A Bedford Tale: Starring Chazz Palminteri And Family
Take 1: Pan in on filmmaker, acclaimed screenwriter, oscar-nominated actor and perpetual on-screen thug Chazz Palminteri as he moves on up from the mean streets of da Bronx to the bucolic bliss of beautiful Bedford with his wife, Gianna, and their two young children. Cut to their spectacular (yet comfy) 9,000-square-foot eclectic home. And…action!
By Dana Asher
Photography by Phillip Ennis
The celluloid Chazz Palminteri more often than not is the kind of tough guy you back away from—the dangerous mob boss, the menacing cop. “I guess family life don’t mix in my line of work,” his character, Lieutenant John Pirelli, says in The Perez Family. Maybe that’s why the real Palminteri—this fall day off-screen and off-guard—comes as a bit of a surprise. No dark talk here as the Bronx-born and bred actor, director and writer sits at a table full of actor headshots for a film he’s been shooting in Montreal with fellow Westchesterite Susan Sarandon. This afternoon, the subject of conversation centers around the Yankees.
“I stayed up to watch the end of the game,” says
the fiftysomething Palminteri, in a clear example of while-you-can-take-the-boy-out-of-the-Bronx, you-can’t-take-the-Bronx-out-of-the-boy. “And I had to be in the city by 9:30 this morning for work,” he adds. “Well worth it. That was some game.”
The Yankees’ 11th-inning win for the Pennant is big news for the father of two, who put down roots in Westchester a few years ago. Actually, it’s more than big news: For Palminteri, it’s an exercise in parental instruction. “Sure, Dante’s a fan, too,” he says, referring to his 8-year-old son, who’s tearing around the backyard of the 9,000-square-foot Bedford house Palminteri and his wife of 11 years Gianna 38, call home. “My dad’s a fan, I’m a fan and that’s something Dante and I can share, too.”
Palminteri’s office, which he designed himself, seems a perfect spot for baseball confab. The room has an Old-World sensibility straight out of Ralph Lauren horse country: a neat burgundy carpet, evergreen walls with deep mahogany woods and built-in shelves. This decidedly masculine space gives the only hint that this is the home of an Oscar-nominated actor (for Woody Allen’s 1994 film Bullets Over Broadway) with scores of A-list films to his credit. A large-screen television surrounded by comfortable couches serves as a screening spot—as well as a put-up-your-feet area for must-see TV, when the opportunity to relax arises.
On the shelves, photos of Palminteri with Dante as a tot and cheek-to-cheek with Gianna at a Halloween party share space with photos of buddies Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Film posters—including A Bronx Tale (a film based on a play Palminteri wrote, and starred in with DeNiro); Boss of Bosses (a 1998 made-for-TV film in which Palminteri played Gambino family crime boss Paul Castellano); Bullets Over Broadway; Analyze This (the 1999 comedy starring Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal, in which Palminteri played DeNiro’s mob rival)—line the wall, an archive of his most notable films. Yet Palminteri is almost apologetic.
“I felt funny putting them up, but Gianna said, â€˜This is your office. You have every right to put up your film posters!’”
The Palminteris decided long ago that the tri-state area was the place they wanted to raise a family, which, in addition to Dante, includes daughter Gabriella, who will turn 2 on Christmas. Yet for Chazz and Gianna—an actress formerly known as Gianna Ranaudo (Hurlyburly, Soulmates, A Bronx Tale, World of Travel), producer (Ghetto Dawg) and screenwriter, whom he first eyed in a church in the Hollywood Hills—it was a circuitous route from their native East Coast to Los Angeles and back to New York, to be near family and old friends.
It was the start of Dante’s schooling that prompted them to make the move and settle down in New York for good. The couple had been doing the bicoastal shuffle between a home in Los Angeles, a condo in Manhattan and, eventually, a country farmhouse in Colts Neck, NJ, near Gianna’s parents. In 1998, the Palminteris were about to go to contract on a loft on Murray Street, a stone’s throw from the World Trade Center—that is, until Chazz, check in hand and eyes upward, was overcome by an ominous feeling.
“I told Gianna that I didn’t want to live this close to the Towers,” he remembers. “The terrorists had tried to take it down in 1993. Who knew if they would ever succeed?” They backed out of the deal, and the next day began to look more seriously for a house up in Bedford—where Chazz used to drive with the guys from the Bronx in his younger days. “I used to tell myself,” he confides, “that if I could ever afford a house up here, this is where I’d want to live.”
After looking for a year at homes that were almost right (“I think we checked out every house on the market for about two years,” says Gianna), the couple decided to build, and immediately contracted with builders Larry Toulouse and Fred Wyman, whose craftsmanship they had long admired. Architect Vincent Franze was hired to design the 14-room house.
“I’m a perfectionist,” says Palminteri, who repeatedly was advised that if he wanted a perfect house, he might as well build it himself. “I didn’t know what I was in for! And I don’t know if I could go through that again—it took at least 15 months to build. But I love this house and I love where we live. Bedford reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting—the community, the sense of country. It feels like a throwback to another time.”
