They drive carpool. They tend the vegetable garden. They play tea party. One of the biggest movie stars in history and his wife live with their two young daughters in a Craftsman-style house in Bedford Hills, New York, the picture of quiet, domestic bliss. Here, their friend M. Night Shyamalan peels back the curtain of the Willis house and reveals that, sometimes, the true shock is that everything is precisely as it seems.
Emma, Bruce, and Mabel enjoy breakfast in their tree house in Bedford Hills, New York. Emma’s dress: . Emma’s shirt: . Bruce’s shirt: . Mabel’s shirt: .
The Willis and Shyamalan homes are girl-centric homes. When we — me, my wife, and our three daughters — visit Emma and Bruce and their daughters, it inevitably becomes a pile of girls cuddling on the sofa and playing games on the floor. Their home is always impeccably curated but decidedly second fiddle to the joy of their children. Emma and Bruce are at once refined and casual. I’m not sure how they do it; they seem to traverse those two worlds effortlessly. They are at ease in shorts on a comfy sofa and also in fancy attire at the dining table, sipping out-of-this-world wine. The common link, I believe, is passion — passion for exquisitely made things and for the spontaneity of life. My wife, Bhavna, and I have learned a lot about how to be hosts from spending time in their home. Basically, we copy them.
N. Night Shyamalan: Are you both big wine drinkers?
Emma Hemming Willis: Well, we do have a wine cellar in our house, so yes, I would say we both love a good Cabernet. We definitely enjoy having a glass in the evenings with dinner; it adds so much to the meal and helps us unwind at the end of a long day. It makes us feel like adults again after a day focused on crafts, school, and toys!
Do you commemorate your careers in your home? Posters, magazine covers — are these things you display?
E: We have ae that holds most of Bruce’s memorabilia, such as posters and clothing he’s worn in films, even wigs from old movies. The only thing we have around on the shelves are awards, and that’s all my doing. Bruce has some very special awards, of course, and some that are pretty unique. I especially love the Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the Ministère de la Culture he received in 2013, when we were in Paris.
As for me, I was an MVP softball player back in high school, so I made sure those trophies got their rightful places on the mantelpiece, too! My most recent award is a Women of the Year one for my skin-care line, CocoBaba. I’m pretty proud of that one, and so is my husband — he gave it a prime position on our “award shelf.”
Emma, I know you’re very involved in Room to Grow. Can you explain what it is and how you are involved?
E: RTG is dedicated to helping babies born into poverty thrive throughout their critical first three years of development. When we moved to New York, I was looking for a local charity in which I could involve not only myself but my kids as well. I’ve since been appointed ambassador, and our family is honored to help them in any way we can.
Where do you go to find peace in your house? What’s your Zen zone?
Bruce Willis: With two kids? Not many places to find peace, but my office works. I’ve made it so boring in there that the kids want nothing to do with it.
E: Bruce is right, there really isn’t a Zen zone here. We use every room, and the kids venture into each one at some point throughout the day. I converted a cottage we have on our property into my office. That, I suppose, would be my Zen zone, where I can focus and get work done. I have to admit, though, that we thrive off the chaos.
At play on the tennis courts. Bruce’s shirt: . Bruce’s T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers: his own. Emma’s dress: . Emma’s shirt: .
Are electronics banned from certain rooms? Bedroom? Dining room? Or are you both incorrigible social-media addicts?
B: I want nothing to do with social media, so I leave that up to Emma, who’s much savvier in that department than I am. I check e-mails and texts at some point during the day, but that’s the extent of being connected for me.
E: Bruce reads the The New York Times in hard copy every morning, while I read all my news online. I admire Bruce’s anti–social media stance. The fact is, he doesn’t need to use it to promote a thing! I’m in the rat race — I have to promote my business. Plus, on a personal level, I do love sharing some of our sweeter family moments.
What causes disagreements around the house between you two?
E: Bruce loves construction — and building. I’m not a fan, as I find it chaotic and stressful. I’ve learned to stay out of it, since Bruce can handle it way better than I can. Otherwise, our home is really filled with joy and the laughter and chatter of little girls being themselves, in a place we created with them in mind.
Emma, what habit of Bruce’s drives you crazy? Bruce, vice versa? And what habits of each other’s do you appreciate?
B: Emma tends to set lids back on the top of jars and the cap on top of the toothpaste tube instead of twisting them down. Drives me nuts when I go to pick them up and everything spills out.
