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The simple life

The simple life - Villa Maria, 55 Halsey Lane, Water Mill, NY, USA, 11976

The 22,000 square foot Long Island home of the iconic women’s footwear designer Vince Camuto returns to the market at a price of £57.3 million


In the wake of the death of the Italian-American women’s footwear designer Vince Camuto, one of his palatial estates, Villa Maria at Water Mill on Long Island, is once again on the market. Having been promoted at prices as high as £67.5 million ($100 million) in 2008 and as low as £33.4 million ($49.5 million) with just 7 acres in 2013, the property is now being marketed for £57.3 million ($85 million) with 15 acres.


John Vincent “Vince” Camuto (1936–2015) at Villa Maria with his wife Louise, a former Miss Sweden winner and Miss Universe 1989 contestant
Villa Maria, 55 Halsey Lane, Water Mill, NY 11976, USA was one of a number of homes owned by Mr and Mrs Camuto


Vince Camuto, who died on 21st January 2015 aged 78, co-founded Nine West in 1978 with fellow shoe industry executive Jerome Fisher after meeting him on an aeroplane in 1977. The result was the creation of a high successful business that became best known for “combining fashionable designs with popular prices”. The pair took the company public in 1993 and then sold the brand for just under £607 million ($900 million) in 1999 to the Jones Apparel Group.


Camuto returned to work in 2001 when he subsequently founded the Camuto Group with his ex-Miss Sweden and Miss Universe 1989 contestant wife Louise. Aside from launching their own brands of footwear, the couple worked with Tory Burch and Jessica Simpson on their collections and added Lucky Brand Jeans footwear and Kensie Girl footwear to its portfolio. As of February 2014, the company – whose clientele numbers Emily Blunt and Jennifer Lopez – was valued at £675 million ($1 billion).


The Camutos – who owned other residences in Greenwich, Conneticut and Southampton – bought Villa Maria on Halsey Lane in Water Mill in 2005. The house, which had previously been known as Red Gables and Grey Gables, is described as having an “eclectic architectural style” and was originally built in 1887 as a “rambling, Queen Anne-style summer house” complete with a red shingle roof for “partners, cousins and industrial financiers” Josiah Lombard and Marshall Ayres, Jr. of the Lombard, Ayres & Company.


The original house on the site was built in 1887 and named Red Gables; it was subsequently rebuilt in 1919 and faced with Indiana limestone and renamed Grey Gables
An aerial shot of the estate today showing the Montauk Highway


Sold on in the 1890s and again in 1909, a subsequent owner, Edward P. Morse, the proprietor of the Morse Dry Dock & Repair Company, commissioned a Brooklyn architect named Frank Freeman to virtually rebuild Red Gables. Its size was doubled and amongst other changes was the finishing of the façade with Indiana limestone.


Auctioned in 1929 and by then known as Grey Gables, the property was sold for $100,000 (the equivalent of $1.4 million or £944,000 today) to the Sisters of the Order of St Dominic for $250,000 (the equivalent of $3.9 million or £2.6 million today) in 1931. Used by the Roman Catholic order as a school named Villa Maria High School and then a retirement home for ageing sisters, a craft centre was added in 1992 offering courses in spirituality and holistic living.


Given the poor condition the property had fallen into by the late 1990s, the Sisters of the Order of St Dominic allowed the estate to be used for the Hampton Designer Showcase in 2001 and 2002. This failed to raise enough money for restorative works and it was decided to put Villa Maria up for sale in 2005. After a bidding war, the Camutos purchased the property for £23.6 million ($35 million).


The interior of the house was redecorated by Mr and Mrs Camuto in a neutral yet stylish fashion
The architecture of the property now incorporates “elements of Beaux-Arts Neoclassical and Colonial Revival architecture”
A pool is now situated within the Edmund D. Hollander designed grounds
There are also breathtaking views of Mecox Bay


Working with Andre Tchelistcheff Architects, Mr and Mrs Camuto commenced renovations of Villa Maria in 2007. They added a loggia leading to a carriage house, a pool and a pool house and had the grounds landscaped by Edmund Holland Landscape Architects. The result included the reduction in the number of bedrooms from twenty-three in 2005 to eleven today. The master suite, alone, comprises of six rooms and in addition there is a 60-foot living room and a total of 22,000 square foot of living space.


Set on a plot overlooking Mecox Bay with a 1,200-foot bulkhead waterfront and dock, this “Jazz Age Manor” has been on and off the market in the years since. It is now for sale through the Southampton brokerage of Sotheby’s International Realty.


A “leading light in fashion”, Vince Camuto once commented: “Life is beautiful. It should be simple and fun… Life is an adventure. Seize the opportunity and find your passion”. The ultimate purchaser of this talented tycoon’s former home, however, will gain something far from the simple life in buying Villa Maria. Instead, they’ll acquire a vast residence next to the busy Montauk Highway that was taxed at the not so insubstantial rate of $148,000 per year in 2008 (the equivalent of $161,000 or £109,000 today).



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