This article originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of ELLE DECOR. For more stories from our archive, subscribe to ELLE DECOR All Access.
Never again!” vows Sandra Lee. As she recounts the two-year renovation of her home in Westchester County, New York, the Food Network star still sounds uncharacteristically daunted. “It was so much work and so overwhelming,” she says. With four weekly cooking shows, 25 cookbooks, and recently launched lines of housewares at Kmart and Sears under her belt, Lee would seem the least likely person to be cowed by choosing paint colors, fabrics, and furnishings. “I don’t like to settle,” she explains. “I have to do it right. That’s how I’m wired.”
Lee claims that her circuitry keeps her hyperorganized, a trait she credits for her outsize professional success—and her ability to take on a home renovation while growing her ever-expanding brand. But her desire to put down roots for herself and New York state governor Andrew Cuomo and his three teenage daughters (as well as Phoenix, the family’s exuberant cockatoo) was strictly a matter of the heart. “I wanted a place where we could all be together, where the girls felt completely comfortable,” she says.
After looking at dozens of houses, Lee couldn’t get the “one with the pond” off her mind. It wasn’t even for sale, but that didn’t stop her from slowing down the car every time she drove past it. “It is the quintessential American house,” she says, “and it just seemed to have a wonderful energy.” Her unwillingness to settle paid off. The 1950s Colonial went on the market in early 2009, just as her spirits began to flag, and despite the decidedly aggressive ’70s interior, she snapped it up. The robin’s-egg blue bunny wallpaper didn’t scare her, nor did the peach-and-black living room. “The house had defined rooms and pretty fireplaces, which I love, but I was even more attracted to the fact that it was ideal for all of us. I envisioned lots of spaces for the girls to plop down with friends or do homework, and a room where all of us could eat together,” she says.
Lee transformed Lily Pond, as she calls the property, into such a place. She began by erasing most of the decades-old vibe with a fresh palette—from eggplant, parchment, dark chocolate, and snow-white downstairs, to ocean-blue, soft white, and bright red on the second floor. An admitted fabric fanatic, she furnished each room with upholstered sofas, chairs, sectionals, banquettes, and settees, to indulge whatever version of lounging was called for. Lee even expanded existing window seats and added others, sizing them deep enough to allow for sprawling out with the newspaper.
“We are homebodies at heart,” she says. “We spend a lot of our time here watching television in front of the fireplace.” That is, when she’s not entertaining in the Founding Fathers Room, as Lee has affectionately dubbed the dining room. “It’s the only one in the house that Andrew had specific ideas about,” she says. The reclaimed-wood banquet table, which stretches the length of the space, is presided over by antique prints and letters by key signers of the Declaration of Independence. “I threw Lincoln in because I love him,” Lee adds.
If the dining room is Cuomo’s, the living room is very clearly Lee’s. “I am happiest in here,” she says of the light-filled space that incorporates her office. “It took me three full days to organize my work area. It was a labor of love.”
With its creamy white palette punctuated by the glow of sparkling geodes and brass frames, the room exudes the calm and magic of a snow globe. A pair of plush occasional chairs sits in front of the picture window, where she and Cuomo share morning coffee and a view of the pond. “The property is all about the animals who live here,” says Lee.
“We have raccoons, geese, deer, a family of otters—and a muskrat, who has a winter nest under the house, a spring and fall condo on the island, and a summer home near the waterfall,” she jokes. Though the resident wildlife nibble on her azaleas, roses, and apples, Lee can’t imagine the place without them. In fact, when she looks back on the chaotic renovation days, she points to a favorite phrase, which hangs framed in the mudroom, as the secret to her success at home and work: “Work hard and be nice to people.” That includes animals too.
This story originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of ELLE DECOR.