Lisa Lampanelli's Haven by the Shore
We visit with funnywoman Lisa Lampanelli as she settles into a feel-good waterfront beach house in Fairfield.
Lisa Lampanelli shoots from the hip. And not just when the edgy comedian is onstage, trashing this ethnicity or that, with a mouth any self-respecting mother would hasten to wash out with soap.
No, even in “real life,” Lampanelli is honest and direct. If she wants something, she asks for it. If she wants something done, she does it herself. Which leaves her precious little patience for anyone (or anything) that gets in the way.
To wit: In early May, Lampanelli decided to buy a home on Fairfield Beach. She came to that conclusion in an hour, while taking the Post Road instead of the highway, on her way home to Manhattan after visiting her parents in Trumbull, where she grew up. She meandered through shoreline communities along the way, and finding the Fairfield vibe to her liking, promptly called a real estate agent to set up some appointments.
“The next Sunday was Mother’s Day. I told the agent ‘Look, if you want to make a quick commission, you’ll work on the holiday,’” she says. By the weekend, the agent had scheduled showings for seven beachfront homes, plus one across the street. A frustrated Lampanelli remembers: “I said, ‘What the f--- is this? I said beach houses and I meant it!’ I told her not to waste my time.”
Immediately sold on a narrow but surprisingly roomy, well-constructed 4-to-5 bedroom (depending how you look at it) home, Lampanelli had within weeks laid claim to her own stretch of sand—and the home she says she’s been looking for all her life. By mid-July she was all moved in.
“It’s just like being on the Cape, which I love—but without the drive,” she says. “With every place I’ve ever lived, I go with my gut, but never have I felt this way about a house. It’s like this is the place I always wanted to end up, but didn’t know it. It feels really, really good.”
When she’s not working, the comic looks nothing like the brash blonde she portrays onstage. At the beach she wears sweats, goes without makeup and knots her hair in a ponytail. She’s clearly relaxed in the home she shares with her husband of two years, Jimmy Cannizzaro, and their little dog, Parker.
Lampanelli is successful by any show-business standard. Known as the “Queen of Mean,” she has appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and is a fixture on Comedy Central, late-night talk shows and at celebrity roasts. Currently at work on a Broadway show (fingers crossed, she says, it will open in the spring), she’s well aware that a woman of her means can live anywhere—and she has.
“Since I left Connecticut, I’ve lived in lots of places, both in and out of New York, for 30 years,” she says. “I’m still there. Manhattan, to me, is like a boyfriend who hits you. You go, you come back, you stay—hoping it will get better.”
The first apartment she bought was on Broadway and 80th Street. “It was a wonderful building—warm, with families. A great place, even though I don’t like kids,” she says. Doing what was expected, she hired an interior designer whose work she had seen and admired, but the experience was an unmitigated disaster.
“I didn’t know anything. I went into it completely blind. She had this way of making me feel cheap,” Lampanelli says, scornfully. “Like if I didn’t go along with everything she suggested, it was my fault. So I let a lot of stuff go.” But what she couldn’t forgive was the haughty designer’s installation of two leather cubes with Lucite feet (“Don’t get me wrong; they were so soft, just gorgeous”) that cost $5,000. “I have money, but really? Is that something to spend it on? It was my fault I didn’t say something sooner,” she admits.
When did she start to sense the relationship wasn’t working? “You mean, when did I start hating her?” Lampanelli laughs. On the bright side, the designer stories have given the comedian a wealth of material for her stand-up routine.
A few years later she moved from that apartment to her current place, across from Lincoln Center, because she loves “the energy.” And then there’s the house in Tucson, at Canyon Ranch: “Oh, it is beautiful. Trust me,” she says, “but it’s just not relaxing because there are so many things you feel you have to do when you’re there.”
Here, not so much.
Lampanelli says that it was really serendipity that brought her here, that her move is linked to other monumental changes in her life: her marriage, for one, and the fact that both she and Cannizzaro had weight-loss surgery in the spring. When she was heavier, she says, she played her girth for laughs, but she grew tired of being the brunt of jokes (even when they were her own). “I feel so much better, and I have a more positive outlook than ever,” she says. “I’ve lost 72 pounds, and Jimmy 56—and I just see myself differently. For the first time in my life, I don’t read anything that’s written about me, no reviews, nothing. I’m in a good place.”
