From a small living room in her West End Victorian, Figgy DiBenedetto can watch the world—and her restaurant.
For many chefs, the kitchen is the command center of their home. But not for Chopped champion Natalie DiBenedetto. Better known by her childhood nickname, “Figgy,” DiBenedetto owns Figgy’s Takeout and Catering in Portland’s West End. And from her favorite chair in what she refers to as the fireplace room, she can peek out behind elegant wooden shutters and see what’s going on at the takeout window. “They don’t have to call me,” DiBenedetto says of her employees. “I can just see if they need me.”
During the winter, DiBenedetto and her family spend most evenings in the fireplace room. Sometimes she and her son Basil, 13, and husband, Aaron Staples, cook hotdogs over the fire, or set up a couple mattresses on the floor for a sleepover. The family cat, Bruce, loves to curl up in front of the fireplace, too. The room is cozy, with just enough space for three modern armchairs, a leather chaise lounge, an electric piano and a rustic wooden curio cabinet DiBenedetto bought in Hudson, New York.
Basil was born in the Hudson Valley and spent his early years in a post-and-beam farmhouse built by his parents. DiBenedetto and Basil’s father, Johnny DiBenedetto, ran an upscale diner there. But Johnny was killed in a bike accident when Basil was still a baby and not long after, DiBenedetto realized that both she and her son could benefit from a permanent change of scenery.
When the grieving pair eventually made their way to Portland, DiBenedetto was able to buy one of the West End’s treasures: an 1868 Victorian with a mansard roof that once belonged to Frannie Peabody, the patrician AIDS activist who died in 2001. The purchase was possible thanks to a weak real estate market in 2010 and a pair of sellers who quickly took to DiBenedetto and her young son. “I still can’t believe my good luck,” she says. “But I needed some luck, so I don’t feel bad about it.” She met Staples at Eventide, where he was shucking oysters and they married in 2016.
The home, which Frannie Peabody had lovingly restored, boasts 12-foot-high ceilings, a gracefully sweeping staircase and stunning trompe l’oeil details—all complemented by DiBenedetto’s funky, modern art and décor. “I love to imagine what Frannie would think about seeing all this banana-pants [stuff] around the house,” DiBenedetto says. “She would either have a heart attack or totally love it.”
When 5 p.m. rolls around, if DiBenedetto and Staples aren’t perched on a stool at neighborhood dive bar Ruski’s, they’re often hanging out in the fireplace room with a cocktail or a glass of wine.
Basil has recently fallen in love with vinyl, like this Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. The turntable gets an extra workout over the holidays. In heavy rotation: William Shatner’s Christmas album.
After her 13-year-old son taught himself to play a few songs on the piano—Mad World, the 1983 hit by Tears for Fears is a favorite—DiBenedetto signed him up for lessons.
DiBenedetto is a little obsessed with woodland creatures—owls, fuzzy mice, even the wooly L.L.Bean raccoon slippers her husband bought her for Christmas one year. “I love them so much it makes me grit my teeth,” she says. “I want to have a cabin in the woods at some point, and when I do it will be outfitted with many felted mice, owls, hedgehogs and bears.” Owls appear in this room in three different forms: felted, wooden and printed on a porcelain jar.
DiBenedetto bought this chair and its mate at an antique fair in Rhinebeck, New York. Her mom bought the Midcentury-style textured pillows for her.