Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching. Because whatever you see can inspire you,” Grace Coddington famously announced from the backseat of a car driving through Paris in the 2009 documentary The September Issue.
It was the moment Vogue’s longtime creative director quietly stole the show and became a household name. That mantra – which has since made its way onto greeting cards and motivational posters – came to mind during a recent visit to the Wainscott, Long Island, weekend retreat of the woman responsible for some of the most iconic fashion imagery of our time.
Coddington in her Long Island garden.
It’s unseasonably cold and rainy on the day of my visit, and the scent of burning firewood tinges the air when I pull up to the unfussy three-bedroom ranch house Coddington and her partner of 35 years, French hairstylist Didier Malige, bought back in 1988. Malige, in black Adidas track pants, is pruning a bush in the front yard, blissfully ignoring the drizzle. Coddington, whom I am honored to count as a mentor and friend, bursts through the screen door in matching track pants, a Céline pullover, and garden clogs, her famous shock of fiery hair spilling out of an off-white bucket hat.
After directing me to take off my shoes, she leads me inside. “It’s not very proper; it’s just very comfortable,” she explains. “It’s just a place where you can come in and throw yourself on the sofa and put your feet up.” Indeed, nothing – from the antique Native American rugs scattered on the floors to the vintage pillows and throws – is too precious to be used. Even the large all-white linen-slipcovered sofas by George Sherlock in the main sitting room seem to have a come-hither quality.
A sense of place – and a sense of Grace – is present in spades, evident in all the photos, books, and curiosities on display. “This home isn’t actually designed,” she says. “It’s just full of stuff because my life is full of stuff – I can’t help myself. I keep thinking I’m very minimal, but actually, I’m the worst. I’m finally ready to own up to the extent of things that I’ve amassed – at the ripe old age of 77!”
It’s just full of stuff because my life is full of stuff – I can’t help myself.
Let’s be clear: Coddington’s “stuff” encompasses a great many gems, including a vast collection of prints by the stellar roster of photographers she’s worked with and known during her career – Helmut, Mario, Bruce, Patrick, Steven, Annie, and longtime Vogue eminence Mr. Penn – all nonchalantly displayed overlapping on various picture ledges.
These trophies are juxtaposed with Coddington’s equally prized, ever-expanding collection of cat paraphernalia. (She and Malige share the house with two beloved Persians, Pumpkin and Blanket, the latest in a long line of feline family members.) “I can’t help it that people, including myself, are always bringing in cat memorabilia,” she explains, referring to the various artworks, the clowders of vintage Steiff, and even the pair of andirons keeping watch over the roaring afternoon fire.
Malige tends the garden.
Portraits of cats past and present by Malige.
Some of the most charming – and personal – artifacts line the hallway to the bedrooms, which is hung with dozens of the cheeky sketches and messages on hotel stationery, often written in the voices of their cats, that she and Malige have been faxing each other from all over the world since the 1980s. (She tells me she has hundreds more tucked away.)
The house’s uniformly white walls and restrained color palette allow it to breathe and help impose a sense of order on all these disparate mementos. Coddington also likes to move things around, bringing pieces into new relationships with one another. “But Didier always wants everything to stay just the way it is, so I must wait for the appropriate moment,” she confesses.
Peek Inside Grace Coddington’s Charming Wainscott CottageView Slideshow
She and Malige originally purchased the house she describes as “plain and not pretty” as a jumping-off point that would allow them to search for their dream home, but now, decades later, it seems as if settling has turned to settling in just fine.
Over the years, they have pulled in their friends the architects Jeffrey Cayle and Brad Floyd, as well as Floyd’s contracting partner Lafayette Compton, to introduce numerous small customizations and poetic touches: figurative Paysanne tiles from Le Fanion in the otherwise clean-lined kitchen; a mammoth custom-built “French dresser” with bookshelves held up by a raw tree trunk; columns on the front porch made from railroad ties. Outside in the blowsy garden stand a trim little guest cabin and a screened-in “eating house” built with reclaimed wood.
At an age when most people are thinking of slowing down, Coddington is as busy as ever. In addition to her ongoing relationship with Vogue, she has two new book projects and a talk show in the works and recently collaborated on a handbag collection for Louis Vuitton. Throughout her long, peripatetic career, this quaint, homey cottage has always served as a tonic and an escape, a far cry from the haute couture world she’s immersed in professionally. “When I’m here, I don’t go much farther than the garden except to do the shopping,” Coddington admits. “I do swim laps twice a day, but otherwise it’s the life of a very lazy country lady. And it’s delightful.”