A ‘Simple Container’ With an Eclectic Interior

"An open plan with a specific order,”
Spacious enough for four workstations, the living room nevertheless is cozy, with comfortable places to read. The painting by Edie Vonnegut slides along on tracks at the front of the long bookcase.

Susan Wood Richardson, a photographer who has worked for magazines and movie companies all over the world, recently dropped anchor in Amagansett in a house that is large enough for the furniture she has collected at auctions and yard sales and antiques shops, including Balasses House, which used to be in Amagansett.

Ms. Wood first came to Amagansett in the late 1960s with her second husband, Joe Haggerty, settling into a converted barn on Schellinger Road. After his death and a third marriage, in the 1990s she and Randy Richardson decided to build on a nearby lot. 

After considering an architect who had designed a house she liked on Louse Point Road in Springs, she turned to Louis Mackall of Amagansett and Guilford, Conn., an architect and woodworker who also is a friend, and to a skilled carpenter, Tony Little of Springs. The men have worked together ever since. 

“Susan’s is an open plan with a specific order,” Mr. Mackall said in a recent interview. “She likes a large scale and is very deliberate about what she likes and doesn’t like, and has a good eye.” Designing houses is “more like a contact sport,” he said. “You start out with a voracious desire to get something down because then you can make it better . . . it always gets better, but what it needs is constant attention.”

As planning for her house began, Ms. Wood thought her living room would be a barn, but she recently told a visitor that she “turned against barns, which are too busy with so much woodwork. It didn’t go with my life; I needed a simpler container.”

What turned out to be simple about Ms. Wood’s new house was making it 5,000 square feet. “Part of what drove the design,” Mr. Mackall said, was the large pieces of furniture she had accumulated.

 Mr. Haggerty had brought six children to the marriage, and Mr. Richardson three to his marriage to Ms. Wood. Eventually, her extended family included 23 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, not to mention the adults, and the house was ideal for them all.

On the ground floor are a big study, an open kitchen with an Aga stove (the kind that is always on), and a dining area opposite the kitchen with a French chestnut table from Balasses House, which Ms. Wood’s mother gave Mr. Richardson as a wedding present, and eight French rattan bistro chairs. 

Mr. Mackall designed a cottage-style table in the kitchen. Anton Hagen of Sag Harbor built the cabinets. And the front door and entryway are interesting enough to be inviting. While acknowledging that Mr. Richardson had a tender side, Ms. Wood said, “I nicknamed Randy ‘Nails,’ as he sometimes looked like he could chew nails and spit bullets.”

Mr. Mackall described “the masculinity” of straight lines and the “femininity” of those that are curved. On entering the house, one notices a subtly curved arch at the entry into the kitchen. The top of the wall at the southern end of the living room is curved as well, and there are curved walls upstairs and in the master bedroom. 

“If you come into a round foyer, you feel like a king!” Mr. Mackall said. “To do an arc is a very nice thing because it suggests that gravity has been suspended: It lifts you up as a person.” He said that the sad part about doors and doorways is that for the most part “their symbolic and corporeal significance is ignored.” Wooden columns from India, imported by ABC Carpets, are on each side of the kitchen entry, and two antique lacquer Asian screens stand at the entry to the living room.

The effect of the house, especially in the living room, could be called eclectic bohemian, or maybe shabby chic. Not only is there a worn Aubusson carpet, but a huge armoire with a giant clock at top center (there are big clocks everywhere). 

There also are two armchairs and a sofa from Sylvester & Co., pieces of furniture Ms. Wood’s mother had owned, a Louis Vuitton vintage trunk, an Adirondack rocker, and as a witty touch: a large Edie Vonnegut painting that shares a living room wall with imposing, tall, and sliding bookshelves. Ms. Wood also has at least four workstations in the living room, one of which has a desk she has to stand at to use.

Her actual office is large and more industrial, with workstations and file cabinets holding her archive of photographs and clips, and work for ongoing projects. Her newest book documents 25 years of photographs she took in Ireland; it will be published in September. “Hampton Style,” a book filled with 250 photographs she took of houses, gardens, and art studios on the East End, was published by Little, Brown in 1992. Her book “Women: Portraits 1960-2000” was published in January, and reviewed a few weeks ago in The Star.

Areas in the house suitable for entertaining abound and, if she decided to receive while still in her dressing gown, she could easily seat an audience of at least 10 on a long church bench opposite her bed. There are two other bedrooms on the second floor, two downstairs, and four bathrooms. Mr. Richardson designed chests of drawers, now in guest rooms upstairs, and the master bedroom has an armoire from Balasses House.

Ms. Wood graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and loves to draw and paint. The walls and halls of her house are lined with photos of family and friends as well as paintings, which she rotates from time to time depending on who is expected for dinner. Her “good eye” apparently can be attributed to Yale, where she went on to study art and architecture. 

It can be said that she has proved the following Mackall dictum: “To build a good house, you need a good architect, a good client, and a good builder.”

A signature of Louis Mackall’s architecture is the curved beam over the entry.
Seen in her large kitchen, Ms. Wood likes to tell visitors about her British Aga stove. Mr. Mackall designed the cottage-style center table.
A view of the living room is highlighted by a vintage Chinese armoire and a stuffed husky on a large chaise.
Ms. Wood collects hats as well as fine furniture.
Susan Wood’s photographs are archived by name and style.