Tracy to a T
In her Turtle Bay townhouse, tea impresario and artist Tracy Stern indulges her longtime passion for decorating.
As a celebrated purveyor of tea, Tracy Stern promotes a relaxed, cakes-and-sandwiches aesthetic with a fashion-savvy twist. “People treat me like I’m the Mother Teresa of tea,” says Stern, creator of the SalonTea brand, which includes a boutique line of teas, tea-infused beauty products, and a café in Vancouver. “They confess things to me, like the fact that they still enjoy coffee,” adds Stern. “I say, ‘That’s okay, I don’t judge.’”
Stern, who grew up in Miami, started collecting teapots and related objets de thé on antiques-buying trips with her parents and became fascinated with the history of tea, particularly the extravagant social rituals surrounding the beverage in the 17th and 18th centuries. She opened her first tea salon, the Royal Tea Room, in Tampa, where she combined her love of tea with her passion for fashion. “I’m very costume-y,” Stern says. “If I have a tea party, I dress up. I like to bake and entertain, so having a tea salon is a slam dunk, the ultimate fantasy.”
In 1999, Stern moved to Manhattan and opened a tea café in the City Club Hotel. Renowned decorator Jeffrey Bilhuber, who designed the hotel, had to approve her decor and table settings. “He said, ‘Your style is so reminiscent of vintage YSL,’” Stern recalls. “I love him!” Oprah Winfrey—who once decreed SalonTea one of her “favorite things”—and Jennifer Lopez are among the many fans of the brand.
Stern studied art in college and abroad and is herself an accomplished artist. She designs all the packaging for her tea products and created the hot pink, orange, and brown (note: Hermès-inspired) interior of her shop in Vancouver, having attended the New York School of Interior Design for two years when she first moved north.
Recently Stern has expanded her horizons at work and at home, moving from an Upper East Side condo to a Turtle Bay townhouse and launching her own interior design company, Tracy Stern Lifestyle. As decorating projects go, the one she assigned herself with her new home was Red Bull intensive—the outfitting and embellishing of five floors, a total of 5,000 square feet, in a whirlwind six days.
“I signed papers on January 31, and by February 6, my birthday, everything but the window treatments were done,” says Stern. “I didn’t want my children”—Hunter, 15, and Chloe, 13—“to have to wait to move in, so I operated with a vengeance. I went to showrooms, did a lot of online research, and pre-selected pieces a month prior to moving.”
The eclectic redo, a colorful, elegant pastiche emphasizing Old Hollywood charm, begins in the front parlor with a framed tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. Rendered in a giant silhouette by Stern, the master director peers out at an antique French armchair and matching settee covered in gold mock-crocodile leather, an apparently outré design decision that challenged the sensibilities of her upholsterer. “He said, ‘Miss, I’m sorry, I cannot ruin these pieces. I’m just not going to put this fabric on them,’” Stern recalls with a smile. “I said, ‘It’s okay, trust me.’ He did, and later called me back and said, ‘You are so right. They look amazing.’”
Unexpected combinations are Stern’s forte, whether in tea blends (one concoction called the Dancer melds rooibos and honeybush with strawberry, raspberry, safflower, and marigold) or color choices. In her dining room, for example, chartreuse walls offer a surprisingly punchy backdrop to orange and blue seating, while an inspired play of much subtler hues and textures can be found in the master bedroom, where flax-linen headboard and sofa upholstery meet charcoal silk pillows and drapes. “You’d think those would be opposites,” Stern says of the two fabric choices, “but together, they’re sumptuous.” Stern also favors unusual metal pairings. In the kitchen, caged bulbs of the kind often found at construction sites have been reproduced in gold and chrome. “I wanted my home to be fun and lively and have personality,” she says, “while being both a little edgy and classic.”
Every room bears Stern’s creative stamp: the playful lime-green ceiling fixtures she designed for the entry, her framed paintings and sketches accenting walls throughout, and her clever cost-cutting strategies. A black and white credenza in the kitchen’s dining area is an Ikea dresser gussied up with overlays. “The fact that this is a $99 dresser, versus a $500 one, gives me so much pleasure,” she says.
In addition to overseeing Cuffs for Cause, a charity jewelry-design company, Stern is currently planning a new line of organic tea and launching a furniture collection “based on Hollywood Regency and Chippendale styles—but affordable.” While reenergizing her career and endlessly multitasking, she has found that her new house has become her anchor, providing her with a sense of calm. “Since I moved here, I’ve been so casual,” she says. “The part of me who wants to entertain all the time has also been cozying up and reading books.” At last, the tea impresario is savoring the moment.