Destinations | Perfect Weekend

Oscar de la Renta’s Connecticut

After studying couture in Paris, the Dominican designer launched his eponymous fashion brand in New York in 1965. He is particularly renowned for his red-carpet gowns.

September 17 2011
Vanessa Friedman

“I’ve had a house in Kent, Connecticut, since 1971 and, for me, it’s really home, more than New York City. I discovered it through [legendary Condé Nast art director] Alexander Lieberman, who used to have a house here. When I first saw what became my house – actually, when I first turned into the drive – I knew it was a place I wanted to be. That has never changed. The house and garden have changed a lot, but the feeling they give me remains the same.

My wife, Annette, and I try to go every weekend, year round, and if the fashion schedule allows, we drive up on Thursday instead of Friday. We’ll arrive late, have a light dinner and go to bed, so we can get up early the next day and start our favourite thing: arguing about the garden. My weekends really centre on our garden; it has given me a philosophy about life that translates into almost everything I do.

Breakfast is usually eggs from our chickens, with maybe some fruit from the fruit trees. Then I shower and go outside. When I bought the house it had an incredible view but no real gardens to speak of; I’ve spent the past 30 years working on them. I had never planted anything before we arrived, but I met the great English garden designer Russell Page and he told me two things: “Frame the view, and create rooms.” So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

I have a boxwood garden, a vegetable garden and fruit trees, and I wanted to do a rose garden but my wife said no, as roses are a big pain in the neck. So it’s mostly a green garden – even though I am all about colour, being Latino; but my wife hates colour. I’ve made so many mistakes with the garden. It’s like fashion: every time you plant something you learn, and it’s different.

On Saturday we usually go to the farmers’ market in Kent to get corn on the cob, and I almost always go to a nursery or two. White Flower Farm is good, as is the Kent Greenhouse & Gardens, and once a year, in May, something fantastic happens: the interior designer Bunny Williams, who lives not too far away in Sharon, holds a two-day-only charity event called Trade Secrets that is dedicated to gardening, and people come from all over to take part.

Otherwise, my two favourite places to visit are Rosedale Nurseries, which is run by Powers Taylor and has the most extraordinary trees – he can get you almost anything you want – and a store called RT Facts. It’s run by a great guy called Greg Randall, who has a terrific eye; he buys a lot from demolished buildings. I have a giant 18th-century boar on a plinth – a copy of one from the Villa Borghese in Rome – and last year I bought two large 18th-century English metal deer from him. My wife wanted to put them at the bottom of a field but I wouldn’t let her, because I never walk there any more and I want to see them.

For snacks, there’s a pastry shop called Belgique that makes fantastic chocolates and ice creams, which I am not supposed to have, but sometimes I sneak off and get a pistachio or chocolate one. Meals are eaten at home – vegetables and fruit from the garden – or at a friend’s house, such as Henry and Nancy Kissinger, or Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg. They all live about 10 minutes away from us, which in the country counts as just around the corner. Barry and Diane have a great cinema house on their property and we often go there to see new films.

We drive back to the city early Monday morning. I like to spend one last night in the country, where there is total quiet and I am reminded of what is important: that you need patience for something to grow. It’s both a dream for the future and a gift from the past: the trees you plant you may never see in their full glory, while the ones you enjoy now were put there by people who may never have seen the results of their work. When you think about that, it’s really an extraordinary thing.”

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