As much as Dixie Carter adores the glamorous trappings of her palatial 17-room Beverly Hills house, she loves her not-always-graceful guests even more. Carter, 61, who plays the acid-tongued Randi King on CBS's drama Family Law, remains amused by costar Julie Warner's performance during her debut appearance for dinner last winter: "Julie was gesturing, and smash! a glass broke. Later I gave her another glass, and she was gesturing again, and smash! she broke another. But no matter. I don't care if they match, and I always ask for champagne glasses as a gift."
Not that mismatched glasses could lower the luster of Carter's 300-sq.-ft. dining room, where, along with actor husband Hal Holbrook, 75, the McLemoresville, Tenn., native frequently tosses formal dinner parties for 10 to 12. Here an elaborate chandelier provides soft light, a Lalique crystal vase always displays roses, a portrait of Carter by contemporary artist Ciccone sparks conversations, and a large French tapestry adds an Old World aura. "I love pinks and reds and purples," says Carter, pointing to the thick lavender silk moiré draperies. The red damask cloth that will cover the table through the end of the holidays was custom-made by the tony Pierre Deux shop in Beverly Hills. "I buy everything there," says Carter. If only her guests knew what was underneath the yards of expensive fabric. The dining table is nothing but a piece of plywood on a platform. "This has always been my table," says Carter, who uses it as a base for a changing array of table dressings.
When it comes to entertaining, however, Carter doesn't cut any corners. A housekeeper plus other staff make sure the house is spotless. Full-time chef Juan Castillo, helped by two part-time assistants, prepares all the dinners. One favorite party menu according to Carter is, "Cold soup—because who knows when we'll actually sit and eat, given the long cocktail hour—Cornish game hens with wild rice, asparagus, salad, the best wine, champagne, of course, and something light and lemony for dessert." But it's not just the well-set table that makes Carter a great hostess, says longtime pal (and current castmate) Kathleen Quinlan. It's the way she "makes people feel welcome."
Leeza Gibbons, talk show host
Maybe it's the scent of almond wafting through the air. Or the natural daylight that spills in above the jumbo-size white bathtub. Or the mahogany-and-glass "product cabinet" that offers almost a hundred different ways to feel soothed and refreshed. If Leeza Gibbons isn't careful, her visitors are going to turn so mellow in her new guest bathroom that they'll forget ever to open the door again. "The room is all about rejuvenation," says the host of TV's Extra! "I think that a bathroom, of all places, should be a sanctuary."
These lofty ambitions are reached in a fairly small and narrow space—14' x 7'—in the basement guest quarters of the seven-bedroom Hollywood Hills mansion (Joan Crawford's former digs) that Gibbons, 43, shares with her husband, architect-actor Stephen Meadows, 50, and kids Lexi, 11, Troy, 8, and Nathan, 3. "We mirrored everything. It's all a fake-out so you think you're in a bigger room," Gibbons says. At the center she placed what she calls "every girl's dream"—a hair-washing station and vanity, complete with reclining salon-style chair on wheels. "When my mom comes out with her pals, I love to really pamper them. I have a stylist come over and shampoo them here and do their hair," Gibbons says.
In planning the room, the hostess and her husband had one note of discord—he wanted to transform the tub into a shower, but she resisted. "I said, 'Who needs baths?' And she said, 'I do!' " Meadows recalls. Bathers get easy access to a towel-warmer, some favorite bath salts and a basketful of books. "I always put out a brand-new journal for guests to start that they can take with them," Gibbons says. "I'm really big on journaling—it's the Oprah
in me, I guess!" And what does Gibbons ask in return? "The only charge," she says, "is to please come back."
Larry King, talk show host
"This is the kind of room I never thought I'd have as a kid in Brooklyn," says Larry King, entering the 22' x 24', antiques-accented showcase in the Beverly Hills mansion that he shares with his seventh wife, Shawn. "If my mother saw this, she'd say, 'What is this? This is a museum!' "
Actually a lot of activity goes on under the Kings' roof. With two sons under 2—Chance, 18 months old, and Cannon, 6 months old—there's no other choice. "It's really the babies' house," says the 67-year-old host of CNN's Larry King Live, who also has four grown children and two grandchildren. "We didn't want a lot of glass corners and things breaking," explains Shawn, 41, mother of a 19-year-old son, Danny, from the first of her two previous marriages. "We wanted it to be comfortable so we could have family and friends over to relax."
