A Work in Progress

Dan Rizzie does much of the cooking in the new kitchen
Carrara marble counters, above, white subway tiles around large windows, and open shelves define the new kitchen. Below: Dark cabinets in the old kitchen made it feel even smaller. Durell Godfrey Photographs

“We live here now,” said Dan Rizzie of the house on North Haven he shares with his wife, Susan Lazarus-Reimen, and Trixie, their Australian shepherd. “Before, we just kind of existed.” Although they bought the house in 1995, their recent renovation of its kitchen, living room, and dining room has made a difference. 

From the outside, the house is an unremarkable split-level, half of it faced with staggered shake shingles. The living room, dining room, and kitchen are on the main floor, the bedrooms upstairs, and Mr. Rizzie’s studio on a lower level, where a two-car garage used to be. The house was built in the 1960s.

When the couple first saw the property, Ms. Lazarus-Reimen didn’t think it would work for them. “I was horrified,” she said. “I had a house in Sag Harbor at that point and I was like, ‘You’re going to buy this house?’ ” While the property has a view across Gardiner’s Bay, at the time foliage on a neighboring lot obscured the vista. It has since been cleared.

“It was an incredible dump,” Mr. Rizzie said. “All plywood floors, shag carpet, vinyl wallpaper in the kitchen.” Most of what is now the kitchen was a concrete outdoor slab reached by sliding glass doors. “The kitchen was about 12 feet square, and to get into the living room, you had to come out onto the outdoor porch.”

In a photograph of the original kitchen, Mr. Rizzie and Ms. Lazarus-Reimen are practically back-to-back as they work on opposite sides of the room. Green wall and floor cabinets surround them and make the space seem even more confined.

When planning the recent renovation, Ms. Lazarus-Rei­men said, “We did know we wanted to open it up. We just didn’t know in what way.” They hired David Sherwood, a North Haven architect. The vastly expanded space has large windows, white walls, including an entire wall of white subway tiles behind the stove and work area, and vast Carrara marble counters. Ms. Lazarus-Reimen vetoed wall cabinets, preferring large windows and a few open shelves. The alternative is a walk-in pantry adjacent to the kitchen.

“Susan had more to do with the way it looks than I did,” Mr. Rizzie said. An artist, as is his wife, Mr. Rizzie said he does most of the cooking. “We both wanted an open concept, but we fought each other tooth and nail the whole way. And she won every one of those fights.” 

She collected photographs from books and magazines to get ideas, and Randy Lerner, a close friend with a strong design sense, inspired a lot of what they did. A number of fixtures were purchased at the Restoration Hardware outlet in Riverhead.

“Dan wanted a lighter floor,” Ms. Lazarus-Reimen said. “I wanted a dark floor.” 

The living room had old pine flooring, with planks of varying widths, which Mr. Rizzie and a carpenter had installed well before the  renovation. Pine replaced linoleum tile on the kitchen floor and the rooms now  connect seamlessly. Hand-forged nails were used in securing the planks, creating an antique look. And, after the flooring was sanded, Ms. Lazarus-Reimen prevailed. It was painted black.

During the renovation, which took five months, there was no kitchen sink and only a hotplate for cooking. “We ended up going to Il Capuccino a lot,” Ms. Lazarus-Reimen said of the popular Sag Harbor restaurant. “We became regulars. We would sit at the bar because we would be kind of a mess.”

The couple collects art and antique furniture. Many artworks in their house come from friends, who include Eric Fischl, Donald Sultan, David Salle, Cy Twombly, and David Hockney. 

One of the more unusual art objects in the house is a nearly life-size statue of a robed figure who, it has been said, resembles an apostle. Mr. Rizzie saw it in a Sag Harbor antiques shop, where the dealer said the price was “25.” Mr. Rizzie assumed he meant $2,500 and returned the next day planning to negotiate. The dealer, however, explained that he meant $25,000. 

The dealer was a friend who owned some of Mr. Rizzie’s artwork. What happened next, Mr. Rizzie said, was that “he came to my studio and found a painting he liked. He said, ‘How much?’ I said ‘25.’ We made the trade.”

Before the couple met, Ms. Lazarus-Reimen was living in Sag Harbor. She was a good friend of the late Jeff Salaway and Toni Ross, who at the time worked at Jonathan Waxman’s restaurant Jams in New York City. They asked her to help them open Nick and Toni’s, and she stayed on at the East Hampton restaurant for 11 years. 

Mr. Rizzie had come to East Hampton for the first time from Texas with the artist John Alexander to visit Willem de Kooning. He eventually rented a “bachelor pad” above the former cigar store off Main Street in East Hampton.

“Dan would come into the restaurant a lot with Lorne Michaels and John Alexander, and Jeff asked me to take good care of him.” They have been together ever since, finally marrying in 2014.

Renovation is an ongoing project for the couple. Mr. Rizzie’s studio is next on the agenda, to be followed by several exterior projects. The PODS container in the driveway isn’t going anywhere.

Beans and lentils soak under a Randy Lerner artwork.
Dan Rizzie chose a versatile faucet for one of two sinks.
Mr. Rizzie traded a painting for the figure in the living room, found in a Sag Harbor antiques shop.
Susan Lazarus-Reimen, who like her husband is an artist, poses with him near his “Piccolo Fiore,” mixed media on paper.