Ricky Lauren likes a lived-in look for her Hamptons homes

Ricky Lauren and Ralph Lauren at the celebration Ricky Lauren and Ralph Lauren at the celebration for Ricky's book "The Hamptons: Food, Family and History" at the Ralph Lauren Women's Boutique in Manhattan. (May 22, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Ricky and Ralph Lauren don't just have a great house in New York's Hamptons, they have a happy home there.

It's where they spend lovely, fun-filled summer weekends and where they have cozy winter nights.

They serve fancy foods, such as lobster souffle and towers of beets, arugula and goat cheese, and comfort fare like challah-bread French toast and brownies. Sure, there's help nowadays, Ricky says, but she likes to do as much of it as she can: decorating, cooking, general good hostessing.

She also likes a full house, and her now-grown children, their spouses and their friends, are often there.

"There's a very grounding thing about family, spending time together, cooking for them, having their friends over," she says. "It feeds you not only with food, but with love."

She's put together a new book, "The Hamptons: Food, Family, and History," opening up the inside world of one of fashion's most famous labels. It's full of that classic, clean, Americana style that Ralph Lauren and clan have come to symbolize -- and have used to make lots and lots of money.

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"Nice things have happened in our lives," Ricky says with a smile.

But what strikes a reader right away is how normal mom, dad, two sons and daughter seem to be. The kids were skeptical of eating salmon, and they learned to ride bikes with Ralph holding a broomstick for them to use for balance. There even might have been some questionable fashion moments.

"The home is where the family gathers, talks together. Is it perfect?" Ricky says. "How can it be perfect with all those people!"

The Laurens have been regulars on Long Island's tip for 40 years, starting in the early 1970s in the converted barn that was part of someone else's mansion in Southampton. It was rugged, and Ricky once found a bird's nest on one of the ledges of its indoor wooden ceiling beams. She'd use the big kitchen sink to alternate baths for her first child, Andrew, and their big dog.

Their Amagansett houses -- there were two -- served as Ricky's base when Ralph would commute to Manhattan. No television needed there, she says, because there was so much to keep her and the kids busy.

At their old shingled saltbox in East Hampton, Ricky's mom would visit often and she was charged with making the coffee each morning.

The "screening room," which would later become a McMansion must-have, was a freestanding pull-down screen in the living room.

When they settled into Montauk, the area was still pretty remote, even if they had moved into the house previously occupied by John Lennon and Leonard Bernstein, says Ricky. The community is more bustling now, but the house is on a high cliff and surrounded by lush greenery.

They're an outdoorsy group, she says, and everything is about bringing the beach inside or, better yet, setting up as much as they can on the other side of all the glass sliding doors. She likes the small seating areas created by enclaves of lavender blooms and rhododendrons.

It was after they moved here in the '80s that Ricky started to think more about a healthy lifestyle and diet. For this book, she's gone farther, she explains, redoing recipes with less butter, less sugar and less fuss.

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Eliminating things you can live without seems a good overall philosophy, she says with a smile. Even during this interview, done at Ralph Lauren's Madison Avenue headquarters, she goes back for her bottle of water in another room instead of cracking open a new one.

She makes herself comfortable in son David's office, promising she won't eat the food he leaves at his desk. Even more importantly, she tells him she won't play with his Star Wars collectables.

The book has many family photos dotted among the picture-perfect displays of picnic food and how-to instructions on setting the perfect atmosphere for a barbecue. There weren't any objections about using the one with Andrew making eyebrows with watermelon rinds and David making googly eyes with water glasses. No problem with Dylan in her diaper and bloomers, either.

"They're embarrassed when they're young to talk about them, but they love hearing about themselves as kids when they are adults," Ricky says.

It's largely for her kids that she did the book, she explains; it's really just a more comprehensive version of the journals and albums she's created and kept for them. "I hope it's all entertaining enough for other people."

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The focus is the Hamptons because that's really where their magic happens, even if they also have other wonderful homes, in places such as Telluride, Colo., and Bedford, N.Y.

Ricky says she particularly loves the beach in the wintertime -- and she can light her own fire, thank you very much. (The key is rolling up newspaper in tubes and arranging them in the shape of a tent to get the fire started, she says.)

She makes a point of greeting all guests in the driveway, but at the point you're invited into their home, you're probably more like family, anyway, Ricky says. "Most people that come through the door are people we really know so it's easy to entertain them. I always try to be welcoming, gracious and I think about their comfort."

Even with so many options at her immediate disposal, Ricky says she's not looking to constantly change things by redecorating or renovating. She wouldn't be surprised if this year the biggest change is switching out her collection of seashells.

"If you have what you love, why would you change it?"

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