Every seven years or so, Phil Romano gets the itch.
He gets bored with a house, and he goes looking for a new one to work on. It’s not unlike how he is with his restaurants: He loves the thrill of creating something new, and then…
“I get pissed off ’cause it’s done,” he laughs.
Three years ago, he’d grown tired of the Strait Lane mansion he called home. At 17,000 square feet, he admits that it wasn’t exactly functional.
“There were rooms my son didn’t want to go into,” he says. “There were bathrooms I never used.”
“If I make a statement, I want to make a big statement. I get energy from my art through colors. It does something to me.”
So he found a new project in the form of a 3,000-square-foot, 70-year-old ranch-style home in Bluffview. He set about on a yearlong renovation, which saw the addition of a second floor, a below-ground wine cellar, and about 4,000 square feet. Save for one room and the foundation, nothing was spared—including the exterior, to which he added whitewashed shingles that mimic the look of his beloved lake house in Skaneateles, New York. Phil had a say in everything. “I was here every day, I saw what was happening, and I was making decisions on a daily basis,” he recalls.
“If I make a statement, I want to make a big statement. I get energy from my art through colors. It does something to me.”Phil Romano
Kate Murphy knows Phil’s hands-on approach well. Having worked with Phil for 10 years on his various restaurant projects, the designer agreed to help him—as much as he’ll let anyone help, anyway—on his home redo.
“When Phil introduces me as his designer, I kind of smile and say, ‘Well, sort of,’” Kate says with a laugh. “Really Phil is his designer, and I just try to steer him away from mistakes.”
More than that, Kate was able to make the most of what Phil already had by reupholstering soft furnishings and mixing and matching pieces in different ways so it felt new. “Phil’s not a spendthrift,” she says. “If he has it, he’s going to use it.”
She was also in charge of bringing Phil’s pie-in-the-sky dreams to fruition. When he wanted topiary balls to complement a collection of blue pottery he purchased, for instance, it was Kate’s job to find them. But Phil wasn’t without solutions himself. Because he loves to collect and display books, he came up with an idea for an extra-large coffee table, which he designed and stained himself and had his carpenters build for him.
The overall feel of the house is a drastic departure from his previous abode, and intentionally so. “Every house that I’ve had has been different. I don’t like the same thing all the time,” Phil says. “When I do a house, I do it to meet the time, that segment of my life I’m in. My last house, I called it ‘biblical contemporary.’ And this one here, if I had to come up with a name for it, would be ‘modern comfortable.’ It’s contemporary, but it’s not cold.”
One thing that never changes in a Phil Romano home is the prevalence of art and color. In both arenas, Phil, himself an artist, likes to go bold.
“If I make a statement, I want to make a big statement,” he says. “Color gives me energy. Everything I do—my restaurants, my art, my life—I try to have high energy. And I get energy from my art through colors. It does something to me.”
Phil’s frequent entertaining was also a factor when creating spaces like the outdoor living area, the industrial kitchen, the wine cellar and display, and the dining room, which was designed around a large, hand-carved table that seats 14. And when Phil’s 18-year-old son, Sam, wants to have friends over after a lacrosse game, the upstairs living room is a perfect place for them to hang.
But whether he’s hosting dinner for a dozen or enjoying a book on his own, there’s never a shortage of spaces to do it. In fact, one of Phil’s favorite things about the home is that no square inch is wasted. “I can sit in any part of the house and it’s an experience,” he says. “If I want to read a book, I’ve got four or five places I could read a book. If I want to just sit and veg out, I’ve got places for that. If I want to go outside and look in, I can do that—or inside and look out.”
And though he may get the itch again in a few years and move on—to a downtown penthouse, perhaps?—this home suits this time in his life just right. “I’m at the age now where I’m going to be an empty nester, and this is my nest,” he says. “I just want that coziness, and I want it to be warm. It’s a refuge for me.”