When it comes to the idea of home, there are countless platitudes that we hear over and over again: "Home is where the heart is," "Home is what you make it," "Home is wherever I'm with you."
But the last two years have made it more clear than ever that only one thing is really true: Home is more important than any of us can explain in such universal terms.
That's why there's something so special about walking into a home designed with intention. A home that feels innately personal. A home that's like an extension of the people who designed it but also a destination for friends and family in need of a peaceful place to unwind.
Stepping foot into the beautiful, nature-surrounded cottage that Sue Makkoo has spent years not only renovating and designing, but truly perfecting, makes that abundantly clear. Makkoo, a costume designer with a preternatural talent for interiors as well, and partner of our cover star, Ariana DeBose, transformed this decades-old cottage into an ideal respite from the chaos of New York City.
Read on to learn more about the design mindset that went into the space.
MyDomaine: Can you tell us a little bit about your design vision for this home?
Sue Makkoo: Well this house is a bit of a Diva. She wants what she wants and lets you know when you are wrong. It is a series of L shapes so it is tricky. My vision has always been to create a magical little spot in the woods. Miss Honey’s cottage so to speak. That is if Miss Honey was a little bit rock and roll.
MD: Do you know anything about the history of the home? And did that come into play during the design process?
SM: The home was listed as being built in 1955 but when I renovated the home I found fashion newspapers in the walls from 1934. It was a great surprise and a sign that this costume designer had purchased the right home!
MD: What was your personal goal or directive for the space?
SM: Light. A large part of the goal was to bring light to the center of the home so the dining room felt more open and inviting. That meant creating one large room out of two and adding some pocket doors to allow even more light in. I expanded the opening to the kitchen so light from the windows over the creek could flood the space and keep it feeling as open as possible. I also changed the front door to something with more windows and much more style. Now this 950 foot square foot cottage lives like a loft.
My vision has always been to create a magical little spot in the woods. Miss Honey’s cottage so to speak. That is if Miss Honey was a little bit rock and roll.
MD: Did you make any renovations, and if so, what did you hope to achieve through those renovations?
SM: The entire home was gutted. The trick was to stick to a very tight budget. I did not move any plumbing or walls that were structural and that made me be more creative with what I had and stay true to the footprint of the original home. The real excitement is in the basement. We installed radiant floors and some really fancy water filtration systems, along with double sump pumps that let me know when the creek has risen and is now in my basement….a hazard of living so close to water. All this is so sexy I know, but things like those drove the need to renovate and dictated how much was left for the pretty things upstairs.
MD: How would you describe your design style or design philosophy?
SM: I believe in both fashion and homes that you honor the body and space. I want a space to breathe. I want a space to feel light and emotionally free. Like it is living to the potential of everything it can be. I believe that you can create that with space. I look for that possibility first and then listen to what she wants to be. Do not try and make a home what it is not. This is a tiny old cottage in the woods down janky lane. Let it be a bit broken or patched. It makes more sense than overrenovating. If it was perfect it would lose its charm.
In another case, a client asked me to create a space for healing. I was given a word and a color. I guess I try and engage with where both the person and place are emotionally and bring them what they need to truly live joyfully.
MD: Did you have any existing pieces of furniture or decor that you brought into the space?
SM: I did bring some pieces but have passed them on as my own style has evolved. A beautiful hutch from my Grandmother has now been passed to my daughter, her namesake. It felt right. The pieces I have now have been collected largely from antiques shops, thrift stores and other local artisans. We are lucky this area has so many talented artists and I love supporting them!
MD: Where do you look for decorating inspiration?
SM: Les Ensembliers are my greatest inspiration. I love how whimsical the work is. I like their mission statement. I think I study everything they do and ask myself the why of it. My second great inspiration is nature. It provides the best texture and color. That is why I enjoy living in an area with four seasons. I am constantly excited about what is coming and how to integrate that into my home.
MD: What’s the best piece of decorating wisdom you’ve ever heard?
SM: Surround yourself with what you love and it will find its way.
MD: How did you decide on the color scheme?
SM: This house has very low ceilings and the best way to make it feel larger was to paint it all out in white. The trims and mouldings match the wall and it really does make it seem bigger and brighter. The pallet had to be very controlled because you can see into each room from the next so they had to be in conversation with one another. I love purple and green and blues and it feels a bit like sunshine after a rainstorm.
MD: What was the biggest challenge of this project?
SM: I am going to be very honest here and tell you it was the second job I took in town at a cafe. I always say the egg salad tasted so good there because I salted it with my tears. Much of the renovation was a surprise to me and I had to take on more work to pay for it. Actually it taught me to honor the ingredients I cook with. To take a moment and realize where things come from and cook with intention and love. That has found its way into all of my design work.
MD: What are your favorite pieces in the home?
SM: The bed in the back bedroom is from 1890 and I love sleeping in it. It is high and so comfortable. A great place to watch fireflies out the window and listen to the creek run in the backyard. I have a few framed sentimental pieces that I always keep front and center. They remind me of who I am.
MD: What’s your favorite thing about the space?
SM: I love standing in the kitchen window with a cup of coffee in the morning staring out at the creek. It is then that I know things will be OK, that there is a world bigger than me, with wisdom greater than mine out there. Then a heron will fly by or deer will stop for a drink and I know the day is off to a great start.
MD: What was the first thing you bought for the house?
SM: I bought the dining room table. I made them renovate around it. Inviting people over to dinner around a well set table is my favorite thing. It is an opportunity to make someone else feel special.
MD: What do you hope people feel when they walk into the house?
SM: I hope they feel welcome. I hope they feel safe.
MD: What do you hope this house says about you and your design style?
SM: That’s a good question. I am not afraid to mix styles and find a way to make them all tell the same story. Your history should be layered in with all the design elements. That becomes somehow like the warp and weft of the fabric that makes a beautiful home. Sometimes I don’t want you to notice the design but feel something unexpected. Come for the peace and stay a while. Stay a long while. That is what I hope you experience here.
MD: Do you have a favorite room in the house?
SM: The kitchen! The kitchen is my food lab, my place for candle light and reading or entertainment and lots of laughter.