Betsey Johnson, the over-the-top women's fashion designer, has put her East Hampton home on the market for nearly $2 million -- a place she has loved but once thought she'd never buy in a million years.
The two-story, four-bedroom house, listed with Sotheby's International Realty for $1.995 million, reflects nothing of the icon's bold, playful and punk rock style. It's more quaint English country cottage, with walls painted in pastels or covered in floral fabric and wallpaper -- a look Johnson says her now-40-year-old daughter, Lulu, wanted after Lulu fell in love with the Hamptons while visiting the East End as a teenager.
"Lulu wanted it simple, and I agreed," Johnson says of the decor at her 2,900-square-foot house. Johnson, who says she is downsizing, will continue to live in her Manhattan apartment but will spend more time in California's Malibu, where Lulu and Johnson's two grandchildren live.
The house, built in 1986 on 1.65 acres, has three bathrooms and a half-bath, stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, a finished basement, a detached two-car garage, electronic entry gates, a heated gunite pool surrounded by a stone terrace and a marble fireplace in the living room.
"I came out to the Hamptons with Andy Warhol in the '60s with The Velvet Underground," the 73-year-old Johnson recalls of her trip with the artist and the glam rock band. Her career as an avant-garde designer who created looks such as see-through plastic shifts and metal micro minis skyrocketed during that decade's London-based Youthquake movement. It was marked by teenagers dominating the music and fashion scene.
"Except for Andy, we were like outcasts," says Johnson, showing off the house dressed in silver sequined harem pants, a black tank top and necklaces festooned with large metal hearts and colorful pompoms, her hair with platinum, yellow and black stripes. "Everyone here was very rich, and we had just come out here for some sort of happening somewhere."
She says they stayed for a weekend and hated it.
"So I never ever considered living here," Johnson says.
That began to change when Lulu got her mother to rent a summer house nearby on Stephen Hands Path. "By the end of the summer, I was like, 'Yeah, I could live here,' " Johnson says.
Johnson decided to purchase this house 15 years ago as a weekend and summer place. It was the first property she looked at.
"It was so adorable," Johnson says. "It became a wonderful decorating endeavor."
The endeavor lasted 10 years.
"It was blue with black and white striped scalloped awnings, but it was very claustrophobic," Johnson says. She gutted the house, had the dark ceiling beams and columns painted white, lightened the wood floors and created a more open floor plan for the living, dining and kitchen space. The ground was also leveled to get rid of a hill the property was sitting on.
Some serious landscaping came later, including plantings of boxwood, hydrangea, ferns, dogwoods, rhododendron and crape myrtle.
"What I have done is all perennial," Johnson says walking around the front yard of the home. "Flowers make me happy -- that's why I put flowers on my clothes."
Floral fabric used for chairs and as wallpaper on the first floor was imported from England, and it was used on walls in the upstairs rooms, as well, until a mishap led to paint and another floral wallpaper replacing the original florals upstairs.
"Before it was discontinued, the last I checked the fabric was $250 a yard," Johnson says, noting that 27 different colors were used to make the print. "There was a miscommunication after it was put on the walls upstairs and the contractors ripped it all out."
There are other very special Johnson touches. The front door with glass panels and a knocker in the shape of a fist was taken from another home she owned.
"It came from my first little funky house in upstate New York," Johnson says.
And the door leading to the basement has scribblings marking Betsey's 5-foot-2-inch height, and those of family members and the crew from Johnson's Style Network reality show, "XOX Betsey Johnson," which aired in 2013 and was filmed at the house.
But other than opening her doors for the television show, Johnson says she enjoyed having the house, nestled in the woods, as a place where she could be reclusive.
"I would go out and do things in the Hamptons, but I didn't really have anything here," Johnson says. The one exception was a bash for her 60th birthday.
"I had an all-day fashion show and had three buses filled with people here," Johnson says. "The show was called, My Blue Heaven, and there were models inside the house and outside the house by the pool. It was like a Versace extravaganza."
Lawrence Ingolia, a broker with Sotheby's International Realty, says the house is truly special because Johnson lived there, but he said it can be a special place for anyone.
"Hopefully the person who buys it will be someone who falls in love with the wallpaper first," Johnson says. "I'd hate to see it go. "
ASKING PRICE: $1.995 million
LOCATION: East Hampton
THE BASICS: Four bedrooms, three full bathrooms, one half-bathroom
SQUARE FOOTAGE: About 2,900
PROPERTY SIZE: About 1.65 acres
PROPERTY TAXES: $14,177
LISTING AGENTS: Marilyn Clark (516-695-6590) and Lawrence Ingolia (516-607-8800), Sotheby's International Realty.