Sage Steele grew up in a military family, moving from place to place so often that she can matter-of-factly say “I’m not from anywhere.” Steele was born in the Panama Canal Zone, then an unincorporated territory of the U.S. and now part of Panama, and lived in four different countries by the time she was 11. The downsides and difficulties that accompany that lifestyle for children are innumerable — from making and keeping friends to getting comfortable in school and, frankly, just feeling like you’re from somewhere.
But Steele’s mother was determined to provide stability for her family, especially for her children. While it may be a cliché, few people understand the difference between a house and a home like those who know that packing up everything you own and moving far away is a possibility that’s always right around the corner. “There’s a really big difference,” Steele says. “My mom taught me that. Even when they knew they were going to live in a place for 10 months, or a year, she still painted and wallpapered and decorated and made each house a home, because that’s where you escape from a tough day of school if you’re a kid.”
It’s a lesson that has served Steele well. When you choose to pursue a career in television broadcasting, and have lofty ambitions, moving to bigger and better markets is going to be part of the job. And if you reach the pinnacle of sports TV broadcasting and become an ESPN SportsCenter anchor, chances are you’re going to be looking at real estate in Connecticut.
Steele joined ESPN in 2007, living in Collinsville before moving to Arizona when she took over as host of NBA Countdown. She returned to the state in August 2017 for her second tour of duty in Bristol, originally hosting three live one-hour episodes of SportsCenter from 7-10 a.m. Monday through Thursday. (Steele moved to the nightly 6 p.m. SportsCenter alongside Kevin Negandhi on May 14.) Finding the right house can be tough for anyone, but doing it while living 3,000 miles away? The logistics are staggering.
“To fly cross country to come look at homes was difficult,” Steele says. One potential new home was in her sights early last summer, but it didn’t work out. “We needed to be here in the middle of August. We didn’t have a house. And just for the sake of your children, and trying to ease the stress and fears of moving, cross country again, to not be able to say we have a home was a big deal to them.” Steele says she would fly to Connecticut on a day off, look at eight or nine homes and then get back to the West Coast for her TV responsibilities.
The search finally ended, after 22 houses, while Steele was still in Scottsdale. While perusing listings online, she found a house in Avon she liked, had someone drive by and check it out, and scheduled a showing. Through a technologically dependent method of Google Earth and FaceTime, Steele “toured” her future house and neighborhood. From her time in Collinsville she already knew the area well and was confident the school system was good for her three children. “It’s not something I would prefer to do again: to buy a house without seeing it,” Steele says, “but I knew what we wanted and the general area. So we got lucky.”
Steele had her house. Now it was time to make her custom brick Colonial a home. “We closed at 10 a.m. on Aug. 17, and by 11:30 we had people here peeling wallpaper off the walls, because every square inch of the house had wallpaper.” The top priority, after removing the wallpaper, was renovating the kitchen from top to bottom or, more specifically, from the recessed lighting in the ceiling to the new, wider planks of the hardwood floor. “I could tell from the pictures that I’d have to change a lot to make it what we liked,” Steele says. “But then when I finally walked into the house — we were already under contract — I came in the kitchen, I was like, OK, there’s a little more [to do] than we thought.”
From her own experiences as a child and what was instilled in her by her mother, Steele felt the need to make her children comfortable. “I [moved] my whole life and it’s still an adjustment for me. My kids haven’t moved as much as I have, so it’s been really tough for them.” New state, new climate, new schools, new friends, new teachers — everything was new. The kitchen needed to be new too.
“I knew we weren’t really going to be happy in the house until this kitchen — this is their living area — until the kitchen was what we wanted, for a family of five,” Steele says. In addition to the kitchen, the kids’ bedrooms were also part of the first phase of renovations. The house was built in 2002, and the original owner was an older couple. No children lived there.
Now that she’s back in Connecticut, Steele will be hosting her family’s annual Fourth of July party, which now doubles as the renovation deadline. “All done. Everything has to be done.”
Steele is in her comfort zone behind a desk in the SportsCenter studio, energetically presenting America with the highlights and exploits of the greatest athletes on Earth. She speaks about G&M Woodworking in Bristol and Creative Stone in New Haven with the same enthusiasm, as if they had just thrown five touchdowns in the Super Bowl or scored 50 points in an NBA Finals Game 7. “We had the best people for the cabinets and the counters,” Steele says. “Like, I’m friends with them now. The quality of the service was so good. I feel really fortunate. … Small, family owned, that’s really important.”
