The consummate hostess welcomes us into her world, in which family, friends, and a coop full of chickens play the starring roles
"There are a lot of old feelings in this house," says Tiffani Thiessen when we visit her Los Angeles residence, a 1920s compound on just under an acre that was originally home to Jack Warner, founder of Warner Bros. Studios. Her aquamarine eyes widen for emphasis. "We've been here 11 years, and it's calmed down a lot. But you know, there'll be voices, stuff turning on out of the blue—that sort of thing," she says, decidedly nonplussed. "For some reason, it's not scary. I mean, can you imagine the old Hollywood parties and the people who've come through here?" (Lonny.com)
We've just met her, of course, but this statement seems like quintessential Thiessen: the pregnant actress—best known for her roles in such '90s TV classics as Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210—has already offered up gourmet tea sandwiches and watermelon wedges and invited us on a tour of her chicken coop. What's more, her new Cooking Channel series, Dinner at Tiffani's, features her real-life celebrity friends (Jason Priestley among them) coming over to drink, dine, and chat in unscripted real time. While others might view lingering spirits as a deal breaker, Thiessen takes a gracious-hostess approach.
The 41-year-old burgeoning lifestyle personality, who grew up down the coast in Long Beach, discovered the three-story property in 2004 while engaged to her now-husband, actor Brady Smith. "We were set up on a blind date in 2003," says Thiessen, who recalls a friend's initial description of him as "a diamond in the rough." Clearly, she's adept at spotting potential: despite the outdated decor ("lots of mirrors and gold and faux-painted wood"), she and Smith felt a connection to the house, and soon after their purchase set about revamping the interiors room by room.
Given her predisposition toward the culinary arts, the kitchen shot to the top of Thiessen's list of priorities. She was also pregnant at the time with Harper, the couple's almost-five-year-old daughter. "There are windows above the sink, and that was a big selling point for me; I envisioned being in the kitchen and watching our kids out in the yard," she says. The space was transformed with walnut floors, a double refrigerator, Silestone countertops, and custom cabinetry painted white. The couple built an entire wall around a vintage "Smith" sign they uncovered at L.A. haunt Big Daddy's Antiques, surrounding it with Thiessen's collection of cookbooks, whose authors range from Donna Hay and Gwyneth Paltrow to Curtis Stone and Bobby Flay.
"Cooking has been a love of mine since I was little. I come from a family in which all the women were great at it, so it's something that's been there since the beginning," says Thiessen. "But it was also enhanced by the traveling I did at such a young age with Saved by the Bell. The show aired in 140-odd countries, so we were going to Europe and South America to sign autographs, and I was learning about all these different cuisines—just falling in love."
Lessons from this home tour
"Tiffani has great taste," says designer Kim Lewis, who collaborated with Thiessen on several of the house's most visually striking spaces. Formerly a production designer for reality shows such as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Lewis shares her take on creating the right room for your audience.
Create a concept
"A throwback desert vibe" inspired Thiessen and Smith's master bath, with its hanging air plants and bamboo ladder. "You can have a theme without going over the top," says Lewis.
In response to Thiessen's "clean, sophisticated approach" to design, the couple's shower features circular Ann Sacks wall tile. Says Lewis, "I wanted the bathroom to feel more like a room unto itself."
"Harper loves pink," says Lewis fondly of the design brief for Thiessen's daughter's room. Still, Lewis resisted the urge to go all out, balancing the pops of fuchsia with bright-yellow accents.
Embrace the familiar
In Harper's room, the Luster Shag rug by Momeni was actually a holdover from her nursery. "When kids are transitioning into a new space, it's a good idea to have something that they're used to," says Lewis. "Textiles are a great example."
Although the kitchen is predominately gray, black, and white ("I like food to be the color," says Thiessen), a wider spectrum extends throughout the rest of the home, thanks to a plethora of accents. Smith is also a painter, and his attraction to bold hues, translated through a Picasso-goes-Aztec aesthetic (he is originally from Texas), has influenced his wife's former neutrals-heavy design sensibility. "It's also Harper," Thiessen adds. "She's a kid, so of course she loves bright colors and paint, and I think that's changed my whole feeling of making a home. Like, let's not be so plain-Jane; let's make it fun and playful."
Interior designer Kim Lewis collaborated with the couple on Harper's bedroom (as well as several other spaces, including the master bath and Thiessen's enviable walk-in closet). With its built-in window seats and sloped ceiling, the room is, in Lewis's words, "a little girl's dream space." The decorative accessories she and Thiessen chose—kaleidoscopic Eskayel wallpaper, Serena & Lily bedding, and a Serena & Lily Seychelles chandelier—underscore the dollhouse-like vibe. Plans for the forthcoming baby boy's nursery are well under way, complete with a "Star Wars-meets-midcentury" theme, and a palette of gray, white, and cobalt blue.
"Harper's bedroom used to be Brady's art studio. It's perfect for her — it feels almost dollhouse like." — Tiffani Thiessen
The heart of the house is the media room, designed by Arizona-based Kristin Alber, where the family snuggles up on a deep custom sofa bed by Moss Studio to watch films on a pull-down movie screen. "All the shades in the room come down, so it gets really dark in here and turns into a theater," says Thiessen. The home's original brick frames the fireplace, which she painted white and finished with an abstract black-and-white canvas by her husband—one she personally art-directed. "What's funny is that's not his style at all," she says. "I tell him what I want, and he does his version." Smith's nature-loving roots shine through in primal statements such as a pair of shark jaws displayed in the adjacent sunroom. The couple also seek out pieces by Texan vendors, including throw pillows sourced from Austin-based Square Feathers.
Thiessen's most personal pride and joy is her master bath, a light-drenched retreat designed by Lewis with a modern farmhouse sensibility: seamless Ann Sacks tile, an open double shower, a freestanding tub underneath hanging terrariums, and an ingeniously engineered vanity mirror that slides on a track, revealing a view of the outdoors when not in use. True to form, every need is anticipated, down to a coffee maker and a wine refrigerator—for when the mood for a glass of bubbly might strike. "I'm not doing much drinking now," she concedes. In this house, however, opportunities for celebration are just around the corner.
"I read six books on keeping chickens. These galls are like little pets." — Brady Smith