She’s an award-winning actor, director, producer, and activist—but there’s so much more to Kerry Washington than her public-facing persona. She’s also a wife, mother, daughter, and fiercely loyal friend. And, while she’s a Hollywood star, she considers New York City her hometown.

“It’s where I was born and raised,” she says. “It has special meaning for me because when my mother’s parents came to the U.S. from Jamaica, they came through Ellis Island in Lower Manhattan. In many ways I think the story of my life, my journey, my once upon a time, really begins in New York.”

After years of bicoastal living, with a residence in California and regular check-ins at Manhattan hotels, she wanted something more permanent for her and her family—not just for the sake of privacy, but to build a foundation she couldn’t achieve while living out of a suitcase. “Of all the things that I do and all the things that I am, being a wife and mother is on the top of my list,” she says. “Having a home where we all feel comfortable and cozy—and inspired and safe and valued—it’s really important.”

Clearly, Kerry is a woman who knows who she is— and she stays in character. “It’s also important for me to feel like I can be authentically myself wherever I am and wherever I go,” she says. To translate that sense of self to interior style, Kerry turned to decorator and longtime friend Gary Riotto. “Gary and I have been friends for decades. We met 20 years ago as actors in a theater company in New York,” she recalls. “He has remained one of my closest friends in all the ups and downs and highs and lows of our lives.”

Thanks to a shorthand only close friends can have, Gary understood he wouldn’t be working with a singular style. “Kind of like I love all the different characters I’ve gotten to play in my life and in my career, I really love all different types of design,” Kerry says. “The way I think about fashion—for myself, rather than red carpets or a character—is to lean towards a really classic aesthetic with pops of color and character and spark.”

Gary also helped Kerry’s children create rooms of their own. “It was fun for the kids to get to share with him what feels like home for them, and how who they are could be reflected in the space. Really, how who we are as a family could be embodied in the space,” she says, smiling. “Gary is able to bring a lot of the dimensions of who I am, and who my family is, into the aesthetic and the design of the space.”

In fact, in each room, Gary was able to thoughtfully blend the different chapters of Kerry’s life. “He’s known me since I was a kid growing up in the Bronx, a high school kid,” she says. “And he also knows the life that I live now.”

Now, upon arrival in the city, the family can settle in and start living. They love long walks through different neighborhoods or along the river, enjoying the incredible restaurants, and immersing themselves in the theater community. “That’s why we love having a home in New York, so that we don’t feel like we have to pretend or perform or hide,” Kerry says. “We can really just be ourselves.”