The custom cabinetry of G&M is on display throughout the kitchen, including the island which supports what might be Steele’s favorite part of the entire house, a quartzite countertop from Creative Stone. “If you’re going to put your money somewhere, it’s your kitchen,” Steele says. “We didn’t skimp in certain areas. The countertops, besides the cabinets, that was my No. 1 priority. When you walk in that’s what you see. So I’ll go cheaper somewhere else to get what I wanted for that. And I saw it, and I’m like, ding ding ding ding ding! And then I saw the price and went, ‘oops.’ But again, I feel like if it’s a process, you can make it up in other areas.”
Creative Stone supplied three slabs of quartzite, including the 915-pound white and gray beauty that serves as the centerpiece for the Steele kitchen, and home. It was also used in the butler’s pantry, laundry room and an upstairs bathroom. The very last bit of quartzite, which is extremely hard and difficult to cut, went in the first-floor powder room. “There’s literally nothing left,” Steele says. “I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re using every inch of this thing.’ ”
The butler’s pantry originally had a wine fridge and no water hookup. Now it has a little sink, surrounded by the quartzite countertop, and a Miele coffee maker, a Christmas gift from Steele to her “coffee-addict” husband Jonathan. G&M’s handiwork is also on display here, with bright royal blue cabinets, a color inspired by Steele’s family-room coffee table from Arizona. “I have two or three pieces from Arizona and I love the color, and I thought, how do I keep bringing it in?”
While watching the 1984 Summer Olympics, Steele realized what she wanted to do in life. She was in awe of the athletes on her TV screen, knowing their life goals were about to come down to one moment. She wanted to tell those stories. The key for any athlete, Olympian or otherwise, is getting the most out of your ability. This can apply to homes too. Maximize the space you have, decorate and arrange appropriately, make every square foot have a purpose. There are two fine examples of this on the second floor of Steele’s home.
The first is how an extra room was created just by knocking down a wall. On the day of the closing, Steele noticed the upstairs hallway was a lot narrower than it should have been. “We pulled out the plans, couldn’t figure it out,” Steele says. “So we just cut a hole. I have the video too, when we peeked our head through and we’re like, it’s empty. There was nothing in here.” The area is above the dining room. The previous owner wanted the dining room ceiling to be a certain height, and just closed it off upstairs. Now it’s a bonus room, a little hangout for the kids, with an elevated floor and angled ceiling that follows the roofline with a pull-out couch on one end and a TV on the other.
For her next trick, Sage Steele turned a run-of-the-mill storage room filled with file cabinets into a gorgeous bathroom for her younger daughter. The walls and ceilings are plain white, but the same tile used in the slick-looking, spacious shower is on the wall that supports a floating vanity with, you guessed it, quartzite countertop. Steele says her daughter had free rein, “with parameters to keep it within reason,” to design the bathroom. Seeing the results, it’s clear that design sense has been passed down.
During an interview with sports-radio personality Dan Patrick in Milford last August, when she was promoting her move back to Connecticut and SportsCenter, the warm-weather-loving Steele said she was “scared for January.” Despite reassurances from locals that recent New England winters had been mild, a record-breaking cold snap swept over the Northeast and Steele was soon dealing with frozen pipes, a broken furnace and other winter weather-related issues. “Because it’s a different life here, when it’s cold and you’re inside your home for months at a time because of the weather, you better like where you’re living,” Steele says. “And so it’s been fun to renovate and kind of watch the process and learn from it, and then make it a home.”
Steele doesn’t hide her disdain for the cold, nor does she hide her appreciation for the people and local businesses — especially G&M Woodworking and Creative Stone — that helped her and her family acclimate back to Connecticut.
“What was really cool was to see [the Creative Stone people] here, and so happy with their work,” Steele says. “That made me happy, that they were proud of the work that they did. They were going around buffing it, taking pictures next to it. So the fact that it meant a lot to them, maybe I shouldn’t care about that, but I did.” As for G&M, Steele says, “I’m gonna tell everyone I know: If you need somebody to do ‘blank,’ here’s your person. That word of mouth to me is such a big deal.”
When she speaks about the people who have helped her and her family, in what hasn’t always been the smoothest transition, you can almost hear Steele recalling her own childhood and what her parents did for her. “They’re not just doing a project, they’re changing someone’s home, and therefore someone’s quality of life. I’m just appreciative of them.”