Shawn likes to put guests like Bob Costas and Marie Osmond at ease with her home cooking (zucchini soup is her specialty), but even when she calls in professionals, she gives the menu a personal touch. "Every time I entertain," she says, "my goal is to have at least one of my recipes on the table—even if a caterer makes it." But since their move to L.A. two years ago (they also own houses in Provo, Utah, and McLean, Va.) and their sons' one-two arrival, the couple haven't had the chance to entertain much. "We should have a housewarming here in L.A. and invite friends for a nice casual dinner," says Larry. When will he be ready? "About 2007."
Dyan Cannon, actress
Since moving to L.A. in the late '60s, Dyan Cannon has lived in eight homes—in the Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Malibu (three houses) and two condos in West L.A., where she now rents a modern, 2,444-sq.-ft. two-bedroom apartment. Says Cannon, 61, who is already plotting her next exit: "I can move on a Friday, and on Monday it will look like I've lived there for years." How does she do it? By keeping plenty of stuff stashed away. "I have five storage places that are just filled with my furniture," says the actress, who has lived alone since 1991, when she split from real estate attorney Stanley Fimberg, 66. In the meantime the dining room/living room/den, where Cannon entertains, boasts an offbeat blend of furnishings—including a French country cupboard, a set of Moroccan stairs that go nowhere, an authentic western wagon wheel made into a dining room table, a grand piano with a microphone, around which guests are encouraged to sing, and a 3-ft.-wide African drum that she turned into a coffee table. "I see things I like, I buy them and don't consider how everything looks together," explains Cannon, who was seen last season as Judge Jennifer "Whipper" Cone on Fox's Ally McBeal. "I trust that everything will work out."
Cannon says that she gave parties "constantly" when her daughter, 34-year-old actress Jennifer Grant (from her 1965-68 marriage to the late Cary Grant), was growing up. A devout Christian, she also had a weekly Bible-study meeting in her home until the crowd grew too large. (It now meets at a CBS studio lot.) But these days Cannon prefers asking four or five people over for "easy food I bring in such as Moroccan or Cantonese," she says. That's in addition to keeping her friends' favorite teas and other goodies on hand—"those extra special touches that show how much she cares," says long-time pal designer Farzaneh Ehterami. "Guests know they can come here, take their shoes off, put their feet up on the sofa," says Cannon. "Mine is not a formal life."
Shawnee Smith, actress
At her previous addresses—a small house across the street from Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson
on Mulholland Drive and a '60s-inspired apartment in Venice Beach—Shawnee Smith was known for her freewheeling parties. "They overflowed with people," says Saverio Guerra, Smith's castmate on the CBS sitcom Becker. And though Smith, 30, has now settled down with husband Jason Reposar, 31, a photographer and graphic artist, in a four-bedroom house in Malibu, she still loves to entertain. Even the arrival of daughter Verve 18 months ago hasn't put a crimp in the couple's social life. They have just adapted their parties to their new status, transforming their 800-sq.-ft. living room into a screening room with an 80-in.-screen TV with VCR, DVD player and stereophonic sound. "We never go to the movies anymore," Smith says, "so the living room had to be comfortable." With tips—and some hands-on help—from Paramount painters and craftsmen (on hiatus from Becker), Smith and Reposar had French doors installed and the room painted "the color of a stormy sky, which is especially neat when you're lying on the floor looking up," she says. It's a room made for sprawling, so when guests come to watch videos, they spread out on floor pillows ("The first time my daughter threw herself out of her crib, I started making pillows," says Smith), an oversize couch and love-seat, or the animal-print ottoman. "We go for the relaxed vibe," says Reposar, who lets baby Verve snuggle on the sofa with Mom and Dad until she falls asleep. "Our parties are like the kind you went to in high school and college."
Deborah Norville, TV anchor
After seven years, three children, countless family dinners and a dozen blowout parties, the dining room in Deborah Norville's 70-year-old rambling country home in a New York City suburb has seen plenty of living. "How else do you think the chairs got to look like this?" she asks, pointing out the stains and threadbare patches on the striped silk upholstery. In September the five-bedroom house was put into semiretirement when Norville, 42, host of the syndicated newsmagazine Inside Edition, along with her investment banker husband, Karl Wellner, 46, and their three children—Niki, 9, Kyle, 5, and Mikaela, 3—relocated to a townhouse in Manhattan. Now, says Norville, the family will use the house as a summer and weekend getaway—and as the site for their biennial St. Lucia Christmas celebration, a tradition harkening back to Wellness Swedish roots. The formal dinner party for 50 friends—next scheduled for 2001—"is not special if you do it every year," says Norville, who serves Swedish glug, Lucia buns, smoked salmon and caviar, brought in by a caterer. The 30' x 30' space, anchored by a mural from the late 1800s, is the perfect backdrop for the festivities. Pale green paneling and leaded French doors and windows are all original. "A lot of people buy a house and then change everything," says Norville's close friend Joan Rivers. "They didn't. You get such a feeling of continuity." The couple did have the ceiling painted and the wood floor sanded and refinished. "When you have kids who throw food, you don't get a rug," Norville says. "It would just get destroyed."
