What I Love by Joanne Kaufman, New York Times, August 26, 2016
If the real estate agent hadn’t counseled prudence, hadn’t suggested checking out a few more properties, Katie Couric would have put pen to check as soon as she saw the gray cedar-shingled seven-bedroom house in East Hampton, N.Y.
“I do think there’s a certain kind of chemistry between a house and an owner,” said Ms. Couric, 59, the global news anchor for Yahoo, who just started a podcast and who is the executive producer and host of a National Geographic Channel documentary on gender. “You walk in and you can kind of envision your life there. It’s like a first date. You know in the first 30 seconds. I thought, ‘This could be a nice, happy place for my family.’ ”
Reader, she bought it.
But the 2006 transaction was bittersweet — the end of a chapter, the beginning of a chapter. She and her first husband, Jay Monahan, had had another place, an 1860s Greek Revival house in Millbrook, N.Y., that they had bought in the mid-1990s. “We’d both gone to college in Virginia, and Millbrook reminded us of it. I loved that house and Jay loved it,” said Ms. Couric, a former host of “Today” and CBS anchor. Mr. Monahan died of colon cancer in 1998 at the age of 42.
She continued: “I remember when he was sick, I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do if you’re not here with me to enjoy the house.’ And he said, ‘I hope it will be full of happy memories.’ It was, but it was so hard to be there after he died. I imported friends and family on weekends, but after a while it was just too sad.”
Ms. Couric, whose primary residence is in Manhattan, loves the beach and had rented in the Hamptons for a week every summer with Mr. Monahan and their two daughters, Ellie, now 25, and Carrie, now 20. “I decided I would start looking there for a place to buy,” she said.
Her friend Charlie Esposito, an associate broker at the Corcoran Group, took her to see some prospects that didn’t particularly appeal, but then Ms. Couric spotted a sales brochure in the back seat of Ms. Esposito’s car. “I grabbed it and said, ‘What about this house?’” Ms. Couric recalled. “And Charlie said, ‘I’m not sure. I think it may be too close to the highway.’ But I said, ‘Let’s go see it. It looks nice.’ ”
They walked in, she said, “And I thought, ‘This is perfect; it doesn’t look like a money pit.’ It didn’t seem like the house in Millbrook, where we had to constantly fix things. As a single mother who was working hard, I didn’t really want to sign up for that.
“I liked that it was spacious, but unpretentious. It looks like a cottage in front, but kind of grows in the back.”
The house, which was built in 1995, needed only a few new doorknobs. The grounds, however, needed help. Enter Ms. Couric’s sister, Clara Couric Batchelor, a landscape architect in Cambridge, Mass. Among other things, Ms. Batchelor moved the driveway, took down a picket fence and repositioned a tree to open up the view from the back patio to the swimming pool and the tennis court beyond. Ms. Batchelor also added a courtside pergola for her tennis-loving client, as well as a vegetable garden and perennial beds.
“Obviously, I love Clara because she’s my sister, but I was very impressed to see her at work. She did a fabulous job,” Ms. Couric said proudly. “This was a really fun thing to do with her.”
Soon after Ms. Couric bought the property, she hired Eric Hughes, an interior designer, to help her create a place that felt like a beach house, “but not so beachy that you couldn’t go there in the winter,” she said. The blue-and-white cushions on the bistro chairs and the mirror framed in seashells in the living room effectively conjure summer at the shore. So does a large photograph by Richard Misrach, a purchase at the Armory Show in New York City. The two white sofas from Pottery Barn — “I am completely without snobbery when it comes to furniture,” Ms. Couric said — seem as if they would be very hospitable to people in wet bathing suits.
But the many antiques — including a secretary from the old place in Millbrook, an ornithologist’s cabinet that was a gift from Mr. Monahan, a dresser that Ms. Couric bid on at the Sotheby’s auction of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate and a large wood-plank dining table — give the house year-round heft.
“I got the table from Mecox Gardens,” she said, referring to a home furnishings store. “And I remember that it was very expensive. But I think the happiest moments are around a dinner table. It was for me growing up, and it is for us out here.”
Here is what you need to know about Ms. Couric: She is deeply, deeply sentimental. Unsurprisingly, the house reflects it. Her parents, both of whom have died, are everywhere. The drawers of the apothecary cabinet at the entrance to the living room hold a file from her mother, Elinor, labeled “Letters and other things that will be of interest to my children” and several prayer books that belonged to her father, John. There, too, is the diary of one Katie Couric, circa 1967: “I washed a window. Janie has her tetherball set up except it’s not cemented. I really didn’t do much today,” reads one entry.
The shelves in the library are full of John Couric’s books; a vitrine side table in a guest bedroom holds pillboxes collected by Ms. Couric’s mother and grandmother. As Ms. Couric walked by an antique wash basin, she reached into the matching pitcher and pulled out a note from her mother detailing the set’s family provenance, then opened a book of poetry on top of a stack on a side table to show another handwritten message from Mrs. Couric. In her office, she pointed to a toast rack that her mother had repurposed as a letter holder.
“I was very close to my parents, and it’s comforting to have the memories,” she said. “I have to be more judicious about the things I keep, but this is my personal history.”
A big part of that history centers on Ms. Couric’s first husband. A Civil War buff and collector, Mr. Monahan amassed a large cache of militaria: letters, photographs, maps, portraits, uniforms, walking sticks, riding boots and bugles, as well as Robert E. Lee’s Bible. With the help of Kat Rosier, an interior designer, Ms. Couric recently assembled many choice objects in what she calls the war room. “I wanted there to be a place for everything that was important to Jay,” she said.
But if the house honors the past, it also celebrates the present and the future. Two summers ago, Ms. Couric married John Molner, an investment banker and divorced father of two, who is now 53, in the backyard. So Mr. Molner’s marble-topped Saarinen table and Tulip chairs are in the freshly renovated kitchen (out with the terra-cotta tile, in with the stria porcelain tile). The Italian leather chairs from his old house in Westchester County, N.Y., have found a place in the sunroom.
“I’m incorporating a lot of John’s things,” Ms. Couric said. “He’s a real minimalist, and very modern. He has beautiful taste, and Jay had beautiful taste. I have no taste, by the way. I’m just a blank canvas; I adapt to the taste of the person I’m with. John is happy for me to use some of his things, but he never insisted.”
Ms. Couric, however, did insist. “We don’t just have a blended family,” she said. “We have a blended house.”