Updated: Sep 1, 2022
The story of Laffalot comes from Southampton’s short lived Art Colony period and could not be told without including its energetic first owner Zella de Milhau. This Arts and Crafts period house was originally built in 1892 on Ochre Lane in Southampton’s historic Art Village which was created for the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art. The school was led by painter William Merritt Chase, founder of American Impressionism.
After a few years it was purchased by Zella, a student of that school, who became a professional artist and community activist. She hired Katherine C. Budd, a fellow student and manager of the school’s cottages, to renovate her new home.
Art Village began in 1891 as a campus of studios and dormitories for the art school which was funded by prominent NYC society members. When the school disbanded eleven years later the buildings were moved and renovated into private homes by several of the students.
Zella’s home was designed by Katharine Cotheal Budd (1860-1951) who eventually became one of America's first female architects. She ran a New York City practice working with other eminent architects such as Grosvenor Atterbury, Grenville T. Snelling and William Appleton Potter. Budd created plans for more than 100 houses, hospitals and churches. During WWI she created YMCA Hostess Houses built on US military bases for soldiers to entertain their families before going to war.
Zella de Milhau (1870–1954) maintained many interests and careers. She was a professional artist, an ambulance driver during WWI (one of many women drivers), a community organizer and Southampton’s (and possibly the world’s) first motorcycle policewoman.
Her paintings and etchings are included in many museum collections including the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian, Guild Hall and the Southampton History Museum. She had a one person show of her etchings at the prominent Knoedler Gallery in NYC in 1922.
She was also an accomplished coachwoman famous for driving a four-in-hand carriage through the Village shouting “Tallyho” as she drove down Main Street. Laffalot can be seen behind the hedge.
By the early 21st century Laffalot was in terrible shape and threatened with demolition. Art Village is not located within a preserved historic district so there are no restrictions on the neighborhood.
Laffalot was saved by the current owners a few years ago who moved it to their nearby compound within Art Village. Southampton, and I’m sure the neighbors, are very thankful for their preservation efforts.
How did the name Laffalot come about? Apache/Shinnecock artist David Bunn Martine says:
“Hardly an issue of the Southampton Press went by without some reference to this
amazing woman. She always managed to steal the show… She was an adopted daughter of the Shinnecock Indian tribe bearing the name “Chiola,” which means, ‘she who laughs.’”