Tia Carrere, actress
Subtract one husband, add one empathetic decorator, and what do you get? In the case of former Wayne's World love interest Tia Carrere, an exotic home and one babelicious party spot. After her eight-year marriage to producer and restaurateur Elie Samaha ended last winter, the star of the syndicated action series Relic Hunter revamped the couple's austere Hollywood Hills bungalow into a tropical paradise totally in tune with her Hawaiian upbringing. "Everywhere you look you're like, 'Wow, that's beautiful,' but it's not off-putting," says Carrere, 33. "It's all about balance, and that's my life right now: finding balance in work and good living."
The three-story porch at the back of the house provides a vantage point to explore these expanded horizons. "When it's clear, you can see the San Bernardino Mountains," says Carrere's interior designer Anthony Pontrello. He decorated the porch, which doubles as a party location, with Buddhas from China and India, a daybed covered in kilim rugs from Morocco and an Indonesian fertility trunk with carvings of men and women.
For Carrere's first solo party—a do-it-herself send-off before heading to Relic Hunter's Canadian location for six months—Pontrello transformed the bottom level into a sultry nightclub with paper lanterns and Chinese birdcages. Carrere is proud that instead of talking shop, her friends were having "real conversations about life, about things that were meaningful." Adds her actress pal Ava Fabian, one of the guests: "It was her new home"—read: new identity—"that she was sharing with us."
Melody Thomas Scott, actress
Melody Thomas Scott is a romantic realist: She knows living in a home with that gracious but lived-in look means dealing with some wear and tear. "I don't believe in hiding beautiful things away in a cabinet," she says. "If they break, they break. We'll buy others." She's now on her second set of china.
Scott, 44, who has played Nikki Newman on CBS's The Young and the Restless for 21 years, and her husband of 15 years, Edward Scott, 56, the show's executive producer, took an equally laissez-faire approach last January when they began renovating the dining room in the six-bedroom Los Angeles house they bought four years ago. "The room was contemporary and cold," says Scott, whose household includes her daughter from a previous marriage, Alexandra, 18 (now away at college), and their daughter Elizabeth, 11. (Edward also has a daughter from a previous marriage, Jennifer, 28.) "We like warm and cozy. We wanted it to be elegant, but not so stuffy that you couldn't touch anything." Close friend Judy Napolitano, a small-business owner, says that the Scotts accomplished their goal: "Even though everything with Melody is very elaborate, it's also very comfortable. You never feel that it's too extravagant; it's very much for family."
Joy Behar, comedian
When Joy Behar decided to do some redecorating in the Upper East Side Manhattan apartment that she has owned for nine years, she opted for a room with The View. "We talked about it on the air," says the cohost of the ABC talk show, "and when it was finished we showed the re-decoration." Six months later, pointing out the "modern coffee table juxtaposed to the more traditional ambience of the room," Behar catches herself. "I'm starting to sound like Elsa Klensch on CNN!" In fact Behar, 58, left the decorating to her good friend and ABC soap star Linda Dano (see page 22), who dabbles in interior design. "The overall look came from her," Dano says, "but she was very trusting." More than trusting, says Behar: "I would just write the checks." It took some persuading for Behar to appreciate all of Dano's choices, like the enormous mirror that reflects views of the East River. "Who knew it would look so fabulous?" Behar says now. Entertaining in the revamped room is a no-brainer for the comedian, who shares the two-bedroom apartment with longtime companion Steve Janowitz, 51, an educator who trains math teachers at a middle school in The Bronx. "She loves having company, but the anxiety builds up," says Janowitz. "I try to make it easy for her. I help set up." While Behar admits, "I'm not a major cook," she makes lasagna "and casseroley things" for guests and serves buffet-style. "Joy likes to put the stuff out, and then you're on your own," says friend and fellow comedian Susie Essman. "You end up stuffed and disgusted because you're eating all day." As alluring as that sounds, Behar knows it's not the generous spreads, the homey vibe or the witty repartee that keeps guests coming back. It's the peach-colored walls. "They make everybody—and I mean everybody—look fabulous," she says. "That's why I always have a lot of company."
