The Decorating Duo Design House Kits Out a Sweet Southampton Cottage That's Brimming with Personality
Like most industries, the world of interior design is a competitive one. Even people with no training can decide to call themselves “decorators” and hang up their shingles, further populating an already crowded field. No one knows who will be the next Sister Parish or Mario Buatta, and especially in Manhattan, it’s more difficult than ever to stand out.
In Southampton Village, however, life and industry are a bit different. Despite its being a microcosm of New York City’s elite, the pace is more leisurely, while business is always steady—an exceedingly suitable environment for Suzanne Caldwell and Maria Greenlaw to practice their decorating wizardry for a discriminating clientele. The women are the principals of Design House, an interior decorating firm established nearly 30 years ago right in the center of town, where both are firmly entrenched in the community. Greenlaw is a native Southamptonite, while Caldwell, who hails from Chicago, lives in a house that just happens to be located across the street from the home where Greenlaw’s father was born.
Like many village houses, Caldwell’s epitomizes cozy. At 2,000 square feet, it’s diminutive, but three bedrooms and three baths are all she needs for her husband, Mark, and sons Cubby and Henry. A job transfer for Mark initially brought them to Southampton, where they quickly settled into the home and its prime neighborly location. “We wanted to be in the village so we could walk to town and school,” says Caldwell. “We love it here.” She’s also enamored of her commute: The colorful, whimsically decorated cottage is just a two-minute hop to the Design House offices on Main Street.
The home, which dates from 1880, had originally been just two rooms on top of each other. Caldwell isn’t certain of its original use. “A fishing shack, maybe?” she guesses. “We’re only a mile from the ocean!” She and her family made multiple renovations to the place and also built a small barn out back as an office for Mark. Two years ago, they added “Le Shed,” a dreamy Hansel and Gretel–esque outbuilding-cum-hangout adjacent to the house. “The entire structure was built by hand by Raceland Home Improvement,” Caldwell says. “We used cedar boards and a poured-concrete floor with hand-placed stones.” A salvaged stained-glass window was tucked into the otherwise whitewashed interior, and thick ivy now clambers over everything. “Le Shed” is approached via an arbor covered with climbing hydrangeas and cottage roses, which opens onto a path of pebbles and beach stones and a sweet garden lined with a white picket fence and boxwood, hydrangea, and privet.
The lush grounds provide a hint to what lies inside the main house: a heady, personal mix of vibrant fabrics, furnishings, and accessories in every room. A gray-green grass cloth covers the living and reading room walls, a subtle backdrop to a vintage sofa that’s been brought to life by an Etro paisley. In the dining room, the deep navy pattern of the William Morris Thistle wall covering contrasts beautifully with a hand-blocked cypress motif on the curtain fabric. “It’s non-fussy, and fun,” offers Caldwell. In other words, no chintz to be seen in this place. “Tastes have changed, and people want a style that’s more permanent now. Ours is very practical. People have dogs, and babies, and life happens.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 2015 issue of Hamptons Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Pattern Play.