With $3 Million and Two Years of Work, Jackie Onassis Buys Some Peace and Quiet by the Sea
07/13/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT
When I go down by the sandy shore I can think of nothing I want more Than to live by the booming blue sea As the seagulls flutter round about me.
—Jacqueline Bouvier, age 10
Celebrities mean next to nothing on the sceptered isle of Martha's Vineyard 15 miles off Massachusetts. "We don't pay much attention," says Richard Reston, executive editor of the Vineyard Gazette and son of the New York Times' good gray columnist James "Scotty" Reston. "This community has dealt with dignitaries so long that there's a tacit understanding of the need for privacy. We're even pretty blasé about bumping into Beverly Sills or Walter Cronkite in the A&P." The Vineyard's latest arriviste may sorely tempt the island's fabled indifference. In 1978 Jacqueline Onassis spent about $1 million to buy a 356-acre scrub oak tract, and now the vacation home and guesthouse she has built there are ready for occupancy.
Tremors ran the length (20 miles) and breadth (10 miles) of the Vineyard when word spread that she was going to build a compound like the Kennedy family enclave in Hyannis Port. But when Washington architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen designed nothing more daring than a New England saltbox-style arrangement, objections subsided.
Well, almost: Jackie's plans for a 34-foot central chimney drew howls from a few neighbors in the Gay Head section, who pointed out that it would be taller than local zoning codes allow. Jacobsen's gnomic defense: "My client wants an upstairs fireplace because she likes to sleep on the second floor." Jackie won a variance after proving that the chimney would be hidden from public view. She was not so fortunate with the silo-like wing of her two-bedroom guesthouse, which had to be shortened by three feet to satisfy the building code.
The project was befogged in the kind of secrecy usually found at nuclear missile sites. Around-the-clock guards reportedly patrol the property, and construction workers were even ordered to pretend not to notice Jackie when she made her frequent inspection tours (on overnight trips she often bunked on friends' boats). Still, some loose lips leaked: Both the 3,100-square-foot main house and the 900-square-foot guesthouse are floored with sumptuous white oak; the kitchen sports a 16-burner stove and views of the ocean and Squibnocket Pond; sun decks are made of 2,000 pounds of imported Southeast Asian teak—which arrived lovingly wrapped in paper to forestall nicking. Windows are constructed the old-fashioned way, with wooden pegs rather than nails, and the nine bathrooms (three of them in the guesthouse) have heated towel racks.
Besides architect Jacobsen, Jackie has hired Georgina Fairholme, an English interior decorator who favors rosy decors, to help furnish the house. In her pre-White House days, Jackie was not known for exemplary home-making. "I was appalled at her housekeeping," columnist Maxine Cheshire has said. "Some slipcovers in the drawing room were shrunken and out of shape. The cording of JFK's favorite chair had obviously not been washable and the mulberry color had run like lipstick smears. The curtains were filthy, and so were the windows." But under the tutelage of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Jackie turned over a new leaf.
Lately she has been combing the antique shops of central New Jersey, where she has a fox-hunting hideaway. Among her purchases: gray and blue stoneware crocks and primitive furniture dating between 1790 and 1850. A conservative estimate of the cost of Jackie's new pad is $3 million. Ironically, Jackie's choice of location may insure her more privacy than even that money can buy. Some islanders cherish Gay Head's seclusion even more than she—they cultivate marijuana in its dark woods. Says one native: "Those farms are probably the only places around with tighter security than she's got."