Okay, how many living rooms in the Hamptons, and I’m talking the whole Hamptons, have stucco ceilings with swirls so thick you can practically gash your hand on them, and how many log homes are there to begin with?” ask Jill Rappaport, the longtime entertainment correspondent for NBC’s Today Show (her popular segment is called, in a play on her name, “The Rapp Report”). Back in 1995, encouraged by her best friend, Christie Brinkley, she bit the bullet and bought a big-timber log cabin on close to six acres. There she could have a haven for the horse she was boarding in the local stable – and that, she says, was “my dream come true.”
In time her dream came even truer: she was able to buy up everything around her to the point where she had 18 acres of woodland, pasture, and pond. Determined to recast the West of her heart’s desire in the East, she set about building an ambition log farmhouse to rusticate in. “I want it to look like Hoss Cartwright – you know, from Bonanza – could mosey out the front door,” she says, adding, “Gosh, am I dating myself? Maybe I should come up with a more current cowboy!”
Rappaport designed the 11-room, seven-bath house herself, over the phone, with a company called Pioneer Log Homes (“They said, ‘Do you want the covered porch on the front?’ and I said, ‘I want a porch every single place you can have a porch”). It was built in Montana, then taken apart and shipped cross-country, and finally reassembled on-site. After all the logs were stained (a warm caramel), restorer Dennis Brown added the interior details, which have an aged charm to them – witness the handcrafted red-cedar railings and posts. Local mason Wayne Winter saw to the stonework, including the four monumental fireplaces (the one in the dining room formidably embodies a Native American headdress).
And meanwhile artisan John Scarola was busy fashioning a nine-foot-tall mirror complete with Navajo symbols, a substantial jewelry case for Rappaport’s vintage concho belts and squash-blossom necklaces, and all the outside furniture from logs left over from the house. She christened her new homestead “The Last Buck Ranch” – for two reasons: “It took every cent I had, and it’s surrounded by all these deer. But then I had to go back and name the original log cabin, which is now my guesthouse, “The First Buck Ranch.”
Rappaport has been collecting western artifacts since she was brim-high to a 10-gallon hat. “I do have to try to control myself, like put a bit in my moth sometimes,” she admits, “because I don’t want to make the place so one-dimensional that it looks like a western museum or a Native American theme park.” There is, to be sure, a stockpile of wagon-wheel furniture, Navajo rugs and blankets, elk chandeliers (“The antlers were naturally shed,” she offers, adding, “I demanded the documentation”), antique lanterns (“Twenty-nine dollars each on eBay – have you ever? I have the quirkiest, wackiest things, and they cost pennies”), and even cowboy hats (they embellish the branches of the two stripped and stained red cedars in the entrance hall and double-height master bedroom – “Those trees were already cut down, by others; just so you know, we didn’t kill them to put them in my house”). But Rappaport also took care to throw in “a little nautical and a little Spanish,” not to mention un poco Mexicano (her own bed, assorted doors, and an antique turquoise, lime-green, and burgundy bar that she lost no time turning into a fiesta-bright kitchen island).
And then there’s her collection of western art, ranging from some 1950s cactus-scene dioramas to several Kay M. Hendrickses, a handful of Leonard Reedys, and a veritable hoard of Heinie Hartwigs. “His sunsets make you cry, they’re so beautiful! I’m loking for a tiny one to carry around in my purse. I once said to one of my girlfriends, ‘I’m going to get a little Heinie,’ and she said, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life to have a little heinie.’”
Author of the celebrity-ridden best seller People We Know, Horses They Love, Rappaport has six luminously beautiful equines of her own “but,” she stresses, “only one heinie. One real one, that is. So sometimes I get a little tired, because I usually try to get on three a day. And by the way, I do everything that a true horse person tells you never to do – like kiss them right on their noses.”
Rappaport, who describes her house as “patina-friendly,” insists that she doesn’t feel at home unless she has “manure on my boots and dog hair on my clothes.” Her for adored canines, all of them rescues, are made free of a vintage cowboy-boot chair in her two-story living room, which they routinely jump up on to look out the window at deer – “It’s completely clawed, drooled on, and I don’t want to say what else might be there, and I love it!” To Rappaport’s mind, if somebody scratches a wall or spills something on the floor, it only makes it better. When the three mammoth logs that some carpenter had spent two full days cutting for a ceiling where put in place and failed to fit, leaving a gaping hole in the middle, “I just stuck some hay in there, and a beautiful hand-carved bird that I had, so it would look like a little nest – I made that carpenter’s mistake into art.”
Enraptured since childhood with Old Tucson (the western-town movie set that bills itself as “Hollywood in the Desert since 1939!”), Rappaport was inspired to re-create the re-creation within her own house. Call it the West condensed – there’s a trading post, a blacksmith shop, a hotel bedroom, and a saloon (named Swifty’s in a node to her fiancé, investment banker Richard Swift, with whom she shares the house). She peopled her little village with mannequins acquired on eBay, dubbing them Randy the Roper, Sheriff Coffee, Bad Bart, and Chief White Horse. A further purchase, a pirate, she reconed belonged in her 14-seat lower-level movie theater (“Pirated movies – get it? Ha ha”)
The first festivity held at “The Last Buck Ranch” was a going-away party for Rappaport’s close friend and former colleague Katie Couric, who had famously just left the Today show for the CBS Evening News. On that effulgent afternoon last June, Christie Brinkley nicely summed up the premises – as well as the repast, catered as it was by Smokin’ Joe’s True-Blue Texas Barbecue – as a “one-of-a-kind western spread.” But let’s leave the lauding last word to another guest, and another inveterate Hamptons resident, Kelsey Grammer: “Only Jill could have pulled of tall timbers at see level.”
By Steve M.L. Aronson
Photos by Billy Cunningham
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