Fathers know best
“It just felt right,” says actor NEIL PATRICK HARRIS of the L.A. home he and fiance DAVID BURTKA recently bought. Now it overflows with artwork, magical details, and the laughter of their adorable 2-year-old twins
by David A. Keeps ‘InStyle’ Magazine June 2013
When Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka learned that they were going to be dads - of twins, no less - they added one more item to their getting-ready-for-parenthood shopping list: a kid-friendly house with a bit of magic.
“We had a cool little bachelor pad up in the Hills that was all brick and glass, no yard, and too many stairs,” Harris says of their last home, which they’d done up with retro Mad Men flair. “But with two children running around, we wanted a more practical place,” Burtka adds. “We needed a house that was dapper and diaper,” declares Harris, the ever-clever star of How I Met Your Mother, raising his hand for a well-earned high five.
They found it in a wood-shingled Cape Cod-style house with five bedrooms in the San Fernando Valley, a “family sanctuary,” says Harris, over the hill from the Hollywood scene, where he works. It has a huge backyard for their dogs (Watson, a wheaten terrier mix, and Fred, a Cairn terrier) along with space for a nursery, a playroom, and a guest room for the in-laws, “All the bedrooms are upstairs, which is a good layout,” Harris notes, “We fell in love with it.” Except for one problem: It looked a bit too 1990s.
So when newborns Harper Grace and Gideon Scott arrived on Oct.12, 2010, they were greeted with lullabies - and the cacophony of hammers and saws, “We spend almost a full year in renovations, surrounded by half a dozen workers, which was less than intimate”, Harris says, rolling his eyes, “and very challenging with babies.”
All the sacrifices paid off. In addition to adding a balcony to the central staircase and updating the bathrooms, the couple relandscaped the backyard and gutted and rebuilt the kitchen. Burtka, an actor turned chef, shops at farmers markets and cooks all the kids’ meals. “I went down to the granite yard to pick out the countertops,” says the Michigan native, who owns a catering company, Gourmet M.D., specializing in fresh, healthy ingredients. “We labored over every decision in terms of price, color and style.”
Harris, who grew up in a modest ranch house outside Albuquerque, N.M., kept a sharp eye on practicality. “I didn’t want to spend top dollar on one-of-a-kind pieces since our children might soak them with spills from their sippy cups,” says the Emmy winner and frequent Tony Awards host. “I actually buy stuff without David knowing it at Overstock.com and tell him it came from a much fancier place and cost thousands of dollars - when it was really $179.99 and is made of pleather. But it’s wipe-up-able.”
When the couple started dating, in New York in 2004, Harris had just finished playing his role as the emcee in Cabaret on Broadway, and Burtka was in the revival og Gypsy. Tired of living in sublets, they moved into a Harlem apartment, which they painted in vivid blues and oranges and furnished with family donations, ’60s thrift-shop finds, and shag carpeting. Though they had always enjoyed doing the decorating themselves, the new house in L.A. was such a big project that they hired interior designer Adam Hunter, Burtka’s friend from his days at the University of Michigan. To showcase the couple’s impressive collection of contemporary art and photography, he made the floors dark and painted the walls museum white. The furniture is cozy, not flashy, and includes a sofa covered in easy-to-clean outdoor fabric. “The whole point was to create a family house for the kids,” Hunter says, “but it also has to reflect who Neil and David are. They kept saying Hamptons, but we really didn’t go that way.”
Indeed not. Instead of splashing the rooms with beach beiges and oceanic blues, Hunter went with a more cosmopolitan vibe. He placed a brown leather Chesterfield sofa from Restoration Hardware in the sunken living room across from green side chairs. “It’s masculine,” says Harris, “but comfortable, not formal.”
The relaxed feel of their home is welcoming too. Guests like Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, Elton John, and Glee’s Jane Lynch have all come for one of Burtka’s home-cooked meals. “We like to entertain,” says Burtka. In the backyard, now equipped with a pizza oven, they’ve thrown a circus-themed birthday party for the kids - complete with a tightrope walker and a dog act - and hosted pool parties for 150. “We were flinging pizzas in the air, blending cocktails,” Burtka says. “We even put a stage over the Jacuzzi for shows. This is a fun house.”
That exuberance trickles into their decor schemes, including the twins’ pale blue nursery, decorated with posters that Harris, an acclaimed magician and collector of vintage Disneyland souvenirs, hung on the wall. “We wanted artwork that inspires their imagination and isn’t gender-specific,” he says.
Harris’s own happy place is a study he calls his “magic man cave.” He and Hunter conjured a secluded lair (see sidebar) with a hidden doorway and memorabilia displays, taking design cues from L.A.’s Magic Castle, a private club where magicians often perform and where Harris is a board member. “If I’m not in the kitchen in the middle of the action, I’m upstairs in my magic office,” he says.
Burtka may be the wizard in the kitchen, but Harris has also been hatching plans to make family life even more delicious. “I’ve never been a car or a boat or a watch guy,” he says. “Ever since the first time I went to Disney’s Haunted Mansion, I always imagined having a big house with secret passageways and a labyrinth made of greenery in the garden. I’m working my way up to that.”