By Jasmin Rosemberg | August 1, 2018 | People Feature
As they celebrate 14 years together, five-time Emmy-winning performer Neil Patrick Harris and actor-chef David Burtka discuss their upcoming books, 7-year-old twins and how they found their East Hampton dream home—and each other.
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It's the weekend of Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka’s 14th anniversary, and Harris has managed to slip away from Vancouver, where he’s been filming the third and final installment of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Between donning elaborate disguises to play Count Olaf in the dark family drama, helping NBC seek out the smartest preteens as the host of Genius Junior and preparing for the September launch of the second book in his best-selling middle-grade series, The Magic Misfits, Harris hasn’t had much downtime.
“I’m nearing the finish line of a marathon hurdle competition,” says the five-time Emmy winner, Tony winner and host extraordinaire over the line from Malibu—where he’s staying with his husband and family, who’ll afterward return to New York. “I’m anxious to do a lot of nothing.”
Burtka, an award-winning stage actor, trained chef and full-time father to the couple’s 7-year-old fraternal twins, son Gideon and daughter Harper, is just as eager for the foursome to reunite this summer. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says the food and entertaining guru, who’s currently concocting seasonal recipes for his debut cookbook, Life Is a Party, coming June 2019. “I’m very excited to all sort of have a break.”
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While the family—who moved from Los Angeles to a townhouse in Harlem after Harris wrapped How I Met Your Mother in 2014—are avid travelers, the Hamptons have become their go-to retreat. “I really like getting to declare that you want to go somewhere to relax,” says Harris. “I rarely go there wanting to play and do a lot of formal things. I’m there to chill.”
Michigan native Burtka was first to discover the East End, over Thanksgiving in 2001. “I originally saw that movie, Rich Kids… and when I got there, it wasn’t anything like that,” he says. “We all cooked inside this amazing house, and we went out for hikes, and it was just so idyllic.”
Harris’ introduction to the Hamptons came later. “I’m from New Mexico, and then went to California, so it wasn’t until I had been with David for a few years,” says the 45-year-old, who began dating Burtka, 43, in 2004. “I’d just heard tales of the Hamptons and it always seemed very fancy and unattainable. And then we went there, and it was so welcoming.”
The couple rented their first house in Sag Harbor three summers ago—“the same time I discovered rosé wine,” Harris jokes. They instantly embraced Main Street: the hardware store with friendly staff, Harbor Books, LT Burger and Sylvester & Co. (a favorite stop for iced coconut coffee). “It just feels like you know everybody,” Harris notes. “Like all of a sudden, you’re in Mayberry, and it’s such a different vibe from the bustle of the city.”
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Burtka’s “happy place” is cooking, and he frequents farm stands for ingredients. “And then you can go to Serene Green, where you can get the whole thing,” he says. “They’ve got great fish, and you can get whatever is in season.” They’ll also catch their own supper. “Our son loves fishing, so we always tend to go off Montauk,” Burtka says. “Last year, we caught a striped bass, and literally just cut it up right there. Olive oil, lemon, salt, and [Gideon] goes to town.”
Once they realized how versatile the Hamptons could be, the family returned often—particularly after befriending a real estate agent named Roxanne Briggs, who offered them her guesthouse. Not only that, but a couple of summers back, she helped them find their dream home.
“She said, ‘There’s this house that’s been on the market for a while,’” Burtka recalls. “And we sort of snuck in. People were renting it at the time, and I immediately knew. I said, ‘This is it.’”
The sprawling 13.5-acre, four-bedroom East Hampton estate—which they bought in March 2017—boasts a pool, pool house, tennis court, rooftop hot tub, gazebo and garden. Because it’s butted up against a nature reserve, it feels even larger to Harris, and Burtka is pumped to convert the potato barn-turned-living room into a big open kitchen. Major renovations are forthcoming: “Essentially the house as it is now will probably be more of the guesthouse,” Harris says, “so it’s a big addition that we’re adding that’ll be our primary living space.” He envisions the end result as comfy, with “random whimsical” touches. “I’ve always wanted a labyrinth hedge maze; David loves taxidermy. So it’ll probably be 25 percent Scooby-Doo and 75 percent Hamptons chic.”
Burtka didn’t feel such immediate certainty upon meeting Harris—through a mutual theater friend on a New York City street corner, in 2003. “I’d seen [Doogie Howser, M.D.] a couple of times, and I knew who he was,” Burtka admits. “But honestly, when I met him, I sort of blew him off. I was in a relationship, and he was doing Cabaret, so he had jet-blue-black hair. … I wasn’t really thinking much.”
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Harris had assumed Burtka was dating their female friend. “So I said, ‘Kate, well done,’” he recalls. “And she said, ‘David? Oh, no, no, he’s gay.’” Harris then finagled invites to her American Idol viewing parties. “I thought he was a stalker for a while!” says Burtka—who, upon getting to know Harris, detected a spark. “[I thought], ‘This guy’s really cool, and he’s super funny,’ and it was like I was a kid again.”
A year later, when Burtka was single, they had their first date. “I just thought he was very sexy!” Harris remarks. “And he was Tulsa in Gypsy that Sam Mendes was doing. … He’s also got a really fantastically big heart and a great sense of humor, and is kind of a bright light that you want to be near.” He’s stayed in proximity ever since.
The couple’s twins came via surrogate in October 2010 (they each contributed genetically to one), and they married in Italy in September 2014. On this 14-year anniversary of their initial date, they credit their parents for demonstrating how to commit to a relationship. Burtka believes Harris’ pragmatism counterbalances his free-spiritedness, and Harris appreciates Burtka’s flexibility with change. “You’ll have a whole idea of what your year’s going to be like, and then get a job, and it goes in a whole different direction,” Harris says.
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Next up, Harris aspires to direct films and theater, and is nearing a deal to adapt his four-book Magic Misfits series—which teaches kids to embrace their differences—into “some kind of thing you can watch.” He’d prefer to focus on a single project, much closer to home. Meanwhile, Burtka is deciphering the who-what-why-where of year-round entertaining (including playlists, dress codes and centerpieces) for his “all-encompassing party book” and preparing for summer. “We’ve got baseball tryouts coming for Gideon,” he says. “And Harper’s working on her art.”
They’ll likely stay at Briggs’ place while overseeing construction on their Hamptons home, which Harris considers to be a long-term plan. “Now that we have kids, it seems like the kind of situation we’ll slowly grow into, and it’ll be something that they’ll be able to go to for decades,” he says—prompting talk of having Christmases and future grandchildren there. “Once you drink the Kool-Aid…”
“Which is rosé, actually,” Burtka corrects, “it’s hard to stop.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DENNIS GOLONKA; STYLING BY SAM SPECTOR; SHOT ON LOCATION AT URBAN COWBOY BROOKLYN; GROOMING BY MELISSA DEZARATE