It's the question that many Manhattan dwellers dread when they begin having children and their apartments inevitably start to feel too small: "Honey, why don't we move to New Jersey?"
When Donatella Arpaia's husband, Allan Stewart, asked this question, she had another idea. Arpaia, a chef and restaurateur, and Stewart, a heart surgeon, met while training for a triathlon in 2010 and embarked on a whirlwind courtship: They married and had a son (Alessandro) within just one year. Finding a weekend home outside the city seemed like a good way to support their new life. But rather than move to the suburbs, Arpaia proposed, why not move to the country?
"There's this place that nobody knows about called Candlewood Lake in Connecticut, and you're going to love it," Arpaia, now 44, told Stewart. They visited the area and found a home lodged in the mountains, directly on the water. Just an hour outside the city, the location couldn't have been more perfect. But "it happened to be the ugliest house in America," Arpaia laughs, "so it was quite a project."
"The kitchen was completely enclosed, covered with dark brown stained glass," she describes. "It was dark and dated, like a faux log cabin. And I had in mind this Italian villa."
More than four years of renovations later, they have the dwelling of their dreams. Arpaia, a judge on Food Network's Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef and owner of Greek taverna Kefi and Italian restaurant Prova (as well as former owner of davidburke & donatella, Anthos and Bellini), saw the chance to have the kind of kitchen she'd never find in Manhattan. In fact, just one would not suffice; they knocked out part of the mountain to make way for an outdoor kitchen.
This is not your typical grill on a patio. "If I was going to have an outdoor kitchen, I was going to have a complete outdoor kitchen," Arpaia says. Two Lynx grills, one traditional and one a flat-top asado, are the centerpieces of the space. The first includes a smoker attachment and a motor-powered rotisserie. There's a cocktail station and wine fridge, also by Lynx, and a striking Wood Stone pizza oven.
Despite working with grills professionally, Arpaia "was always the girl intimidated by grilling," leaving the flipping and charring to Stewart. But now, with a complete set of appliances and stunning views, how could she resist? "We fire up the grill in the dead of winter," she says; only a snowstorm can prevent them from cooking outdoors.
In her restaurant kitchens, Arpaia prizes efficiency in her appliances; at home, design is equally important. Stewart's mother, Sharon, planned the indoor kitchen, opting against chunkier pieces in favor of sleek Jenn-Air devices. The kitchen is high-tech (a double oven features an LED color touch screen), yet some of its details, such as Calcutta gold marble counters, are luxuriously old-fashioned. Arpaia says the marble "reminds [her] of Italy," adding, "I like that my home feels clean and modern, but with a touch of Old World."
Arriving at the lake house on a Friday evening after a long workweek sends Arpaia and Stewart into an immediate state of relaxation. They light a fire, open up a bottle of wine and put steaks on the grill. On sunny mornings, they might cook pancakes and eggs on the asado, then take a dip in the lake. The space is perfect for big parties year-round; Arpaia has been known to install inflatable castles and sno-cone machines.
"You really feel the four seasons here," she says. The home is cozy in winter, with snow-capped trees, and lush in summer, with sparkling, clear water. In warm weather, Arpaia drinks rosé, Assyrtiko, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo, wines that echo her Greek cooking and southern Italian ancestry. Stewart favors white Burgundy and big-bodied California Cabernet—a red wine of which any heart surgeon would approve.
A well-appointed kitchen would be important to any chef. But the completion of the Connecticut home means more than that to Arpaia, who for years lived a life dominated by work. Now that she has a family, every moment of bonding time is precious. Stewart's two daughters from his previous marriage, Madison and Sophie, frequently spend weekends here too. "Alessandro was born on my 40th birthday; I found that happiness later in life," Arpaia says. "Now I've found a place that my son can connect to, where he can grow up surrounded by family."