Why an NPR Quiz Show Panelist Loves Her ‘Messy Apartment’

Faith Salie — a panelist on the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!,” a contributor to “CBS News Sunday Morning,” a podcast host (her latest, “Broadway Revival,” debuted Nov. 18), an actor, an author, a baker (her Coca-Cola cake, made from her mother’s recipe, is serious business), a Rhodes scholar (life isn’t fair) and a charmer — lives with her two children and one husband, as she puts it, in a postwar high-rise near Lincoln Center.

“We love this area so much that it’s hard to look elsewhere for something more spacious or more affordable,” said Ms. Salie, 50, whose solo show, “Approval Junkie,” based on her 2016 essay collection of the same name, runs through Dec. 12 at the Minetta Lane Theatre. (It will also be recorded as an Audible Original.) “I’m evangelical about the Upper West Side.”

She could probably learn to warble hosannas about other parts of town — yes, Ms. Salie can sing, too — but since moving to Manhattan from Los Angeles in 2006 to be the host of the short-lived news-and-entertainment radio show “Fair Game,” she has lived exclusively in a square-mile-and-a-half area bordered by Central Park West and Broadway.

Occupation: journalist, performer, author

Manhattan matriculation: “A friend told me, ‘You are so lucky to live in this apartment, because when you live in New York it’s like you’re at university, and the whole city is your campus and your home is your dorm.’ I try to remember that.”

“When I came here, I was separated from my wasband, which is what I call my first husband,” Ms. Salie said. “And over a period of four years, I sublet three furnished apartments. That was my journey until I met my second husband,” she said, referring to John Semel, an education technology executive, whom she married in 2011.

“I felt some sort of comfort in the transience of the places I was living,” Ms. Salie continued. “I was actually relieved, because I didn’t feel settled personally. I had so many questions: When is my divorce going to come through? Am I going to marry again? Will I ever become a mother? How will I become a mother on my own?”

There was one question she didn’t have to answer, she said: “What kind of furniture do you want? The furniture I want is whatever is here.”

Ms. Salie was pregnant at her wedding, something she loves to mention because, she said, it makes her sound modern. Thus, there was some urgency to finding a rental in her preferred neighborhood and settling in before baby Augustus, now 9, was born. (Daughter Minerva followed two years later.)

“John had always lived on the Upper East Side,” Ms. Salie said. “And he always tells me, ‘You were adamant about staying on the Upper West Side, and I was adamant about staying married to you.’”

Besides being a good guy, Mr. Semel is good with spreadsheets. He laid out all the possibilities and found the right place: a two-bedroom with nice light and a terrace. Also, fortunately, he came to the union with some “grown-up man” furniture “that he was very proud of,” Ms. Salie said.

The haul included a Minotti sofa, a Ligne Roset glass-fronted curio cabinet that was a floor model, a Ligne Roset dining table and chairs, and a pair of Charles Pollock chairs, along with an Eileen Gray marble-topped coffee table that had been in Mr. Semel’s childhood home.

“John’s furniture was just fine,” Ms. Salie said. “It’s not my taste, but I don’t know that I have such fully formed taste that I can articulate what my taste actually is. When you’re renting and when you have kids, there are many times when you say, ‘It’s fine.’”

To be sure, many things here are a good deal more than fine to Ms. Salie. They tend to be pieces from her travels with Mr. Semel: two rugs and a fanciful painting from the Medina in Fez; a Berber door, also from Morocco, that sits atop the credenza in the entryway; cushions from Paris, London, Venice and Hong Kong that line the sofa; and a large cloth napkin from a restaurant in Florence, Italy, that hangs over Minerva’s bed.

“The chef heard that we were on our honeymoon,” Ms. Salie recalled, “and he came out from the kitchen with a box of markers and made the most whimsical drawing on the napkin, put his hand in John’s espresso and threw some on the picture, then brought out some limoncello and sprinkled that on the picture.”

But Ms. Salie seems to derive the greatest pleasure from the furniture and objects that speak to the discreet charms of family life: the purple recliner in the bedroom that she sat in to nurse her children; the artwork taped or pushpinned to a wall in the dining nook; the battery of Legos; the picture books arrayed on a library-style cart in the living room; the photos and magnetic alphabet letters affixed to the refrigerator; Augustus’s stuffed animals gathered on a section of his bed that Minerva, 7, calls “the dairy-o” (perhaps a reference to “The Farmer in the Dell,” but no one in the family is certain).

The blessed patch of fresh air otherwise known as the terrace is where Mr. Semel smokes one of the more than 300 pipes in his collection, where he and Ms. Salie snap the children’s first-day-of-the-school-year photos and where they gathered every evening during the height of the pandemic to cheer for frontline workers.

“It’s a very emotional place,” Ms. Salie said.

When she and Mr. Semel moved into the apartment, the space seemed ample. Ten years on, they’re bursting at the seams. It helps some that Ms. Salie has rented a one-bedroom unit a floor below to use as an office and as a studio where she records her podcasts.

When she is feeling most frustrated — perhaps she has just stepped on an errant Lego piece or is futilely trying to make room on a wall for her children’s latest masterpieces — she quickly regroups.

“I think, ‘You know what? If I were a set designer for a play and I wanted to show a house that was fun and not too fancy and a place of joy with parents who treasured their children, what would it look like?’” Ms. Salie said. “And I think it would probably look just like our messy apartment.”

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