“The Color Purple” house — that’s how the actor LaChanze refers to her five-bedroom home in lower Westchester County, N.Y. This has nothing to do with the exterior (it’s gray) or the interior (plum, lavender, lilac, fuchsia, mulberry and violet are underrepresented).
But it has everything to do with LaChanze’s Tony-winning performance in the 2005 musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s celebrated novel. “Being in ‘The Color Purple’ was how I was able to buy the house,” said LaChanze, who is currently starring in the limited-run Broadway production — through Jan. 9 — of Alice Childress’s 1955 comedy-drama “Trouble in Mind.”
Her other Broadway credits include “Once on This Island” (1990),“If/Then” (2014) and “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” (2018). She won an Emmy in 2010 for the PBS special “Handel’s Messiah Rocks: A Joyful Noise.”
Sixteen years ago, after considering various housing possibilities, LaChanze settled on the suburbs, because she wanted her children, Celia Rose Gooding, now 21, an actor, and Zaya LaChanze Gooding, 20, a college student, to have firsthand knowledge of lawns and trees. For herself, she wanted relatively new construction.
“I knew I’d be living alone,” said LaChanze, 60, whose husband of three years, Calvin Gooding, a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. “I knew I didn’t know how do repairs. It narrowed my options, because many of the properties in Westchester are much older.”
“My mother always stressed that when you walk in the front door you should leave behind everything from the world outside,” said LaChanze. “I’ve incorporated that feeling into our living space.”Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Great performance: “People love to watch me make fried chicken on Instagram. My mother used to say, ‘If you can’t make a meal in under 30 minutes, then you’re not a good cook.’”
“I was lucky,” she continued. “I found a house that was built in 2000. I’m the second owner.”
She was, perhaps, even luckier in what surrounded the house: abundant greenery and a yard that was hard by both a park and the Bronx River.
“People can’t cross over, so it’s like my own piece of the water,” LaChanze said. “It’s quiet and scenic. That’s pretty much what sold me.”
She has since added a firepit and affixed a set of wind chimes to a birch tree near the deck. They ring in the key of A. “I love that,” she said. “A lot of Negro spirituals are written in that key. You hear that chord? It’s just beautiful.”
Unlike those chimes, the house needed some fine-tuning. It had style, for sure; it just wasn’t LaChanze’s particular style.
“There were gold-plated fixtures and I was, like, ‘Nooooo,’” she said. Out they went, replaced by nickel.
Down came the columns between the den and the kitchen to create an expansive space, and bookcases were built on either side of the fireplace. (One of the shelves holds a steel remnant from the twin towers.) Marble countertops, a marble floor, a glass-tile backsplash in shades of brown and copper, and a few coats of butter-yellow paint were part of the kitchen overhaul.
“I kind of went to work in here a little bit,” LaChanze said with a laugh. “All my friends and fans who follow me on Instagram know what my kitchen looks like.”
You can easily tell that this is the residence of someone who works in the arts. The framed awards and piles of scripts in the office, the area set up for recording sessions, the show posters on the wall in the basement gym, all make the point.
“I recently did Spike Lee’s documentary on HBO,” LaChanze said, referring to “NYC Epicenters 9/11→2021 ½”. “He gave me a copy of the poster for the show and signed it for me.”
It’s equally clear that this is the home of someone who cares about art. “I’m a little bit of a collector,” LaChanze said. “I call my foyer my international space, because I travel quite a bit and I have a bunch of art from a lot of different places” — a door from Nigeria, a drawing etched on the bark of a tree from Tonga, dung art from Rwanda.
The foyer also holds a thriving fiddle-leaf fig, one of two that LaChanze, an enthusiastic gardener, bought this summer at Costco — for the bargain price of $69 each, she is proud to tell you — and has been tending ever since, first out on the deck, now by the stairs that lead to the second floor.
“I just love it to death. Look how big it is,” she said, sounding like a very proud mother.
And there, in a nutshell, you have the primary business that’s conducted at LaChanze’s house: nurturing.
Here is where the actor’s large, far-flung family gathers twice a year for reunions, and where falling asleep on the custom-designed, brown crushed-velvet sectional in the den is encouraged. Here, too, is where a group of card-playing cronies comes every month for an evening of bid whist.
“It’s something that’s big in my culture,” LaChanze said. “When I was young, my parents were playing with their friends, but then someone had to leave. They came and got me and taught me the game, so they could keep going, because you need four people.”
Her affection for the game and its key component has stuck: She has amassed 100 decks of very elegant cards.
“OK, so one night I was going down the internet rabbit hole, and I discovered this group of people in a card-collection club,” LaChanze said. “I joined, and every few months I get sent a new deck by a new designer. There are a lot of, I would say, biker dudes and magicians in the club, and it’s really a lot of fun to talk to these guys across the country about what we love about our cards.”
Near where LaChanze sets up the card table in the basement is a sofa upholstered in green velvet. “This is the first sofa my husband and I bought together,” she said, gently patting a cushion. “We were at Bloomingdale’s, and I was telling him that I’d love a good deep couch that we could spoon on and not feel uncomfortable. We both fit on this.”
She added: “I’ve kept it so that my girls can have a little piece of their daddy in here.”
When LaChanze comes home from the theater, she greets her three cats and then heads out to the deck, often with a glass of wine in hand, and listens to the wind chimes, or takes a walk down to the water or to the firepit.
“I love my home,” she said simply. “My friends are telling me, ‘Well, LaChanze, you’re getting older. Your daughters are gone all the time. Why do you want to live in this big place alone?’”
Alone? That’s not how she views it.
She has her slice of the river. She has the stars. She has what she calls the heart-of-the-house light, a lamp in the dining room that is never switched off. She falls asleep every night to the lullaby of the Metro-North train whistle.
“I love hearing that sound,” LaChanze said. “Because it reminds me I’m not by myself.”
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