Mornings start early for the Schroder family. In their spacious kitchen—which is also known as the Great Day Breakfast Cafe—a menu hangs on the wall, boasting items such as Stay Full Hash Brown Pie and Little Angel Waffles. This is where Ricky and Andrea Schroder and their family of six gather each morning, and Andrea serves as head chef, making meals to order for their four kids; when there's no time for everyone to sit down, an On the Go Smoothie is whipped up.
It's probably not how most celebrity couples manage breakfast, but Andrea, 36, and former child star Ricky, 38, have never been a typical Hollywood pair. After 16 years of marriage, four kids, an unthinkable loss and a devastating accident, they are certain they can withstand anything. "The core of our relationship is our friendship," Andrea says of her bond with her husband (she calls him Rick). "I put this quote up on Rick's desk, and it says, 'A good marriage is more than finding the right person, it's being the right person.'"
But last spring, the family griddle went cold when Andrea, who has taken design and drafting courses, was told she had been selected to appear on Top Design
, the reality competition for interior designers on the Bravo network. "As a mother, you're used to putting everyone else's needs first. This was the first time I just had to walk away and say this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me," says Andrea. Doing the show, in which she joined 12 other designers to compete in Los Angeles (as of last week's episode, she remained in the pack to win the show's $100,000 prize), meant leaving home for five weeks.
Luckily, the couple's kids, sons Holden, 16, and Luke, 15, and daughters Cambrie, 11, and Faith, 7, didn't quite starve. "I fed them pretty good while Andrea was gone," insists Ricky, who got his own start in show business as a child actor in 1979's The Champ
and the '80s TV series Silver Spoons
. "I tried to juggle all the balls, but there's a lot of balls to juggle. We definitely missed her."
Andrea, a Calgary native, met Ricky in 1990 while he was filming a movie in the area. They married two years later and embarked upon their first venture as husband and wife, building a house on a 55,500-acre ranch in Colorado. It ignited a passion within the couple, who began finding, fixing and flipping multimillion-dollar properties in Colorado and Arizona before settling in Los Angeles five years ago. Now the family resides on a 30-acre Topanga, Calif., farm, which includes a five-bedroom, two-story main house, four guest cabins, fruit orchards and hiking trails.
The Schroders' seemingly idyllic home life comes on the heels of several years of family turmoil. In 1998 Ricky replaced Jimmy Smits on the hit drama NYPD Blue
. Midway through his third season on the show, Andrea, then pregnant with the couple's fourth child, miscarried in her sixth month when the placenta separated from the uterine wall. Ricky quickly left the show to be with his family. "That was a really sad time for us," he says softly. "It was so unexpected and out of the blue, and it hit us hard," Andrea agrees. "We named him Seth Michael. Seth means 'perfect in God's eyes.' Even though he went when he did, it doesn't change how important he was. We have a little granite headstone for him here on our property that says, 'Families are forever,' and his name is on it."
Three months later Andrea learned she was pregnant again, this time with their youngest daughter. "That's why she's named Faith," Andrea says of her little girl. "We had to have a lot of faith that everything would be okay this time. We were so humbled by the loss of Seth, but the by-product of pain in a family is hopefully you grow closer."
In the summer of 2007, the family's strength was tested again. Oldest son Holden was riding a dirt bike near the family's home when he collided with a truck. Upon impact, his helmet flew off, and he was then thrown through the air. After hitting the pavement, he slid under the truck, where his skull hit the vehicle's axle.
Ricky and Andrea learned what had happened when Holden's best friend phoned, sobbing. "It was the worst call," Ricky says. "It was like, your son is being airlifted." Recalls Andrea of the ride to the hospital: "Rick was inconsolable in the car. The girls were crying in the backseat." When they got to the hospital, Holden's condition was worse than they thought. "He was bleeding out of his head and his ear," Andrea says. "He was shaking from the shock, and he was in pain. That was the worst for me, seeing my son suffering."
Despite two surgeries and nearly a year of recuperation, including wearing a helmet to help his head heal, Holden completely lost hearing in his right ear. Today, he is a happy and healthy high school junior who spends his time surfing, studying for the SATs and driving his siblings to school. "There is nothing harder that we've been through," says Andrea, admitting that she and Ricky are now "more nervous with our kids. You see how fragile life is."
But the couple realize too that the kids are itching to make their own mark in the world. Holden, Luke and Cambrie all want to follow in Dad's footsteps—with his blessing.
"I've had a very fortunate career and I've loved every moment of it," Ricky says. "Regardless if they have a career or not, just to get some experience and confidence performing in front of people is a good thing."
Even if Andrea is destined for design stardom, or the kids are soon as famous as their father, things aren't likely to change back on the ranch, where the day's highlights include a raucous game of Scrabble. "Our goal is to raise children who are good human beings," Andrea says. "One little fight? No big deal. It's all about the big picture."