Don’t let the Emmy on the coffee table fool you. Though the gold statuette is hard to miss in Patricia Heaton’s living room, the four-bedroom house in L.A.’s Hancock Park is not the home of a Hollywood diva. While Heaton is permitting herself to savor her recent win for Outstanding Lead Actress—as Debra Barone in CBS’s hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond—she’s more likely to rave about the awards bestowed on her four sons: Sam, 7; John, 5; Joe, 3; and Dan, 22 months.
“A friend of mine had little trophies made up for each of them, engraved with their names and the category: Outstanding Son in a Leading Role,” she explains. Family life wins out over the glam life for Heaton, 42, and her British-born actor-producer husband, David Hunt, 46. The children have the run of the house the couple have owned for three years, but you’d never know it. Nearly everything has been treated with stain repellent. If a spot occurs anyway, so be it. The actress simply isn’t the type to worry about serving red wine at a party. “That’s not good hostessing. No it is not,” she says. “Not if you care more about your carpets than your guests.”
Trace her unflappable grace back to her childhood growing up in the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village. Heaton was the fourth of five children born to noted Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer Charles Heaton, 83, and homemaker Patricia, who died of an aneurysm when the actress was 12. “My mother was one of 15 children,” she explains. “Very little could rattle her. I guess I learned from her not to let much upset you.”
After graduating from Ohio State University with a theater degree in 1980, Heaton moved to New York City and embarked on the requisite series of struggling-actress jobs, including waitress, freelance proofreader and copy clerk at PEOPLE magazine. It was in Manhattan that she met Hunt, whose room she sublet when he left the city for a role. They soon moved to L.A., where they married in 1990—and began entertaining as a couple. “I love parties,” says Hunt. “Love them. I grew up in a working-class household in England, and I was often lonely, so now that I have the chance to have people over, I enjoy it tremendously. I think I’m trying to make up for lost time.”
Entertaining in those early days called for some improvisation. “We had stuff from our wedding—we registered at Crate & Barrel—and for once we actually had dishes that matched and enough flatware to go around, so we were always inviting more people than I had room for,” Heaton remembers. “I was pretty fearless in those days.”
Not much has changed in the past 10 years: Heaton is still pretty fearless when it comes to entertaining, and the couple still wing it when it comes to accommodating their guests. “Most of what we got from our wedding is pretty much gone now. Recently we got some new stuff from Pottery Barn, but still we don’t have a good set of dishes,” she says. “That’s what’s so great about how Patty and David entertain,” explains good friend Bebe Johnson, whose company, Bebe Johnson Designs, helped Heaton decorate the house. “They do it in a way that might not look perfectly elegant, but in a way that just makes you feel good about being with them.”
Maybe such gracious hospitality grew out of Heaton’s hardscrabble New York City days, when all she needed to show guests a good time was “a bowl of chips and a coupla beers,” she says. At one memorable party for her brother Michael, in her small Greenwich Village apartment, she remembers, she had “about 15 people standing in the bath-room—and I’ll tell you what, everyone had a blast! When I go to someone’s house,” she adds, “I don’t look around and say, ‘Hmm, they don’t have cocktail forks’ or ‘The dishes are mismatched.’ The fancier you get, you begin to lose sight of what really matters.”
Whether it’s in L.A. or at the family’s five-bedroom home outside London, where they spend about six weeks every summer, Heaton and Hunt typically go the unfancy route, usually doing their own cooking from roast beef to pasta to “melt-in-your-mouth popovers,” according to Bebe Johnson. “We’ll get a call from Patty on a weekend morning saying, ‘C’mon over for a swim’—and it’s that casual,” says Johnson, whose 5-year-old daughter Calla attends school with Heaton’s sons. “Well, of course, Patty has everything prepared when we arrive. Bagels, fresh fruit, cold salads.”
While their philosophy has stayed simple, Heaton and Hunt’s parties have gotten more elaborate. Last December, for instance, they tossed a bash for the British holiday Boxing Day—which they hope to make an annual event. “We just invited anybody who happened to be in town, and about 40 people showed up,” Heaton remembers. “I didn’t think on the day after Christmas anybody would feel like going out, but they were so thrilled to have someplace to go!” For once, they called in caterers to serve up all the traditional English dishes—roast beef, cranberries and Brie, and Christmas pudding-buffet-style. The dozen or so children at the fête ate peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, hot dogs and vegetable “fries”—veggies cut into french-fry shapes and stuck, fast-food style, into little paper packs.
It’s these small, personal touches that set the Heaton-Hunt affairs apart from the typical showbiz soirees. “She gives a good party,” says costar and Boxing Day guest Ray Romano. “They make you feel real welcome. The kids have fun.” Adds Hunt: “It is quite pointless to leave kids out on holidays. What’s also great is that all the kids entertain each other. That can make for quite a good party in itself.”
Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles