By Joanne Kaufman, © 2018 New York Times News Service
Amy Hargreaves, who plays Claire Danes’ morally superior older sister on the Showtime series “Homeland,” could, by rights, bring that same moral superiority to the real-life home front.
A child and teen actor, Hargreaves appeared in a string of television commercials, including pitches for Cheerios, Windex, AT&T, Chevrolet and Murphy Oil Soap. And when her parents preached the gospel of frugality and prudence, young Amy listened.
So, it was that by the age of 24, she had the wherewithal to buy a charming little one-bedroom apartment with a fireplace and balcony in a self-managed co-op on E. 78th St.
“Everybody had to be on the board, and I was named the treasurer. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I managed to balance the books. It was hilarious just winging it, New York style,” said Hargreaves, 48, who, as on “Homeland,” ministers to a troubled family member on the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” The second season was released May 18.
If Hargreaves had been able to figure out a way to affix a second bedroom to the apartment, she would likely be there still (and perhaps hanging on as treasurer). But what with marriage, in 1999, to Renaud Selmès, the birth of a son in 2000 and the attendant acquisition of baby detritus, a move was unavoidable. This point was driven home to Hargreaves when she found herself using a dearly beloved orange Ligne Roset sideboard as a changing table.
She sold, more than doubling her money (see what happens when you heed your parents?), and used the proceeds to buy a loft in Spanish Harlem. The space was ample, a good thing because the couple had their second child, a daughter, in 2003.
Alas, size isn’t everything. By 2007, Hargreaves’ son was in school on the Upper East Side and the area around the family’s apartment started to feel less safe.
“There were shootings in the neighbourhood and there was drug activity on our block,” Hargreaves recalled. “It never really bothered me and honestly the drug dealers in the storefront next door were very nice to me and would help me dig out my car, but I didn’t want to be with my kids in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
She remembered a building she had admired in her old neighbourhood but learned after attending an open house or two that the apartments were relatively small. A pair of combinable side-by-side units was the answer to her prayers. “We jumped on it real quick,” Hargreaves said.
High ceilings and mahogany-framed triple-hung windows, it turned out, compensated for a lot.
Settling in has been a process. The family lived in the two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment while renovations commenced on the one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment; these included the addition of a closet and the plumbing necessary for a washer and dryer.
“The day they came and installed the machines and turned on the water and everything worked, I was so happy I actually cried,” Hargreaves recalled, unashamedly hugging the stacked appliances. “To raise a child without a washer in the house, I don’t know how people do it: school uniforms, gym clothes, the kid throwing up from a stomach virus.”
She added: “That’s my Zen moment: doing laundry.”
In the midst of home improvement, which eventually came to include an open kitchen with a salmon-pink accent wall and a custom-made, curved wood-topped island from Olde Good Things, Hargreaves and her husband, the chief technology officer for a financial publisher, amicably divorced, and she bought him out. They share custody of the children, and they share custody of many possessions, including the art and the wedding china that was a gift from her former mother-in-law.
“My ex-husband comes over for Christmas Eve, and we have dinner on his mother’s china,” Hargreaves said. “He’s got some stuff; I’ve got some stuff. If he wants something, he can have it back. I don’t care. We wing it.”
She is similarly relaxed about the décor. It is a mix of pieces that have either practical or sentimental value.
The large rectangular dining table, bought years ago at a Maurice Villency warehouse sale, was admittedly better suited to the loft in Harlem than to the tight quarters on the Upper East Side. But the dimensions of the table make it suitable not just for large gatherings but also for Ping-Pong, a game that is taken very seriously by the family.
The space is illuminated by a pair of Tom Dixon pendant fixtures. “They throw light in a cool way,” Hargreaves said. One is slightly the worse for wear: It has been knocked down and broken by children during vigorous games of Wii.
When Wii — and the world — are too much for Hargreaves, she retreats to her bathroom, where she never fails to admire the coloured glass tiles, the Duravit vanity and the windowed shower.
“I stand in there, and sometimes the sun shines right in,” she said. “And if I close my eyes, it’s like I’m taking an outdoor shower at the house of a friend on Fire Island.
“But the neighbours can’t see me!”
Featured Image: Brad Dickson, The New York Times