it’s been here forever. You don’t realize how wonderful it is while you’re working on it. It was two years of machines here every day. We’re such control freaks, so we had to do it ourselves.
There are lots of outdoor rooms with no right angles. Everything meanders and curves to another space and around a set of steps and another and then down one and then half a circle there’s a colonnade of trees. And you come back and there’s a thicket. There’s a tight spot where we come close to the preserve. We have two big eating places. We eat on a small scale on the terrace off the family room and kitchen. When we entertain there’s a sunken garden with a big pergola where we can sit 12 to 14 so we have dinner parties there. We have a temple on the top of the hill that’s more for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres that’s a nice vista over the swimming pool.
It was a challenge, but it’s done in a very personal way. It was all about the texture, color, and juxtapositions. We really had to think how each plant grows. But gardens never stop—they’re always changing, which can be fantastic and frustrating at the same time. In the end, it’s really a nice problem.