It’s a good day for Artie Weigold. The native New Yorker is up at his weekend retreat, on Fairfield Beach. The sun is shining brightly on his sandy backyard.
The New York Times is neatly stacked on the table in his sunroom, his favorite section, “Real Estate,” on the top of the heap. This is his weekend to have custody of his two longhair dachshunds, Emma and Madeline, and they’re running around, jumping on him and a guest.
“I don’t understand people who don’t love pets,” says Artie, who never stops stroking his
Artie bought this house in 2003 after getting divorced and moving out of his Westport home. These days he splits his time between this beach house and a rental on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that he’s had since his early bachelor days. “You can’t beat the value of a rent-stabilized apartment, which one day will be a thing of the past,” he says with equal parts pride and wistfulness.
Ironically, the man who rhapsodizes poetically about home and hearth, and who makes his living in commercial real estate, didn’t own his own his place until he was thirty-five years old. Perhaps that’s because he started his career as a journalist, first as a staff writer at Women’s Wear Daily, where he reported on the recording industry. “My boss was John Fairchild,” he recalls. “He used to wear a Superman T-shirt under his conservative suit and tie. Whenever he’d have a great idea, he’d tear open his dress shirt to reveal the big S.”
From there he moved to the popular but now defunct New York Herald, working with the likes of P. J. O’Rourke, Hugo Flesch (later a Village Voice staple) and the photojournalist Jim Hamilton. It was the era of the Mudd Club and CBGB, and these freewheeling downtown artists did everything you would expect — except cash in on the real estate boom that was exploding all around them.
A Lightbulb Goes Off
But at age twenty-nine, Artie had a revelation. “It was time to stop being poor,” he recalls. Because he wanted money and enough free time to enjoy it, he decided against being a lawyer or financier and went into real estate. He and his brother saw great potential in Long Island, so they started a real estate referral service. He commuted to Massapequa for five years until the business had become successful enough to sell it for a healthy profit.
“I’ve always loved real estate,” he says. “And I love the city of New York. It’s my muse. It has always seduced me with its rough-edged beauty and excitement. It’s like the perfect woman — always exciting, always interesting, always has a new facet and keeps growing.” He stops for a minute to scoop up Emma, who’s been pawing at his leg and demanding equal time. “New York is all about architecture, history, people, and how they all converge. Growing up in Jackson Heights, Queens, I would see it across the East River and think it was the Emerald City.”
After selling his business in the early 1980s, Artie started buying apartments on the West Side. “It was hard to miss because every building between Amsterdam and Columbus from the 60s to the 90s was being gutted,” he recalls. “They were getting rid of the welfare homes and the crime and starting to gentrify the neighborhoods. I loved the grittiness, and it seemed like an open door for opportunities. Back then you could literally double your money in two years.”
His first purchase for himself — and wife and daughter — was a grand home in East Hampton, a block from the beach. But when their daughter reached school age, they realized they wanted a real community to raise her in. “We searched around New Jersey and Connecticut, but we’re not suburban people,” he says. “Frankly, we were befuddled by the ’burbs.” They wanted the artsy feel of the Hamptons and the proximity to water, and they found the right balance in Westport, in a beautiful home on an acre of land with a pool that used to belong to Jolie Gabor (Zsa Zsa’s mother). But when Artie and his wife divorced, he found himself in what he calls a midlife crisis, unsure of where to go. All he knew was that he wanted to be close to his daughter and he didn’t want to go back to the Hamptons.
Artie may have been in the middle of a midlife crisis, but he knew how to listen. When the Realtor showed him this house, “it spoke to me,” he says quietly, and points to the expanse of sea and sky and the Penfield Lighthouse in Long Island Sound as if to say, How could it not? “This house had it all. It was like coming home. It’s beautiful, I can play tennis, be on the water and be near my daughter and friends.”
Then came the tough part: decorating. Since his ex is a designer, he had always deferred to her taste. So how did he find the right look for him? “I sat down and had a dialog with the house,” he explains. One of the most prominent features is a large painted compass (that actually points to true North) on the living room floor, with a star in the design. Artie felt that was as good a place as any to start, so he chose to continue those elements throughout the house. “I like a lived-in look — nautical and beachy, but without feeling like I’m in Davy Jones’ locker. I didn’t want to overdo it.”
The first thing he bought was a pair of leather chairs. “I don’t know much about them, except that they’re French, they look great, and they’re not comfortable. I was more interested in an authentic feeling than in authentic period pieces,” he continues. Pointing to a desk in the living room, he says, “I don’t know if that’s eighteenth-century or early-nineteeth, but the feeling is right.” He picked up the dining room table from a local antiques shop and bought the chairs at auction at Bill Doyle’s.
Asked whether this is his dream house, he replies, “It’s as close as I’ve come. It’s completely comfortable and comforting to live here.” He looks out at the Sound, which is as flat as glass, and observes, “When you live by the water, with a direct view, it’s a living painting. There’s beauty in every moment of the day, morning and night, storm, snow, rain, fog. It’s a visual banquet all the time.”
This afternoon the sun has traveled completely across the backyard and is illuminating sea and sand. “The sunsets are incredible,” he says, reading his guest’s mind. “When I come here and I look out there, I find a different place in myself.” And then, leading the way outdoors, Artie walks up to a wooden shack on his patio, which he unlocks ceremoniously. “This is the tiki bar,” he says with obvious pride. “Everyone told me to get rid of it, but it has such character. In the summer we roll it out, light the torches and get the margaritas going. There are always a few coolers of beer and wine and mojitos; we bring the speakers out there and get good music going.” And then, stating the obvious, he says, “This is a great party house. Five or six houses in a row are all very friendly; the owners all know each others’ dogs. We grill all summer long, and every year on the Fourth of July we have a huge party.”
Beyond the parties, there’s a serious side to Artie. Walking back inside as the sun dips below the horizon, he scoops up his little dogs and sits down at the dining room table. “Really, the only thing that matters in life is family and close friends,” he says. “The parties are great, but the best times are those intimate evenings with close friends and family in a place that’s comfortable.” Looks like the big real estate guy finally found his real estate.