The house at the end of the private drive could be any other posh vacation home in East Hampton. There’s the tennis court out back, the pool, the hot tub, a kitchen stocked with organic local produce and a staff there to cook it. In fact, on a recent Tuesday afternoon the only signal it is something a little more than a normal (for the Hamptons at least) crash pad is the reading material on the coffee table in the airy, plushly decorated great room. Sitting on a stand next to more haphazardly placed beach fare, like an airport-style soft cover of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” is a very large leather bound copy of “The Book That Started It All: The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
For four months every summer, the Hamptons are where people of means in the New York area go to party. If Joe McKinsey, the founder and chief executive officer of The Dunes East Hampton, has his way, his little slice of the neighborhood will be a year-round retreat where people of means in New York go to get sober.
This story first appeared in the August 26, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“People come from all over the world and want to be here because it’s magical,” McKinsey, who lives in nearby Amagansett, says. A trim, fit-looking man of, as he puts it, “66 years and holding,” McKinsey is wearing a cream golf shirt, brown loafers and rimless glasses. He is sitting on a wooden lounger on the property’s “outdoor living room,” a rustic pavilion in the backyard outfitted with all-weather furniture, a full sink and a fireplace. A short distance in front of him, across a well-maintained lawn, a client is taking a midday swim in the pool.
“One of the things that makes our job a lot easier is the physical location of The Dunes,” McKinsey goes on. “You walk in here, I mean, you want to stay here.”
Until recently, McKinsey, who got sober himself when he was 38, occupied his days running a successful computer business. His accent is South Ozone Park, and his placid demeanor suggests someone who has spent many mornings in the last 27 years at 12-step meetings.
With The Dunes, McKinsey and his investors are attempting to bring the Malibu-style addiction rehabilitation experience to The Hamptons. Though there are certainly larger facilities in the area — the Caron Foundation in Berks County, Pa., is an oft-cited example by addiction professionals — The Dunes bills itself as the first luxury boutique rehab facility in the Northeast. McKinsey cites Promises, the California center perhaps best known for treating Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, as a sort of rough equivalent and looks to attract similarly financed clients from the area’s tonier zip codes. At $45,000 for a four-week stay and $105,000 for three months, he’ll have to.
“The people that are our target market, they are used to living a certain way,” he says.
The 7,300-square-foot home has accommodations for 16 clients at a time, and they plan to typically host about a dozen. Its bedrooms have a general air of 1,000 thread count. In addition to the pool and tennis court, there is an on-site yoga studio.
The Dunes is not McKinsey’s first stab at opening such a facility. In 2008, his plan to turn the historic Ram’s Head Inn on Shelter Island fell through after potential neighbors balked at the idea. The New Yorker and the New York Post wrote about the fight. McKinsey recalls the general sentiment of those against him as one of “we don’t want those people here.” The point seems particularly irksome to him because, as he notes with a laugh, “They’re already here.”
Since The Dunes opened in December, it has treated about 30 clients. In addition to the traditional mix of one-on-one counseling and group therapy, the facility hosts Skype-assisted remote sessions with off-site counselors. Clients attend 12-step meetings in town and have access to equine-assisted therapy on Shelter Island, and are encouraged to go on “eco/psychological educational experiences,” conservationist-led nature walks in Montauk and Sag Harbor meant to encourage perspective.
If it all seems a bit grand for clients who are doing the heavy lifting of getting their lives back together, McKinsey says first and foremost he prefers his people to be comfortable.
“Betty Ford had Elizabeth Taylor cleaning the bathrooms,” he says. “I don’t know what that did for her recovery, but let’s put it this way: She didn’t recover.”