That’s a breath of fresh air for the son of a bus driver who went from the tough Bronx to the formidable task of trying to make it in Hollywood. After high school and acting classes, Palminteri headed out to Los Angeles where he worked for more than 10 years as a lounge singer. His first television appearance was on Hill Street Blues and, while he landed a guest shot here and there, it was A Bronx Tale, originally written by him for the stage and performed by him as a one-man show in Los Angeles and New York, that set him on his path to stardom. He subsequently moved the show to New York, where it played for four sold-out months and earned him nominations for the New York Outer Critics Circle for both acting and writing.
While in New York, he completed the screenplay of A Bronx Tale, which became one of the hottest properties in Hollywood. He held out for an offer that would let him star in the film, and soon found himself starring opposite DeNiro, who chose the script for his directorial debut.
Palminteri certainly has earned his bragging rights, whether he feels comfortable using them or not. Gianna has equally earned her own: for building, designing and decorating an elegant yet comfortable home.
“I admire formal houses, but we have children and tons of guests,” she says, crediting friend and interior designer Karolina Hagman of New York City for her guidance in design and from “keeping me away from an all-white house.”
“There’s always something going on,” she says. “There’s always something on the stove and people in the house. Two of us have offices here, and it all has to work.”
What works for the Palminteris is a casual elegance that defies description, even for its owners. “The home’s design started out very American, but now it’s Italian-meets-California-meets-Westchester,” says Gianna.
Against the advice of designers, she used a rough limestone with cobbled edges rather than the more formal honed limestone for her entryway. “I wanted a villa feeling, like you’re on a cloud,” she says, “done in soft ivories, beiges and cafÃ© au lait.” A formal mirror from the Westchester Design Group in Mt. Kisco is softened by a playful needlepoint leopard print that covers a gilded wood chair from Italy. A leopard print runner winds up the curving staircase; an identical print runs down the back staircase.
“I like to have a little bit of animal in each room,” Gianna explains. “It’s my love of Africa.” The influence isn’t hard to spot, from the two-feet tall elephants in the living room (from Interior Accents in Mt. Kisco) to the coordinating fabrics throughout the family room that pick up on a capricious monkey theme. There, little monkeys traipsing through coconut trees cover the chaise and dressed-up minstrel monkeys serve as cushions on the rocker. In the corner, a quirky monkey statue holds a basket filled with soft toy kitties or “gattini,” Italian for cats.
The Italian flair of the home is a tribute to the couple’s shared heritage. “My parents came here from Italy when they were 20, so I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy visiting family. It has definitely influenced my taste,” says Gianna, pointing to her favorite room in the house, the Tuscan kitchen. The room is a family gathering hub where she’s often found elbow-deep in turkey bolognese, tofu lasagna, brown rice risotto or tiramisu (straight from a Roman recipe her mom brought with her from Italy). Top-quality materials fill the room, including golden granite countertops from Jerusalem and porcelain tiles that reminded Gianna of Old French limestone. Cappuccino-colored glazed cabinets and a window-lined back wall of the kitchen keep the room light and inviting.
Gianna is a consummate cook and welcomes company. “We entertain about three times a month,” she says, counting Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos, The Handler), his wife, Nancy, and their kids, who live in nearby Wilton, CT, among frequent dinner guests. Other friends who visit include supermodel Stephanie Seymour and her husband, magazine mogul Peter Brant, who live close by in Greenwich , CT (Brant gives plenty of landscaping advice and presented the couple with a beautiful maple tree as a housewarming gift). Actor Tony Goldwyn and his wife, production designer Jane Musky, of New Canaan, CT, can also be found around the Italian dining room table, which seats 16. Gianna had the dining room’s two buffet pieces—American pieces from the 1930s—refinished after her family passed them along to her.
Like any chef, Gianna is happy to be taken away from the kitchen from time to time. “Our favorite place is the Inn at Pound Ridge. The ambience is great, as is the service.” When it’s dinner for four, the Palminteris can be found at Willy Nick’s in Katonah. “It’s great for kids,” Gianna says.
Across from the dining room is the living room with its warm linens and creams, including twin velvet couches in soft French vanilla and matching silk drapes.
If the dining room and living room exude a level of decorum, the back of the house—with its woods and terra-cotta colors—radiates warmth. In the family room, the animals run wild: the ottoman is done in a leopard print and animal print throws rest on chaises. A stone fireplace reaches the ceiling and bamboo table lamps with verdant leaves—a find from Consider the Cook in Bedford—continue the theme. A shaggy, sand-colored rug does double duty because, as Gianna notes, “it hides the M&Ms.”
“My kids come into my office and know they can plop down on my yellow chaise or hide behind my silk curtains,“ says Gianna. “I like to be surrounded by furnishings I enjoy, but not at the expense of my kids. This is not a show-house. It’s a place to live, where we live.”
New Rochelle resident Dana Asher is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes on home and decorating issues.