Christine Ebersole’s journey from an impeccably renovated midcentury house in the San Fernando Valley to a tatterdemalion side-hall colonial in Maplewood, N.J., involved one husband, three children and seven pets. But it began with an agent who suddenly stopped dialing for dollars on his client’s behalf in the late 1990s.
“I was in my mid-40s, and was basically told that it was over for me,” said Ms. Ebersole, 68, a two-time Tony Award winner (for the musicals “42nd Street” and “Grey Gardens”) and a star of the CBS comedy “Bob Hearts Abishola,” now in its third season. “I didn’t believe it, thankfully. I have this God-given talent, and I’ve been a good steward of it. The things I couldn’t control were my body and my face, and gravity taking hold — that kind of thing — but my talent hadn’t changed.”
“They say the older actors get, the farther east they move, so I figured the East Coast was where I needed to go,” continued Ms. Ebersole, who has a small but eye-catching role in the recently released movie “Licorice Pizza,” and whose new collection of standards, “After the Ball,” is due out in February. “We’ll all end up in China.”
Christine Ebersole, 68
Occupation: Actor and singer
No way out: “I came back to Los Angeles to show my husband pictures of the house we had just bought, and he looked at them and was like, ‘Well, I guess now it’s too late.’”
In 1999, Ms. Ebersole was visiting New York, where she had lived for a dozen years in her 20s and early 30s — first as a student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then as a Broadway stalwart — and someone asked if she had considered Maplewood.
Well, no, Ms. Ebersole hadn’t considered it, because, as she had already explained to her husband, Bill Moloney, a former musical director for television, she didn’t want to be “one of those bridge-and-tunnel people.”
But with the family finances somewhat straitened, and New York apartment prices stratospheric, Ms. Ebersole reconsidered her stance and made an appointment with a broker who showed her five properties in a single day. The last one was the colonial, built in the late 1920s. “It was kind of a wreck, but when I walked in the front door felt I was home,” she recalled. “It’s hard to explain but it reminded me of Winnetka, where I grew up.”
It wasn’t that she was aglow about the rabbit-warren kitchen (“My hat’s off to the people who lived here before us and raised five children with that kitchen; you had to walk sideways to get into the breakfast nook”), or about the dubious design decisions made by the previous owners, like outlining the air-conditioning unit with red paint, paving over the wood floors with linoleum, and covering a wall of the living room with faux wood paneling, which involved sawing off the fireplace mantel. But really, there was no flaw that couldn’t be remedied.
And in the meantime, there was no flaw that couldn’t be obscured. “The bones were there,” Ms. Ebersole said.
Early furnishings, including a mirror, rugs and chairs, came courtesy of her good friend Rosie O’Donnell, who lived in Nyack, N.Y., and called her one day. “She was like, ‘Christie, I’m moving. Come over to the house and bring a truck,’” she recalled.
Bit by bit, role by role, paycheck by paycheck, the house was rehabilitated. A new mantel was installed. The claw-foot tub that had mysteriously gone missing from the third-floor bathroom was replaced. Bookcases were built in the den. The gloomy basement became a finished basement with a bathroom and the best shower in the house. It’s also the repository for memorabilia like the tiara that Ms. Ebersole wore during her reign as Guenevere opposite Richard Burton in the 1980 Broadway revival of “Camelot.”
“I loved him so much,” she said of Mr. Burton. “I think I was able to get along with people who could be very intimidating because my father was a very strong figure. I learned from the best.”
The very handy Mr. Moloney built the treehouse in the backyard and did some of the finish work on “the lodge,” the wood-paneled three-season room that was constructed off the kitchen. The kitchen itself was opened up and reconstituted around a star appliance: a 1949 O’Keefe & Merritt range from the Los Angeles shop Antique Stove Heaven.
“Bill and I love that era when you just had to turn a dial and the stove was on — the simplicity of it, and when stuff was made to last,” said Ms. Ebersole, who, in general, has a keen appreciation for things that were made to last, an attitude she inherited from her parents. “They didn’t need a lot of adornment. For them, it was all about quality and what was useful.”
The dormer on the third floor, originally a bedroom for Ms. Ebersole’s mother, who was in residence for 10 years, is now Ms. Ebersole’s dressing room. “It’s such a great space of serenity for me,” she said.
The Hirschfeld caricature, the many framed awards that hang on the so-called “wall of idolatry” and the folding screen covered with prints of vintage magazine ads for Elizabeth Arden — Ms. Ebersole played the skin-care titan in the 2017 Broadway musical “War Paint” — may seem like the main attractions. But she seems most fond of the simple wood desk that was a gift from her parents on her 10th birthday and a pint-size rocking chair, also from her childhood.
The senior Ebersoles would surely appreciate their daughter’s embrace of secondhand furnishings and accessories. Along with the haul from Ms. O’Donnell, there is a bureau from friends in Los Angeles who were moving back to their native Austria; a spinet from a Maplewood neighbor and fellow actor, Eddie Korbich; a latticed wood-and-glass cabinet that Ms. Ebersole scavenged during a biannual local event known as “Junk Day”; and a trunk that she rescued from a curb on upper Broadway.
Some of the hand-me-down items have quite the impressive provenance. A bouquet of silk flowers, a silver tray, a pedestal side table, a piano stool, a pair of botanical prints in oval frames and four dining chairs that were part of the set of the 2009 Broadway revival of “Blithe Spirit” are now part of the set chez Ebersole.
“I guess they made back their money, because the producer told me I could take whatever I wanted, so I just took everything. It was like, ‘Batten the hatches — Ebersole is coming,’” said Ms. Ebersole, who had previously liberated a couple of chairs from the set of the 2002 Broadway revival of “Dinner at Eight.”
“I have those, and I have the ones from Rosie O’Donnell, and they became our dining room set,” continued Ms. Ebersole, who upholstered them in a black-and-cream-striped fabric to achieve a unified look.
Maplewood was a great place for her children to grow up, she said. They could walk to school and pop out the back door to find playmates. It’s also been a place for Ms. Ebersole to do some growing up of her own. “In L.A., I had a different perspective,” she said. “The kind of appliances you had was a measurement of your success. We had the Viking stove, the Viking refrigerator. The pool was next, but we ran out of money.”
In a way, she added, the family had to start over with the move east into less dazzlingly appointed quarters. Nothing wrong with that. “This house feels — I don’t want to say permanent, because nothing is permanent,” Ms. Ebersole said. “Let’s just say there’s a strong likelihood that we’ll go out of here feet first.”
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