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East Hampton’s LongHouse Reserve was the private residence of textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen until his death in 2020. (Photo courtesy of LongHouse Reserve)

If you’ve never been to LongHouse Reserve, you might drive right by it. Unless, of course, you lived there, as Jack Lenor Larsen once did. Then you’d drive right in.

Deeply nestled in the thick of East Hampton’s Northwest Woods section, LongHouse Reserve, a 16-acre sculpture garden and nature reserve that doubled as the private residence and personal retreat for Larsen, mid-century modern textile designer and culture enthusiast, until his death in 2020. But it’s that very personal relationship between the place and the person that made it what it is.

World-renowned for his eponymous design company and unrelenting enthusiasm for art and craftsmanship, Larsen’s LongHouse is beloved for its vast, impeccably kept gardens and uniquely curated outdoor exhibitions, both permanent and seasonal, that evoke the contemplative and, more often than not, the spiritual. 

“He could see, very clearly, the future of what a public garden could he,” says LongHouse director Carrie Rebora Barratt of founder Jack Lenor Larsen’s vision. (Photo credit: Philippe Cheng)

 Larsen — an avid world traveler and passionate collector of art in all forms — first purchased the land that would become LongHouse in 1975 as an effort to ward off encroaching (and, as East Enders may deem it, inevitable) development. In doing so, he acquired a swath of very flat, very woods-filled land in a place that at the time was practically uncharted territory.

“He had a vision and a dream for what this property could be even then,” Carrie Rebora Barratt, director at LongHouse and former CEO of The New York Botanical Garden, says of Larsen’s efforts. “He could see, very clearly, the future of what a public garden could be.”

Within the extensive grounds rest several intentionally distinct spaces, intricately divided by flowers, privet hedges, trees or pieces of  art. There are vast, perfectly manicured lawns juxtaposed with smaller, lush meandering gardens reminiscent of where Alice went to lie down before she dozed off and traveled to Wonderland. 

The sculpture garden, an initiative that really gained momentum after LongHouse became a nonprofit in 1998, features about 60 outdoor pieces, with works in the permanent collection created by some of the world’s most lauded artists. A monochromatic chessboard by Yoko Ono sits on one lawn, while a 33-foot-high fiberglass piece dubbed “Fly’s Eye Dome” by Buckminster Fuller is on another. It’s a striking and effective method of comparing the man-made with the natural, and it all makes total sense.

Perched over a still-yet-extensive lily pond, the house is impressive in and of itself — a 13,000 -square-foot home erected with help from Larsen’s longtime collaborator, architect Charles Forger. Built as an homage to the Shinto shrines found at Ise in Japan — where Larsen visited frequently — the house has four levels and sits raised on stilts. It ultimately became the place where all of Larsen’s tangible treasures would be kept. 

Although standing for multiple decades, the main house has been sporadically accessible, predominantly by Larsen’s family and friends. Last year’s “A Summer Arrangement: Object & Thing at LongHouse,” however, gave visitors access to areas of LongHouse that aren’t always open to the public to meld the disciplines of art and design and Larsen’s non-hierarchical view of objects, be they priceless or simply beloved. The contemporary, site-specific works were indeed inspired by the Reserve’s founder and allowed visitors to roam the first level of the home where the pieces — from renowned names in the art and design world, like artist Wyatt Kahn, ceramicist Frances Palmer and conceptual artist Rashid Johnson — were displayed within the summer living room, gallery and guest level. While there are frequent exhibitions where pieces from the indoor collections are moved outside for viewing, “offering public tours of the house itself would be new for us,” says Barratt, noting that although the home is “beautifully preserved,” its condition would need to be worked on to make it more universally accessible for the masses.

Until then, the party largely remains outside, and that’s more than okay. 

Presently on view is what Barratt calls “an extraordinary seasonal program,” featuring an exhibition dedicated to the late Hawaiian sculptor Toshiko Takeazu, with works including bronze sculpture and domestic scale ceramics. 

While LongHouse visitors can almost always enjoy taking a stroll or finding a seat within the lush, wandering gardens, Barratt and her “tiny, nimble team” will also be offering a variety of wellness and educational experiences. Meditation workshops, yoga, Tai Chi, art classes, tea ceremonies, artist talks and “just more ways of being outside” are planned, she says, resulting in dynamic and alternative ways to make LongHouse a “museum without walls,” available for all. 

“We learned a lot during the pandemic and for many, being outside makes you feel safe,” Barratt says. “There’s a definite sense of sanctuary here, paired with the idea of ritual. People need that sometimes. And we’re that place.” 

LongHouse Reserve is located at 133 Hands Creek Road, East Hampton. Call 631-329-3568.