Ah, "Real Housewives of New York City," how a year has changed you. One thing that hasn't changed: In the summer, the women starring in the hit Bravo reality show become the Real Housewives of the Hamptons.
And this year, two of the old guard have new homes, and there are two new girls with homes to visit.
And for those who wonder if last year's vitriol was put on for the camera, trust us, you will not see Jill Zarin and Kelly Killoren Bensimon at the same events as Bethenny Frankel and Alex McCord . . . unless they're at opposite sides of the room.
Here, then, is what's new:
New housewife Sonja Morgan, 46, has had plenty of homes: beautiful apartments she bought for herself, stately homes she presided over when married to J.P. Morgan's grandson and, once in a while, the homes of friends.
Take her Water Mill hideaway. The guesthouse was offered when she was newly separated - and shaken. The couple who owned it adored her. They would be away. She could tend their garden.
Some garden: 200 varieties of award-winning roses - including the Sonia Rose - lacy, bulbous blue and violet hydrangeas. And vegetables: heirloom tomatoes, basil bushes, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, corn, peppers and raspberries.
Because the acre abuts a horse farm on one side and a 67-acre farm reserve on the other, she can garden in the nude. That makes her feel at home. "When we were first married," she recalls, "John got a call from a friend who had been flying over our island in Connecticut. 'What happened?' he asked. 'There's a woman gardening naked in a pair of Wellies in front of your house!' 'I got married!' John said."
Morgan gives a tour and settles into the divan under a brightly colored cabana by a melange of fruit, flowers and iced tea she has artfully arranged. She loves to sleep there, pulling the curtains "cuddling up with my daughter on one couch." That also makes her feel at home.
Of the horse farm, she says, "Seeing those gorgeous creatures just pounding by makes you feel very comfortable." Also reassuring: "The big old trees make you feel very secure."
Feeling comfortable and secure is important right now. The divorce is still not settled, and she needs to resolve a DWI charge. Morgan is now a working mom. A high concept toaster-oven cookbook, with the working title "Under 20 Minutes and 20 Dollars," is going to be published. And there are other, bigger projects in the works.
Before she was married, Morgan was an entrepreneur who parlayed her affiliation with cafe society restaurants into a consulting business catering to the needs - and whims - of the billionaire class. She facilitated the moneyed crowd's luxury purchases. She helped open such restaurants as San Pietro in Manhattan, consulting on decor and food and delivering the right crowd.
Morgan was already a jet-setter who had been interviewed by Candace Bushnell for her original "Sex and the City" column when she met John Morgan. They knew each other for seven years and have been married for 10. As his wife, she says, she helped pick their real estate investments and made them into comfortable homes.
"Real Housewives" is a first step of her new life. "After divorce, it's really about being yourself again," she reflects. "I was very independent. But after you're married five or six years, you really do become Mrs. So-and-So. You have family and you're so happy. But you also give up a piece of yourself."
"I didn't get married to get divorced," she continues.
She grew up in the small upstate New York town of Averill Park, the oldest daughter of a single mom raising four kids. "My mother had great values, but she married too young. It was hard. She often came home from her day job to eat as a family and then went out to go to work again. After school, I'd keep the house, peel the potatoes and find the missing socks."
That upbringing made her a caretaker, and because she nurtures all around her, a valued houseguest. After all, she knows everything from what color pillows don't fade on a yacht (yellow and white) to how to cook Cornish hens and asparagus in a $59 toaster oven.
"The beauty of the Hamptons is . . . for everybody, even if you can't afford your own house," says Jennifer Gilbert, the event planner Jill Zarin hired for her televised Christmas party this season. Gilbert went through the typical share houses before she and her husband bought their first Hamptons home together - a 6,500-square-foot Sagaponack house she calls "our happy place."
In her early 20s, she was in one of those big Bridgehampton shares, the kind where, she says, "You had to sprawl yourself on top of a bed to reserve it." When she was 25, she started "Save the Date," an event-management business which now, she says, takes in $30 million a year. When she was 27, she says, she got "my grown-up share house. It was every other weekend and two of us had a bedroom. My girlfriends and I did it with older investment banking men."
One of those was Wall Street executive Bennett Egeth. "Bennett is eight years older, so when we met, he seemed way too old for me," she says, laughing. Within nine years, they were married and buying a house within miles of where they met. "So the Hamptons are very special for us."
So is the house. Now 41 and "up to my ears in diapers," with twin 2-year-old boys and a 5-year-old daughter, Gilbert's life revolves around the home. It's a shingled home with six bedrooms, eight bathrooms and three fireplaces. There's a gunite pool on two acres. There are pond views from every room, and no neighbors in sight.
"It was the third custom home an older couple built for themselves," says Gilbert. "By the time you build your third house, you get it right. The details and the way that it's laid out really work. The kitchen flows from one side to the living room and from the other to the dining room, with pocket doors that close it off. Every bedroom has its own full bath. . . . The master is completely separate."
There is a guest bedroom suite above the kitchen that leads directly out of the side door. Underneath, there is a separate entrance guest room that Gilbert fixed up for her single younger sister.
The couple put in a gym, a walk-in cedar closet, a wine room to house part of his collection and an outdoor shower for her to jump into after her runs. They also bought two 4-foot outdoor grills. Bennett built the 18-foot outdoor table that seats 22.
The couple is known for large, lavish Saturday night dinner parties. "I'm a party planner, so I love to invite and set a table," Gilbert says. "I always assign seats, because I like to bring people together that have something to talk to each other about. I also put a lot of thought into my tables. I have five different sets of china in all different fun colors, shapes and patterns, all kinds of fun linens and colored glasses."
