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SITUATED BETWEEN LONG Island’s North and South Forks, Shelter Island is a special kind of island getaway. About three hours from Manhattan and accessible by a short car ferry from Greenport or North Haven, the 8,000-acre island is bordered by the Peconic River to the west and Gardiners Bay to the east. As beach escapes go, it’s less fussy than the Hamptons and more relaxed than the North Fork. The narrow coastline is dotted with rocks and shells, while the interior is woody swamps, with brackish and freshwater ponds. Life goes on here in a hypnotically slow place; cyclists braking for a family of wild turkeys can pass for a traffic jam.
Shelter Island, the traditional home of the Manhanset people, was appropriated by King James I of England and formed part of his original grant to the Plymouth Colony in 1620. Once colonised, the land passed through several hands and was given it was named Shelter Island around 1652. By the early 1900s, several millionaires had built homes there; more summer houses and cottages popped up after World War II. In the 2020 census, the island reported about 1,600 full-time residents, although that number increases in the summer, as evidenced by the weekenders crowding André Balazs’ upscale neighborhood Beach at sunset hotel and two historic island inns that have recently been modernized.
While fishing and farming were the dominant industries years ago, the current residents are more likely to be hotel workers, interior designers or restaurateurs. An increasing number of artists are also opening studios, says abstract artist Margaret Garrett, 57, who has had a studio and residency on Shelter Island for 25 years and curated the summer exhibition.”Once on this islandat the Shelter Island Historical Society. The show showcases the work of Willem de Kooning, Jules Feiffer, Janet Culbertson and other creatives who have sought inspiration here over the years.
Despite a flood of pandemic newcomers, the island’s coastal tranquility remains largely untouched; just head to the secluded beach at Crab Creek or down the miles of vibrant green trail Mashomack Reserve to see for yourself. (A new mobile payment system makes it easier than ever for non-residents to find parking, which was once a pain point for day trippers.) “Working in a studio surrounded by nature affects me on a cellular level, which in turn affects my work Garrett says. “The combination of solitude and community is ideal for an artist.”
Just in time for its 95th anniversary, this Crescent Beach hotel has undergone a major facelift, pushing the legendary property into the 21st century. Owners and residents of Shelter Island since 1961, the Petry family partnered with Cape Resorts (which also runs Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor and several hotels in Cape May, New Jersey) to renovate and manage the hotel. Colleen Bashaw of Cape Resorts led the redesign, focusing on preserving original details such as circa 1927 chandeliers and some of the wicker and rattan furnishings, while adding bursts of color and pattern via wallpaper from Zina Studios and textiles from Shumacher. The result: 33 Adirondack-inspired guestrooms with custom-designed oak cannonball beds and scallop-edge side tables in the main house and 16 detached one- and two-room cottages accented with vintage Shelter Island maps, flat-weave sisal rugs, and custom green floral pillows covered with Schumacher’s exotic butterfly print. There is also a games room with a ping pong table and vintage Pac Man console and a new fitness center and spa complete with three treatment rooms and wet and dry saunas. caperesorts.com/pridwin.
Another long-standing property with a fresh look, the highly gabled Chequit dates back to 1872, but was purchased by the Soloviev Group in 2020 and renovated by Glen & Co. Architecture + Design in New York. The main house now has 19 rooms in a minimalist gray, beige and white palette, with all-new bathrooms, some with roll-top bathtubs. (In two separate buildings, there are a further 16 guest rooms that are yet to be renovated.) Nave walls, decorative oar boards, and narrow, low-ceilinged corridors create a nautical feel. A small pool is being installed, in time for next summer, but the biggest draw for now are beloved Greenport chef Noah Schwartz’s two new restaurants: Weakfish Sushi & Noodle and the Tavern, with its raucous bar and pool table. Both spots have outdoor seating on the hotel’s wraparound porch and newly added patio. thechequithotel.com.
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Valerie Mnuchin has teamed up with her father, Robert Mnuchin, the former co-owner of the Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington, Connecticut, to open a restaurant named after her paternal grandfather, Léon, a Belgian expatriate who spent half of his life on the East End. It is housed in a newly constructed farmhouse style building with exposed timber trusses, canvas covered benches and a fireplace with a blackened steel hood and soapstone top. The fire makes French- and Italian-inspired dishes such as striped bass with spicy peperonata and grilled rib-eye served with seasoned crispy potatoes; handmade pastas, locally sourced salads and raw seafood are also on the menu. leon1909.com.
The eccentric bagel
Shelter Island survived centuries without a bagel shop, but when this takeout spot with brightly colored picnic tables and 1980s MTV-inspired decor (think black and white triangular-patterned floors and a mustard-yellow ceiling and textured wall with zigzagging lightning bolts) opened in April, harassed right away. The brainchild of New York native Darryn Weinstein and his wife, Amy, the café sells bagels with eggs, za’atar, and jalapeño cheddar topped with everything from Sriracha cream cheese and lox to scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato, and avocado. eccentricbagel.com.
Elizabeth Peeples and Stefanie Bassett, co-owners of Little Ram Oyster Co., raise their bivalves north of Little Ram Island, a peninsula on the east side of Shelter Island. In April, they introduced a new processing facility to the shallows “boatel” in Southold, across the Peconic. Guests can sample Little Ram oysters from the Shoals’ on-site food truck or sign up for a tour of the company’s floating oyster farms, which includes shelling instruction and a tasting. They will see the massive aluminum oyster tumbling machine in action and learn how various environmental factors affect the taste of an oyster. (For the record, Little Rams are known for their solid minerality and medium salinity.) littleramoysters.com.
White Oak Farm and Gardens
Lavender, hydrangeas and pink gerbera surround a handful of metal chairs and tables in the storybook backyard of this garden center and landscape design firm, which began receiving visitors to its wine garden last year. Every weekend through the end of summer, guests can order cheese and charcuterie boards from the King Andrew Cheese cart parked on the property, grab a glass of the house rosé (White Oak partners with North Fork’s Lenz Winery to own rosé) and play bocce while listening to live music from local bands, including the Bodega Tallboys and Rob Europe. whiteoakfarmandgardens.com.
Ram Design Home and Marni Marine
Half a dozen interior designers have opened studios and shops on Shelter Island in recent years. At Ram Design Home, founder Cristina Peffer displays ceramics from Lily Hoffman, photography from the Robin Rice Gallery, and minimalist furniture from Alfredo Paredes, Ralph Lauren’s former chief creative officer. And now, for the second summer in a row, the Sunset Beach hotel is hosting a pop-up from Italian fashion label Marni, filled with bold patterned clothing, wide-strap leather sandals and chunky jewelry, along with the Marni Market collection of colorful handbags and baskets handwoven by Colombian artisans. ramdesignhome.com; marni.com.
What to take home as suggested by the locals we like?
Megan Hergrueter matte foot shell
“The handcrafted nature of these pedestal bowls, available in the Shelter Island Historical Society’s Havens Store, add beautiful texture to a kitchen,” said Sarah Zames, the founder of the interior architecture and design firm General meeting and a regular on Shelter Island. “Having it a little higher also sets it apart from a typical fruit bowl.” From $60; shelterislandhistorical.org/havensstore.html.
Lilielle cushion, made of wool, linen and hemp, from the studio of Heiberg Cummings
“These are just the right materials to cuddle with, and the colors are very organic,” said Marie Eiffel, a French transplant and owner of Shelter Island retailers. Marie Eiffel Market and Fashion Marie Eiffel, both on North Ferry Road. “You can throw them on the floor, pile them up and lie on them or put them on a chair, couch, or bed — they just look good with anything.” $425; hcd3.com.