Everyone knows when Nico Yektai arrives at LongHouse Reserve’s annual “Planters: On + Off The Ground VI” container show in East Hampton.
He is always the one huffing and puffing.
“I’ve had planters at the show close to 700 pounds, although it doesn’t look it,” the custom furniture craftsman, and frequent “Planters” participant, said last week during a telephone interview from a local job site, breathing heavily. “Hold on, I’m moving a huge piece of concrete. I’m just catching my breath.”
He inhaled deeply for a few seconds, and continued, “So yeah, I bring them in backbreaking pieces and assemble on site. This year, I’m trying something a little different. I would like them to weigh a svelte 140 pounds.”
Keeping with his signature asymmetrical aesthetic, the Sag Harbor-based artist is constructing two elongated, wedge-like planters from wood. And, instead of cast concrete, he’ll be using cement boards—a material he typically uses behind the scenes—this year, he said.
“The two narrow, little points will be tip-to-tip. Hopefully they will create a nice dialogue together,” Mr. Yektai said. “And then, of course, I hope the plantings will complete the composition.”
Tovah Martin, Paula Deitz and Jack de Lashmet will be the judges of that. On Saturday, June 22, dozens of participating artists and horticulturists alike will gather in the reserve and anxiously await the results, fingers crossed for blue ribbons from either the experts or the audience members, who also cast their votes for the People’s Choice Award.
Mr. de Lashmet said in awarding his top honors, he’s looking for something that makes an impression, be it big or small.
“I have been blown away some years by something so perfect in its simplicity that many viewing it put it aside—or didn’t even notice it—in place of some over-the-top, gargantuan thing,” Mr. de Lashmet wrote last week in an email. “I love the over-the-top, obviously, but if something touches my soul, it is likely going to take preference to some blown-up design within an inch of its life. Ultimately, my blue ribbon will go to the exhibit that touches me beyond any other. Perhaps it will be ingenious. Perhaps it will make me smile. Perhaps it is groundbreaking. Like most things in design, it will either be brilliant or not.”
Two-time winner, and president of Sagaponack-based Bernstein Design Associates, Harvey Bernstein may be in his zone during the LongHouse competition, but, to his recent discovery, he will not be on the tennis court for awhile, he said during an interview last week.
Last month, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Bernstein visited a neighbor for a friendly game of singles. It was the second time he had ever played.
Running after the ball with the racket stretched over his back, ready to strike, he tripped over his foot and went flying, spinning through the air.
He hit the ground. And couldn’t get up.
“I’m really not that athletic,” he deadpanned. “It seems.”
According to the doctors at Southampton Hospital, Mr. Bernstein broke five ribs.
There was nothing like a “good accident” to completely change the course of his LongHouse container, he said.
“I was thinking about movement and my reaction to falling and my moving through space. I really did,” he said. “My wife’s a dancer and when I was flying through the air, I was thinking about her reminding me to find my center so I didn’t fall over. But that didn’t work.”
Instead, the fall sparked his creativity. The designer ditched his original idea and built a metal frame with a rock suspended in the middle. From it, a number of steel rods shoot out and wave in the breeze, Mr. Bernstein demonstrated. Planted underneath is a lush, green moss.
“Before the accident, I wanted to do something that looked like it sprouted,” he said of the plant material. “And then after I hurt myself, I said, ‘Well, I can’t do anything,’ and got to thinking about moss. Moss needs nothing. It grows where there’s nothing. I thought, ‘Well, moss is kind of quiet and stays in one place, kind of like me right now.’
“I really, truly believe that mistakes are, as we say, ‘Buddhist wishes,’” he continued. “Something happens, something breaks, and you go, ‘Okay, so that’s what should have happened, now what do you do?’ instead of getting hysterical.”
In his life, Mr. Yektai works in a world of perpetual twists and turns, he said. But for time’s sake, the craftsman is counting on a quick container build and clean installation.
“I like to leave myself a lot of room for these designs to evolve as they’re built,” he said. “If I run into a situation where I’ve painted myself into an aesthetic corner, it takes time to figure out how to solve that problem. Then, I could be in trouble. That’s where the asymmetry comes into my work. That’s where pieces move out of their expected location. Those have become little bits of evidence that I built it, that I made that decision as the piece was evolving, which is what I’m hoping I will not run into with my planters.”
His passion for furniture stems from his younger years building tree houses and household items from wood on the East End with his father, Manoucher Yektai, who first visited the Hamptons in the 1950s with the wave of abstract expressionists, including Jackson Pollock, his son explained.
“My father would ask me, ‘Could you help me build a table?’ It would be really rough, but we’d always talk about it the same way we’d talk about art,” Mr. Yektai said. “I liked it, and I liked the idea that furniture could be a subject the way nature could be a subject for a painter or a figure a subject for a sculptor. Furniture became my subject. And once I committed to it, I knew I’d have to learn how to do it.”
Not claiming to be a horticulturist by any means, Mr. Yektai said he plans to plant his containers with 90-percent grass and the rest a contrasting color or texture. But he wouldn’t give away any specifics.
“From the very beginning, I’ve been showing planters that are made of cast concrete and wood. And the attention to the planter, the actual container, is where my main creative focus goes,” he said. “My ability with plants over the years has improved enough that I don’t think I offend any of the very qualified people at the show.”
He laughed, and added, “They are always very kind to me about my plant selection.”
“Planters: On + Off The Ground VI” will be held on Saturday, June 22, at 4:30 p.m. at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton. Tickets are $20, or $10 for members. The exhibit will be on view through July 27. For more information, call 329-3568 or visit longhouse.org.