The beaches are five minutes away. That's where you'll find Gilbert on Wednesdays at a weekly Mom's potluck sunset dinner. She says she is grateful to spend those weeknights on the beach.
In the Hamptons, her business thrives with everything from tented Moroccan-themed parties to exclusive ladies' lunches. "It's the only time I can work out of my house and be with my kids," she says.
Alex McCord, 36, changes houses faster in the Hamptons than she changed alliances on the show. "We like to rent different places just for the weekend to see what we enjoy," says McCord. After all, much of the summer is devoted to the "Little Kids, Big City: Tales From a Real House in New York City" book tour. The humorous look at parenting that she and husband, Simon van Kempen, co-wrote was inspired by sons Francois, 6, and Johan, 4, and it's going into its second printing.
"We've come up with a list of must-haves: secluded - preferably with a winding road leading to it - but central, and a great pool," says McCord. Their favorite place? A 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, 3½-bath house in Bridgehampton on five acres. A waterfall cascades into a striking free-form 38-by-44-foot pool that has an underwater whirlpool seating area. The grassy play area has a treehouse and leads into a one-mile hiking trail.
"This house can accommodate our kids, our friends, their kids and a baby-sitter," says McCord. "There is a huge great room where everyone can hang out, a 500-square-foot deck by the dining area and plenty of seating by the pool.
"One of the master bedrooms opens directly to the pool and has its own sink, fridge and coffee maker," she adds. "We could wake up early, make our coffee, snuggle with our kids, go out to the pool and not disturb the others. "
The location also is great. "We could have lunch in East Hampton, go out at night in Southampton and never be on the road too long." Plus, they've got pizza delivery. "It's also great to rent a house that's lived in," she says. "I love to cook. This house already had the essentials, like salt, pepper and basil."
That's because it's really one of owner Stephanie Melstein's personal homes. "It's not your usual tired rental property," Melstein says. "We have every gadget, and always leave a bottle of wine, a pool toy, garbage bags and toilet paper for our renters."
After McCord left this summer, Melstein received a call from Dina Manzo of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," looking to rent. Manzo and McCord hadn't even spoken to each other about the house, she says. Manzo didn't rent, but you can: One week in August is $7,500.
Jill Zarin, 46, is behind the hedges this summer. "It's all about no stress," she says of the Bridgehampton estate she and husband, Bobby, rented a few blocks from the ocean. Yes, it is hidden by manicured boxwood. "It's been a long year, and I haven't spent enough time with Bobby. Now, we just want to be together."
The house has four bedrooms and four baths. There's also a one-bedroom guest cottage. "I'd estimate a comparable summer rental would run $150,000 and up," says Amelia Doggwiler, a Brown Harris Stevens Realtor who helped sell Zarin's Sag Harbor house in 2007.
"It's a real beach house, totally the opposite of our last one," says Zarin. "It's all white, beige and blue. There are seashells everywhere. I can smell the ocean as soon as I walk outside and at night can hear the waves."
A huge tree on the property is magnificently lit in the dark. An architectural lap pool runs the length of the house, opening into a large circle at the end. "We're teaching our grandchildren to swim," Zarin says. "Bobby does laps almost every day. He goes in for almost three hours and doesn't get out until he turns into a prune."
The location affords her a blissful routine. "Every morning, I wake up at 8 a.m., walk over to the beach and do a one-mile power walk," she tells us. "I end up at the local farm and buy fresh bread, muffins and fruit for breakfast." During the day, she can often be found at Laura Lee Bruce Pilates Method in Sag Harbor. At night, friends come over for wine by the pool. Small dinner parties are the order of the day.
But, don't worry, Zarin hasn't totally stepped out of the spotlight. She's got a new TV gig: as the occasional guest co-host on "LX," the lifestyle show that airs daily at 5 p.m. on WNBC/4. So far, she has interviewed the likes of Randy Jackson and the "Jersey Shore" crew, done a spots on Hamptons tag sales and will cover Super Saturday, the celeb-studded Hamptons shopping spree for ovarian cancer research.
"I do it for fun," she says, "and I won't do it too much until the summer is over. Right now, I want a real vacation, the kind where I don't have to put on makeup or get dressed up."
She didn't mind putting on makeup for a recent signing at BookHampton of "Secrets of a Jewish Mother: Real Advice, Real Stories, Real Love," the book she co-wrote with her mother, Gloria Kamen, and sister, Lisa Wexler.
The book contains advice reflective of her upbringing in Woodmere. Another Proustian pleasure: going out every morning to pick up the paper ("Newsday, of course," she says). You can take the girl out of Long Island, but you can't take Long Island out of the girl.
PLUS . . .
Singer and husband Mario are enjoying their second honeymoon, gardening and entertaining at their Southampton slice of heaven on the pond, which is on the rental market.
LUANN DE LESSEPS
De Lesseps has bounced back from the split with the count, getting the Bridgehampton home and a younger, sexy Frenchman to hang out in it - when he's not whisking her off to luscious vacations in the South of France.
KELLY KILLOREN BENSIMON
Bensimon not only enjoys the sporty life with her girls at her East Hampton home - now off the market - she's working on a second installment of "In the Spirit of the Hamptons" book and taping for Plum TV.
Frankel got a new show ("Bethenny Getting Married?"), a new husband (Jason Hoppe) and a new baby (their daughter, Bryn). And that's the order in which she got them. When they need a change of scene, they'll be changing diapers at the Montauk Yacht Club Resort and Marina.