Emma Caulfield, actress
If playing demon-turned-mortal Anya on The WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn't work out, Emma Caulfield always has a future in the bed-and-breakfast business. "She's the ultimate hostess," says her sister Samantha Killebrew, 30, a department store manager in San Diego. "It's fantastic to have Emma wait on me. And when my husband, Daniel, and I are visiting, she sleeps in the living room and still has everything prepped for us in the morning."
As if giving up her own bedroom isn't enough (she makes do with a spare mattress on the floor), Caulfield puts herself out in other ways to welcome guests to the ground-floor apartment that she and musician-singer boyfriend Andrew Woodworth rent in a Tudor-style duplex in Hollywood. "I like to do the fresh-flower thing," says Caulfield, 27. "I put tiny bud vases in the bathroom and a nice bouquet in the bedroom—I even get the incense burning before they get here!" Indulging what she calls her "love of antiquity," she decorated the cozy 300-sq.-ft. room—anchored by a brick fireplace—with vintage finds like the queen-size Craftsman-style bed and a 1930s wooden dresser painted with dark flowers. "I wanted it to look like you stepped into another era," she says. "Emma has an appreciation for aesthetics," says her sister. "She's always liked nice things, and that lends itself to her being a good hostess." That and having no objection to sleeping on the floor.
D.L. Hughley, comedian
Try as he might, the real D.L. Hughley can't sustain the grumpiness of his alter ego on the UPN sitcom The Hughleys. Just ask him about the recently completed renovations on the five-bedroom West Hills, Calif., home that he shares with wife LaDonna, 38, and their daughters Ryan, 13, and Tyler, 9, and son Kyle, 11. At first, with characteristic bluster, he complains, "I was concerned about staying under budget!" But then he turns to mush. "This is my favorite piece in the room," he says, pointing to a crystal-framed photo of his family taken in 1996 when he and LaDonna renewed their wedding vows on their tenth anniversary.
"They're really sweet people," says the couple's interior decorator Cherie Bailey, who also counts comedian Jay Leno as a client. "They wanted to keep their house very simple and family-oriented." Family definitely comes first for Hughley, 35, who grew up in South Central L.A., the third of four children of Charles, 64, an airline maintenance worker, and Audrey, 54, a homemaker. Today, says Hughley, "I feel comfortable in just two places: onstage doing stand-up [as was obvious in last summer's Spike Lee film The Original Kings of Comedy] and surrounded by people I love."
Although the 15' x 30' living room is used for formal entertaining, it's filled with personal touches, like a cloth African angel doll, given to LaDonna by a woman who worked on Hughley's show, and the jazz quartet figurines on the mantelpiece, another gift to LaDonna, from her husband. "I wanted it really warm and inviting," says LaDonna, who knows a thing or two about making people feel at home: Every year, the couple hosts Thanksgiving dinner for 50. "I work really hard," says Hughley. "You want to come home and see what it's for. We've made it a home I like living in."
Adam Goldberg, actor
Of the three who relocated from Los Angeles to New York City together last summer—Billy the alley cat, Jack the mixed-breed dog and Adam the actor—the two-legged creature is adjusting the worst. "Mainly because I just miss, like, light, you know?" says Goldberg, 30, who left behind a sunny house with a backyard for a 2,000-sq.-ft. loft in downtown Manhattan to work as Evan Mitchell in FOX's new drama The Street. "When I moved in, it looked like a hallway," says the actor of the rectangular space that is, he notes, "efficient for pacing." Part of that space now features collectible '50s-and '60s-era furniture, part contains unopened boxes, but mostly it's filled with possibilities.
"I'm getting the sense that this place is going to be part of a thriving social period in my life," says Goldberg, who previously played Matthew Perry's disturbed roommate on Friends and Private Mellish in Saving Private Ryan. The actor, who grew up near L.A. with his mom, Donna, a clinical psychologist (she was divorced from his dad, Earl, a wholesale food distributor, when Adam was 6), says that entertaining is easiest when he has a girlfriend. "I'll have 20 to 30 people over then, because I don't have to bear the brunt of all the responsibility." For those parties, says his dad, "Adam provides atmosphere and lots of good music, mostly jazz."
Since his social life is currently—as he puts it—"in flux," Goldberg might have to fly solo. But don't expect him to whip up some amusing hors d'oeuvres. "I so don't cook that I don't know whether the gas is on. My fridge is completely full, but with takeout food from the last two weeks," he says. Cleaning's not a strong point either: "I spent last weekend inside. You know how you can sit on a couch and little things just sort of start to accumulate around you, and before you know it you're buried in them? That's what kinda happened." Ms. Right better come equipped with her own vacuum cleaner.
