Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- In the early 1990s, Eli Wilner and his wife, Barbara, were living in East Hampton, on the South Fork of Long Island. The owner of a New York-based antique frame restoration and replication company, Wilner was “perfectly happy,” he said. “We had a nice house, a lot of privacy. And then friends of ours wanted to go out to visit Montauk.” 

After “crawling around” for a few hours in the area, Wilner said, “we were like: ‘Oh, my God. This is where we want to live.” Soon after, they discovered 36 acres on the market, with 400 feet of beachfront next to Andy Warhol’s compound. (Warhol bought the property, called Eothen, in the early 1970s and used it as a vacation home until his death in 1987.) After hemming and hawing, Wilner said, “we bought it for the grand price of $620,000.”

The couple set about building a five-bedroom, four-bath home inspired by a teahouse they’d seen in Newport, R.I., and by 1994 they had moved in. Over the next 23 years, Wilner said, he sunk more than $15 million into landscaping, renovations, and improvements to the property. “Anything you can imagine that costs money, we did,” he said. “The carved doors in the house alone took 10 years for my studio to make.”

The 7,000-square-foot house has bounced on and off the market at least four times, according to Zillow Group Inc.: Wilner initially listed it in 2008 for $35 million, took it off the market, put it back on a year later, then bumped its price up to $50 million. He took it off yet again, relisted it in 2011 and 2015, and then brought it to the market a fourth time in 2016 for $55 million; this year he pulled it off the market again. “We had offers in the 40 [million-dollar] range, but I said no,” Wilner said. Now he’s put it back on the market a fifth time, listing it with Brown Harris Stevens, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, at $48 million. “My dad is getting older, and he lives in Boca Raton [Fla.], so it looks like we’re going to sell the house and move down there,” he said.

Prospective buyers will find themselves in possession of one of the largest private properties in Montauk. There’s a 2-acre pond filled with wildlife—“We have 22 wood ducks that live there, too”—dunes, forest, and a rolling lawn that leads down to the water, where two natural jetties 1,000 feet apart extend 200 feet into the ocean. “We have one of the best surfing breaks right off our beach, and we certainly have one of the best casting beaches,” Wilner said, noting that he neither surfs nor fishes. “I just don’t do it.” 

The house itself comprises three levels, which are connected by both an elevator and a sweeping mahogany-clad staircase. The top floor contains the kitchen, living room, and dining room, which opens onto a terrace that runs the length of the house. While the ground floor has most of the bedrooms, including a master suite, the lower floor has more guest rooms, a conference room, and a home theater, which includes a 14-foot screen and “concert-level” sound system. All the floors are marble, and the house is warmed with radiant heat.

Many of the details in the home are handcarved and based, according to Wilner, on the famous art deco interior of the Normandie ocean liner. “When Martha Stewart was here, she couldn’t get over the doors,” he noted. 

Still, Wilner said, the house is truly made for a couple. “I don’t even like to have guests over.” His wife’s daughter “lived with us for a while, and that was fine, but not really,” he continued. “It’s perfect for a couple that wants to get away from it all.” Indeed, he added: “You can walk around the house and the grounds completely naked, and no one could see you.”

When Wilner and his wife bought the house, Montauk was largely undeveloped—there was Warhol’s estate, and Ralph Lauren had a property, as did Robert De Niro. But most roads in the area were unpaved, and many weekenders stayed nearby in the more fashionable Hamptons. 

Now, of course, that’s changed, and property values have skyrocketed. The Warhol estate, for instance, which is about 6 acres, sold in 2015 to the art dealer Adam Lindemann for $49 million. There’s a ranch on the other side of Wilner’s property owned by J.Crew Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mickey Drexler (who also owned the Warhol estate, until he sold it to Lindemann). “Now you’ve got people like [art dealer] David Zwirner, Paul Simon, and [photographer] Peter Beard,” said Wilner. “Plus, the airport is close by.” (Wilner, who spends “most of his disposable income on helicopter rides,” said the trip from Manhattan to Montauk takes about 45 minutes, which can be cut down to 30 if the traveler is “willing to pay extra for a Sikorsky.”)

“I’ve had my run here, and I’m happy,” Wilner said. “Now it’s time for the next segment of my life.” 

 

To contact the author of this story: James Tarmy in New York at jtarmy@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Rovzar at crovzar@bloomberg.net.

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