The Semi-Homemade creator gives PEOPLE a tour of Lily Pond, the estate she shares with New York's governor

By Mackenzie Schmidt
April 02, 2019 04:04 PM

Before doing a top-to-bottom makeover on her historic home, Sandra Lee threw quite a party — or three.

The chef, tv host and cookbook author purchased the New Castle, N.Y., property she shares with her partner, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, 61, back in 2008. The 1940-build had been in the same family for decades and featured some less-than-delightful decor, like ca. 1980 bunny-motif tiles in the kitchen and a powder room with a duck theme.

David A. Land

So before she swung a hammer, the de facto first lady let Cuomo’s three daughters, Mariah, Cara and Michaela, each host their own spectacular Halloween soirees in the house.

“We had the two fireplaces blazing and smoke machines and everything covered in black plastic trash bags,” Lee, 52, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue of the space that is now a pristine white-and-gold sitting room.

David A. Land

The girls, now grown, visit on the weekends, but the house is primarily home to the longtime couple and Lee’s beloved cockatoo. Phoenix, who has free range of the place.

These days the six-bedroom, six-bathroom property, which they call Lily Pond for the body of water in the front yard, paints a very different picture. “We worked hard to make sure that we honored the home,” says Lee, who kept the original brick floors, doorknobs and “bulky, beautiful” hardware while adding in an array of family heirlooms and plenty of what she calls “places to plop.”

“It’s very cozy in here, even though there are a lot of references to history and politics and sort of a gravitas,” she says. The “Founding Fathers dining room,” for example showcases framed copies of letters from George Washington, James Madison and others, along with an antique wooden refrigerator and 19th-century ballot box. The Restoration Hardware table and chairs custom upholstered in Ralph Lauren fabric are used for formal occasions.

David A. Land

Making the home feel warm and welcoming was always her top priority. “This house smells like cookies and feels like heaven,” says the Semi-Homemade creator.

“I think the most important thing, when you put a house together, is to make sure it reflects your family, and what your family stands for,” she adds. “I want anyone and everyone who comes in here to feel like this is their home.”