Written by Louise Morgenstern / Photography by George Holz & Steve Henke / June, 2014
TV & Movie actor Tim DeKay knew he wanted a timeless style for his new home— Cambria helped create the look.
Tim DeKay is not exactly GQ-ready as the FBI Agent Peter Burke in the USA Network original series, White Collar. He wears his non-descript suits like a bland uniform in the popular police procedural, now entering its sixth and final season. But while his character Burke can’t tell Armani from Old Navy, the 6-foot 2-inch DeKay is another story. He appreciates enduring style, whether it’s in clothes or architecture.
Not a clotheshorse by nature, DeKay has nonetheless learned a lot about fashion during his six years on White Collar. His con man sidekick, played by Matt Bomer, has style to spare, so manufacturers send suits for possible use on the show. Tim took notice. “My style is fashionable but not trendy. I like a timeless look,” he says. “I have a Yankee mentality. Somewhere in the back of my mind—or the front of it—I’m thinking, ‘Can I still wear this in ten years?’”
It made sense, then, for him to choose a product that can last a lifetime when he and his wife, Elisa, started choosing materials for a new home. “It’s incredible how many options one has,” Tim recalls of their two-year home-building project that ended in August 2013. “We limited our choices to companies that were environmentally conscious and Cambria was one of them. We started looking at their samples and really thought they had attractive designs, simple yet unique.” Attracted to the classic stone look, Tim and his wife Elisa wanted to remain faithful to their environmental credo, yet still attain the appearance they wanted. The DeKays were tipped off to the advantages of Cambria by their friend, actor Bryan Cranston, who chose it in the construction of his beach house. “Bryan and I did a pilot together years ago and stayed in touch,” Tim explains, citing how pleased the Cranstons had been with how the product performed, despite being steps from the sand and salt air.
Constructing a new house from the ground up was not initially on the table when the couple sought more space for themselves and their two children, Jamis, 14 and Danna, 11. “I thought we would just go buy one that was already up and running,” laughs Tim. But once he saw the 25,000-square foot property in a leafy Los Angeles neighborhood, he was hooked, despite the overgrown trees and dilapidated house. After consulting with their architect, the DeKays realized they would have to start from scratch. The house they wanted, and were determined to create, would be a relaxed gathering place for family, friends and the household menagerie of the Sheltie-Corgi mixed-breed dog “Spice” and Russian tortoise “Dribble.” In the end, they got what they wanted, and more.
What stands today is the couple’s modern take on a classic farmhouse, with nods to Tim’s eastern roots in rural upstate New York, such as beadboard in the master bath and vintage-style lighting. They named the house “Stone Pine Farmhouse” for the numerous Stone Pine trees on the property. “‘Farmhouse’ came from our desired design and my growing up in farm country,” Tim explains.
The 5,250-square-foot home has five bedrooms, five baths, and a family room with a soaring ceiling and fireplace. An adjacent 600-square foot guesthouse has its own bedroom, bath, kitchen and front patio. The DeKays chose Cambria for counters in the kitchen, bathrooms, dressing room and laundry room.
As they saw the huge slabs coming in during construction, Tim admits he took a deep breath. “These countertops come in and they’re big, they’re daunting, and you hope they go in properly. But all of the people associated with Cambria are wonderful. I felt comfortable with the installers. They were prideful of their work.” Since then, the DeKays have been delighted by how well its good looks are complemented by its durability. “Jamis will throw his dirty baseball mitt on it,” explains Elisa. “Danna has been known to bounce her volleyball on it.” Likewise, the Cambria in snowy White Cliff in the children’s bathrooms combines fashion with function. “It’s amazing how much toothpaste and hair care products kids need to get ready for school,” says their dad. “Cambria is indestructible.”