Perry King, actor
Perry King is the first to admit he's no Martha Stewart. His sprawling three-bedroom house on 40 acres near Auburn, Calif., in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, has been sparsely furnished ever since he and Jamie Elvidge, a journalist, divorced last year after 10 years of marriage. "A lot of stuff left," says King, 52, who portrayed patriarch Richard Williams in NBC's' Titans. Then, too, there are the un-Martha-like heaps of toys belonging to his daughter Hannah, 8, who shuttles between both parents. (King also has a daughter, Louise, 29, a lawyer, from his first marriage.) King's garden-destroying peacocks would probably not be favorites of the Domestic Diva either.
But the actor, who also maintains a home five hours away in L.A. for business and charity work (he devotes much of his time to helping abused and abandoned children via an organization called Olive Crest), does boast one Martha-worthy room: the master bath, which he hands over (along with his bedroom) to overnight guests. It has plush carpeting, an oversized shower and a tub with a panoramic view. "At night you can take a bath when the sun is setting, and you can see the Coast Ranges," says King. "The bath being on a platform adds to the feeling of being on top of the world," says his pal Allison Hill, a public relations executive. Still, the luxury is probably lost on King's most frequent visitors. "Hannah has lots of sleepovers," he says. "I just let the girls take over the house and fix it the next day."
Susan Sullivan, actress
"It's so big—it felt like a bowling alley when I first moved here in 1987," Susan Sullivan says of the 30' x 20' family room in her four-bedroom adobe-style house in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon. "But I took my time and selected things to put in here that I really love." Those things range from an antique Japanese spinning wheel to brightly colored rugs and paintings by local artists. Sullivan, 57, who plays Kitty Montgomery on ABC's Dharma & Greg, shares her home with her favorite local artist and companion of 12 years—terra-cotta sculptor Connell Cowan, 62, better known as a Beverly Hills psychologist and author of the best-selling book Smart Women, Foolish Choices. When the couple entertain—small groups of "family or people who are like family," says Sullivan—it's Cowan who's in charge of the menu. "I'm just the one who lights the candles and walks around making sure everybody is having a nice time," Sullivan says, laughing.
"I like being in the kitchen," Cowan says. "I like chopping things. It's meditative." And Sullivan likes setting the mood. In the winter she lights all four fireplaces and sets candles throughout. "When all the candles are burning," she says, "this house is sexy!"
Carrie Fisher, actress/write
"My mother thinks it's too small," says Carrie Fisher, 44, surveying the 250-sq.-ft. kitchen in her 70-year-old sprawling ranch style house that sits on three acres in Beverly Hills. Fisher's mom. actress Debbie Reynolds, 68, seems to be the only one complaining. It's true that the room hasn't been renovated since 1933, though Fisher did replace the fridge and freezer in the early '90s. But, with vintage tin plates, wooden beams and an antique stained-glass back door, "it's like being in someone's womb," says longtime Fisher pal Annie Gilbar, an Internet entrepreneur. And best of all: The kitchen comes with a cook—two when there's a party. Fisher's five-day-a-week chef of 23 years, Gloria Crayton, teams up with her sister Mary French, Reynolds's cook for decades, to produce the fare for Fisher's many fetes, including the famous bash that Fisher throws with director Penny Marshall each October to celebrate their birthdays. "I think people really come for the food. There's always a big rush, and the most packed area of the house is this kitchen," says Fisher, an in-demand script doctor as well as actress, novelist and single mom to daughter Billie, 8, from a former relationship with CAA agent Bryan Lourd.
Does Fisher herself ever do any cooking? French and Crayton laugh so hard that the maple table where they are sitting shakes. "No, Honey, no!" says French, who hails from Louisiana. Fortunately the two chefs are undaunted by just about anything—even guest lists that can go as high as 500, including Hollywood stalwarts like Warren Beatty, Meg Ryan, Harrison Ford and Meryl Streep. "Everyone in this town who normally doesn't eat can't wait to eat at Carrie's," says Gilbar. "It's always the same menu: Mary's and Gloria's southern-fried chicken, corn, mashed potatoes and yams with marshmallows." Jack Nicholson is a major fan of the homemade coconut-lemon and chocolate cakes. And Barbra Streisand tried to pry out the recipe for fried chicken for her wedding feast. But Fisher demurred. After all, even in such a cozy spot, there's still a place for family secrets.