Georgica on my Mind
Priscilla Rattazzi relishes the good life with her husband, Chris Whittle, three children and their dogs at home on Georgica Pond
photographs by Peter Murdock
produced by Barbara Dixon and Eleanora Kennedy
“YOU CAN FEEL A SPIRITUAL ENERGY HERE— there's something completely magical about this place,” Priscilla Rattazzi says, gazing out over the rolling lawn and its 100-year-old trees toward Georgica Pond and the Atlantic Ocean. She is sitting on one of the roomy porches at Briar Patch, the 11-acre property she escapes to with her husband, education pioneer Chris Whittle, children Maxi, Andrea and Sasha, plus their two dogs, Lola and Leo. Leo, a golden retriever puppy, is a recent addition to the family, who are still mourning the passing of Luna, their golden retriever of 13 years. Rattazzi, a photographer and writer, has just published Luna & Lola, a photographic memoir of the family's dogs that also subtly depicts the passage of time, concluding with a poignant essay by Whittle on what Luna meant to them.
When Rattazzi and Whittle first laid eyes on Briar Patch in 1989, it was a shingled mansion that was too formal for their liking, with too many rooms (20) and no porches. It didn't fit with their aesthetic and what was about to be their new life together. But the views from the classic East Hampton cottage, built in 1931 by architect Arthur C. Jackson for Dr. and Mrs. Shepard Krech, reminded Rattazzi of summers on the Mediterranean. The daughter of the late Susanna Agnelli—the first and only woman foreign minister of Italy, as well as a best-selling author—and niece of famed Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli, she wanted Briar Patch to be "my version of my Italian childhood by the sea."
Today the 10,000-square-foot compound—still sprawling, but now inviting and cozy—centers on a great room, with a master suite at one end and children's rooms at the other, with photographs hanging on practically every available wall. The dining room can seat 18 comfortably, but more often than not it serves as Rattazzi's well-used office. Architect Peter Marino helped the couple convert the living spaces to a scale that suits them, including the warm and welcoming 3,500-square-foot guesthouse—and now there are porches everywhere. (Whittle has an affinity for architecture and worked closely with Marino on the project; a native of Tennessee, he swears that "life is lived on porches.")
Rattazzi jokes that Briar Patch is "vintage Peter Marino," but its enduring appeal can also be attributed to her fashionable eye and instinctual, effortless style. The decor is deeply layered and personal, with wonderful pine furniture, linen fabrics and textiles in earth colors, along with the dazzling photography. Rattazzi first visited the Hamptons in 1974, when she traveled to the United States to attend university at Sarah Lawrence. Always artistic, she worked with fashion photographer Hiro before becoming a well-known and sought-after photographer in her own right. Her style has been described as "haute bohemian," and Richard Avedon once proclaimed her the ideal of a modern, natural beauty.
"Priscilla's eye is phenomenal in every aspect of her life," says her publisher, Nicholas Callaway. "Like Jacques-Henri Lartigue, her aesthetic infuses everything, and she expresses it through her photography. It is an extension of her lifestyle, her roots, her upbringing and how she conducts her life. She is profoundly generous in spirit and in deed. She is part creative director, cultural maven, host."
Like all of her books, Luna & Lola is "about our life, the house, the kids, the dogs, the lawn and the trees, but it's also largely metaphorical," says Rattazzi. "It represents the shifting reality of my life, which has moved from having babies to an almost-empty nest and into middle age, all in the too-brief span of Luna's life." Just as Lola, playfully nicknamed "skinny bitch," gets used to life without Luna and slowly warms to her new sibling, Leo, the family moves on to another chapter of life at Briar Patch.