And her home brings out the best in her.
“This is funny. I don’t even like the beach,” says Lampanelli. “What I like is the feeling of the beach. There’s just an inherent cheerfulness about it that I love. And Jimmy grew up on Long Island, so he loves the water.
“I know my house won’t win any design awards, but I don’t care,” she says.
Clad in neutral tones with big splashes of sky and water hues, the home’s decor says beach without screaming it over the sound of crashing waves. It’s quite a contrast from her city apartment, which, thanks to friends she describes as her “gay posse,” is “modern but not cold, mostly modular, with lots of color. You need it in the city, because it can very depressing and lonely. My bedroom there is granny-apple green, my study is bright orange, my living room is bright red and silver.”
Her rooms here—and there are many—are furnished without pretense. The secret to her seamlessly outfitted living room with L-shaped sofa, sisal rug, blue-and-white patterned slipcovers on the dining table chairs? “I bought the whole thing out of Pottery Barn,” she says with a big laugh. “I opened up the catalog, saw a room I liked and literally bought everything on both pages.
“I’ll be honest; I didn’t trust myself to do it all alone, but I was not getting a designer. That, I knew.”
An open plan on the first floor takes full advantage of the water view and incorporates a cook-friendly kitchen (one step up), a seating area with TV, and a dining table close to wide windows that overlook a postage stamp yard—and the Sound. The rest of the house is composed of smaller, more intimate spaces—perfect for entertaining, and perfect for a couple that likes to get away from it all.
“I need a lot of alone time, we both do,” says Lampanelli, “so the layout is ideal. We have a lot of rooms, I don’t even know what some of them are for.” At 4,000-plus square feet with four bathrooms, the house is a source of amusement for the couple: “Hilarious, right? Four bathrooms for two people?”
At the other end of the house, toward the back stairs (on the street side) is Cannizzaro’s “man cave,” a spacious room decorated sparingly with Beatles memorabilia, reclining chairs—and the requisite flat-screen TV mounted on the wall (“for watching the game,” says the diehard Mets fan).
The architectural detail that delights Lampanelli the most is the handcrafted wooden staircase that connects all three floors. Not technically a spiral, it’s more of a helix—but the open risers don’t scare Parker, who trots right up, one giant step at a time, lest his owner leave him behind.
The second floor houses the master suite.Dressed in jewellike ocean colors, with a small balcony and water views, it’s the couple’s sanctuary, taking them as far away from the city as any space could.
Behind the master suite is a sitting room with a piano the couple bought from the previous owner, along with some other furniture that was just too hard to move out. “Some of the things we have here are transitional for now,” says Lampanelli.
This space provides a public area for the guest wing—two bedrooms and a shared bath. They love having a place for company; Lampanelli finds that her family, including her siblings and nieces and nephews, visits more often now and that suits her just fine.
It’s a room at the top of the house, under the eaves where it’s sheltered and quiet, that houses Lampanelli’s heart; here you’ll find sofas for thinking and taking in the view, a desk for writing cards and new material—and everywhere, memories.
“When I moved in the city, everything fit perfectly into the new place, so we really didn’t have anything to use here. But what I did have left over was everything I ever saved from my childhood—it was in 80 boxes in storage in Newtown. I had it brought down here and I went through all 80 boxes. I didn’t really throw that much away—just anything having to do with an ex-boyfriend, and anything that got too icky.”
Among her favorite mementos: A collection of Hello Kitty toys, the chair her mother rocked her in, family wedding photos, treasured lunch boxes, Pez dispensers, books she read as a child and teen, Gumby and Pokey figurines, the valises her parents took with them on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls.
“I can honestly say that everything in this house—absolutely everything—has meaning, or a memory for me,” she says.
Thrilled to have someplace to put it all, she adds: “I am someone who drives everywhere—even in the city, I never take cabs. What I love about this place is that I can drive up whenever I want to. And by the time I get to Norwalk, I feel my shoulders loosen, and the tension fades.”
Visit Lisa on her website insultcomic.com.