E: I grab from the base and not from the cap, so I find it’s one less thing for me to do when I go to use the item. Screwing things back on is an extra, unnecessary step; it’s time I could use on other things. But I feel I’ve improved in the area greatly because I know what a hot topic this is for Bruce!
B: Emma’s a great organizer. Spring cleaning is her strong suit.
E: Bruce is very domesticated. His mother taught him well! He really is great at housekeeping. I mean, granted, we have a housekeeper, Lety, who has been with Bruce for more than 30 years — she is family to us and has helped me so much with our girls; she’s also a big part of Bruce’s older girls’ lives. But he’s very proactive! She’s probably stuck around as long as she has because Bruce really helps keep everything in tip-top condition, which makes her life easier.
Why did you choose Bedford Hills to raise the family?
E: We are both East Coast people. Bruce is from New Jersey; I’ve worked as a model in New York since 1999. We love the East Coast. We knew New York was where we would end up and ultimately want to raise our kids. But we also have a love/hate relationship with the city. It’s busy, and the spaces can be small. We wanted our kids to be able to have more room and a yard to run in. I also wanted to keep the kids as sheltered as we could from the paparazzi, and that scene is still very prevalent in L.A.; it’s not bad in New York, and it’s zero up where we live, so that played a big part in our decision-making too. The beauty of where we live is that it’s close to the city, so we get the best of both worlds. Nature, space, and privacy in Bedford, but the culture of the city, which is only an hour away.
Do you and Bruce have similar tastes in design?
E: We really don’t. Bruce loves Stickley furniture and Craftsman design. When we got together, I had to look up both because I had no idea what either one was! But we’ve been able to combine our worlds. First and foremost, we want our home to be comfortable and warm. We’ve both spent years on the road and in hotels because of our work, so comfort and coziness have always been important to us. I’m not crazy about the idea of anything in our house being too precious. I want people to come in and feel 100 percent comfortable putting their feet up on our sofa. It translates very well with having kids running around. I want them to enjoy the house as much as we do. If anything, we’ve made the whole place a kid-friendly zone.
B: I just leave the design up to Emma now. She has great style and taste.
The garden is a beautiful explosion of color and nature. Did either of you grow up loving the outdoors?
E: As a kid, being outdoors was a huge part of both my childhood and Bruce’s. We didn’t have much to keep us that occupied indoors, like kids do now. It was about being outside and riding bikes or exploring with your neighborhood friends. Our backyard is great — we use it a lot. Bruce has a green thumb and is very knowledgeable about the species of plants and trees we’ve planted. I’ve learned a lot from him, and so have the kids. It was his idea for us to start our own vegetable-and-herb garden. That’s one of his “construction” projects, which he deserves to pat himself on the back for. The kids love planting and picking things from the garden, which we end up using to cook with. We now have our own mini farm-to-table setup, which is pretty special.
Do you prefer to eat out or eat at home?
E: We love eating at home. But now the kids are at an age where taking them to a restaurant is kind of fun and not a source of stress. It’s been a gradual process, learning how to keep them occupied and sitting still, a feat in and of itself. But they have learned quite well, surprisingly.
What’s the bedtime routine?
E: We start getting the kids to their bedrooms around 7 p.m. It’s pretty straightforward, with story time, hugs, and kisses — but don’t get me wrong, it’s not always smooth and picture-perfect. What’s nice is we’re not outnumbered — Bruce can get one of the kids to bed while I work on the other. We have it down to a fine science at this point!
Are there certain times when the girls know not to bother Dad?
E: Bruce is awesome when it comes to his personal time, and he’s constantly sharing it. I think he’s been so used to having kids for so long, and knowing his time really isn’t his own anymore, that he’s very generous with it. Even when he’s sleeping — and this poor man suffers from terrible insomnia — if the kids were to wake him, he wouldn’t even so much as complain. I’ve also never heard him say he needs some alone time. I, on the other hand, am not afraid to let everyone know when I need time for myself!
Do you consider yourselves traditional people?
E: Traditional is very subjective — yes, we put family first. Yes, we believe in raising our children with manners and poise, and we impress upon them the importance of learning and education. But we are also very free in allowing them to express themselves through whatever form or behavior that might take — within reason, of course. We don’t ever want our kids to feel entitled. So we make sure to strike a good balance as best as we know how.
This story was originally published in the November 2017 issue of ELLE DECOR.