As a little girl, Katie Lee lived in rural West Virginia, in a town so small that its most notable landmarks—at least according to Wikipedia—are a covered bridge, an Opry House and a long-shuttered hospital for “crippled children.” So when she first moved to the Hamptons, back in 2003, she found it amusing that people referred to the area as “the country.”
“That always made me laugh,” the 33-year-old foodie says, “because where I’m from, ‘country’ means that you’re living on a dirt road. So I was like, ‘There’s restaurants and a Ralph Lauren store here. It’s not the country.”
But after spending the last dozen years splitting her time between the beach and the big city, she better understands what those people mean. “For me, the Hamptons aren’t about glitz and glamour,” she says, even if both are in abundant supply.
“They’re about the quiet, and the farmlands. The Green Thumb, for instance, has been owned by the same family since the 1600s, and I shop at their farmstand every day during the summer.
“For someone who likes to cook,” she continues, “the Hamptons are paradise. ‘Farm-to-table’ is an overused expression. I can have a dinner party and only serve things that were grown,”—or, in the case of fresh fish, caught—“within a 30-mile radius. It’s inspiring.”
Indeed, Lee’s latest tome, The Endless Summer Cookbook, was very much informed by her Hamptons lifestyle. “We don’t have one type of food that we’re known for,” she explains. “There’s nothing like New England clam chowder, or Texas barbecue. But we are known for our dinner parties. I’m always cooking a big feast in the Hamptons, and all of the recipes in this book are conducive to being grilled and served outdoors. One of the great things about summer food in general is that you don’t have to do much to it to make it taste good; it’s in season, so it’s good on its own. Like, a perfectly ripe tomato doesn’t need anything other than a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. The recipes in the book are a bit more [involved] than that,” she adds with a laugh, “but it’s the easiest time to cook.”
For a few years now, Lee has been doing her warm-weather entertaining in a 7,000-square-foot house in Water Mill. “I kind of found it by chance,” she says. She’d been looking for a new Hamptons place for a while, she explains, but she’d been focusing her search on smaller, older homes. “I really like cottages, but I drove by this house, and I thought, ‘Well, that looks pretty.’ It was almost like a blank canvas—everything was white and new.”
At first, she admits, she did wonder if she’d made a mistake. “It was so much bigger than what I’d been looking for, and I thought, ‘I’m single. What am I doing in this big house, with two acres of land to take care of?’”
Happily, décor saved the day, as did one particular decorator. “Nate Berkus is a good friend, and he helped me design the house,” she says. “We chose the paint colors together in about ten minutes after I’d already spent weeks driving myself crazy over them, so I quickly learned, when in doubt, just turn to Nate.”
She also put a good deal of time into finding just the right personal touches. One example: When she went to India a few years back, she packed a paint chip from one of the guest bathrooms. “I wanted to find a vintage sari to turn into a wall covering. Little things like that really made it feel like a home.”
Much of the furniture, too, was repurposed, having originally been purchased for one or another of Lee’s prior homes. “The mirror from that same bathroom is an antique that [previously] hung in the hallway of a house I owned in the West Village. Looking at your furniture, and realizing that something that used to be in a bedroom could be in a living room or vice versa, is a little like shopping in your own closet. It’s like making a new outfit out of something that you haven’t worn in years.”
Because the house was new, the renovations were minimal and mostly cosmetic; Lee moved a few walls in the basement and added a screening room. She also reduced the total number of bedrooms from seven to five. One, off the kitchen, became her office—“It’s convenient when I’m working on recipes,” she says—although she playfully admits that her need for a dedicated workspace wasn’t the only consideration. “Everyone in the Hamptons knows that however many bedrooms you have, that’s how many people you’ll have staying with you over the weekend,” she says, “so I wanted fewer beds.”
Nevertheless, it’s clear that Lee—who kicked off her career in by working as a fishmonger in a Hamptons restaurant before moving on to more high-profile television gigs—is a consummate host. And, despite her initial trepidation, it’s obvious that she now adores her “country” home.