While Tim is now known to millions as Peter Burke on White Collar, he previously starred or guest-starred in numerous TV series including Scrubs, Friends, The New Adventures of Old Christine and Seinfeld, in which he played “Bizarro Jerry” in a now-classic episode. His first screen-acting job was in 1995 when he played a business tycoon in the futuristic TV show, seaQuest 2032. He has also starred on HBO as a series regular in both the award-winning Carnivale, and Tell Me You Love Me.
Tim is a New York native, having grown up in tiny Lansing, New York, outside Ithaca. His parents, though not actors, are funny, he says. His father is an inveterate observer of behavior, a trait Tim says he absorbed. An athlete as well as an actor in high school, Tim played varsity baseball and basketball. While a business and philosophy student at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, he also took up community theater after class. Hoping he could make acting his livelihood, he headed to Rutgers University where he earned an M.F.A. in acting—and met his future wife, Elisa. The couple has been married 23 years.
One of the perks of being a well-known actor is getting to walk the occasional red carpet, a stroll Tim enjoys. “I like getting dressed up,” says the trim 50-year-old. “It heightens the event, heightens the day.” His favorite place to assemble outfits is atop a wardrobe island in the couple’s master bath/dressing room. Topped by Cambria in bold Wellington, it is a perfect canvas on which to test shirt and tie combinations.
But no room gets more of a workout in the DeKays’ house than the kitchen. Located at the “bend” of the L-shaped floor plan, the kitchen is the area that Elisa calls “the vortex”—mission control. A nine-foot by seven-foot maple island topped by Cambria in creamy Torquay takes pride of place. (Cambria’s Fieldstone covers the surrounding countertops.) “The kids love to sit at the island—and on the island,” says Tim. It serves as a dinner party buffet, baking center, homework hub, and crafts table. During one session of the latter, even a hot glue gun and green St. Patrick’s Day paint didn’t leave a mark.
The counter was recently put to the test during a birthday party for White Collar cast member Willie Garson. Guests were asked to bring a homemade dessert and they happily complied. At least 50 gooey treats were arrayed atop the island. English toffee pudding, blueberry cobbler, chocolate cream puffs, key lime pie and dozens more—all of it easily wiped clean at the end of the evening. “Nothing penetrates it,” says Tim.
Durability and sustainability are at the heart of the DeKays’ lifestyle. This is a family-centered home in the old-fashioned tradition, but with a decidedly modern and ecologically thoughtful bent. It is an unfussy “no coasters” place where the priority is family fun. Outside, chaise longues with ocean blue cushions trimmed in crisp white piping are lined up at the edge of a pool. A fire pit surrounded by six Adirondack chairs is the site of s’mores parties. A 100-foot by 50-foot level backyard is big enough for regulation team volleyball (Danna plays), baseball games (Jamis’s sport), Thanksgiving football scrums, badminton, croquet—you name it.
“My grandfather was a dairy farmer and I grew up next to a forty-acre farm where we played Kick the Can, Hide and Seek. I wanted to recreate some of that,” says Tim. For the run of the series, though, finding family time was a challenge. White Collar shot in New York from March through mid-August, with Tim flying home every weekend or two. With White Collar in its final season, Tim will film Follow the River, a western, and direct a holiday film that he describes as a cross between Noises Off and Soap Dish.
But for now, the actor is home and it is not a star-studded day. He’s wearing jeans, an indigo and purple checked shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a pair of leather sneakers. “See these shoes?” he says, pointing to the supple brown lace-ups. “These are hand-me-downs from my son. My kids have kept me hip.” But things that last are really what resonate. He observes the family room from a relaxed spot in an upholstered linen armchair. Overhead, 25 feet up, thick timber beams support a dramatic vaulted ceiling.
“This is the house where our kids will grow up,” Tim says, gazing around the room, then up at the soaring ceiling. “I hope there will be grandkids here someday.” That dream could take a couple of decades to come true, but the DeKays aren’t concerned; they’ve built their home to weather shifting tastes and trends. In design as in fashion, timeless choices never go out of style.