Vanessa Ray has lived in New York City on and off for the past decade, renting or subletting in the theater district, on the far reaches of Upper West Side, in Brooklyn and, more than once, in Lincoln Square.
“I had always watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television, and when I was starting to pursue being an actor, I was like, ‘I’m going to shoot my shot in New York,’” said Ms. Ray, 39, who plays feisty policewoman Eddie Janko, now a regular around the Reagan dinner table, on the long-running CBS police procedural “Blue Bloods.” (The Season 11 finale airs May 14.)
It was the beginning of a great love affair.
“This is where my heart is,” said Ms. Ray, who was raised in Portland, Ore., and subsequently moved to Los Angeles where, thanks to roles on “Pretty Little Liars,” “Suits” and “Blue Bloods,” she owns a house in the hills. “I love California. When I have three months off, I go and soak up the sun and swim in the pool, and then I come back here to real living.”
Vanessa Ray, 39
Lip service: “When I was first on ‘Blue Bloods,’ I was subletting a place in the theater district. You walk around there and you run into just about every actor you know. I was dating different people, and one guy went to kiss me on Ninth Avenue, and I was like, ‘You can’t kiss me on Ninth Avenue. That’s saying something. Let’s take it to 10th Avenue when it’s a new relationship.’”
Not long after her 2015 marriage to Landon Beard, a Los Angeles-based musician who comes to New York as frequently as possible, Ms. Ray took it into her head to try Brooklyn on for size. It didn’t fit, even if the two-bedroom she rented in Williamsburg, near McCarren Park, was an easy walk to the “Blue Bloods” set in Greenpoint.
“I was going through a tough time emotionally, and because of that I knew I needed to return to Manhattan,” Ms. Ray said. Fortunately, one of her best friends, Jessica Waxman, is a real estate agent. Ms. Waxman presented three or four options, all near Lincoln Center and all near her own apartment, so the two women could easily meet for morning coffee and walks in Central Park.
“Jess was like, ‘OK, Vanessa, you need a kitchen that’s big enough to cook all the things you like to cook and big enough for me to watch you while you’re doing it,’” Ms. Ray said. “She also knew I needed outdoor space and a view of some kind.
“I like to wake up and look outside and think, ‘I’ve got to get in it. I’ve got to get out there,’” she said. “That’s the driving force of any success I’ve had in New York.”
A year and a half ago, Ms. Ray moved into what she describes as “a nice, healing space”: a one-bedroom apartment with a balcony in a full-service postwar building, where she can see the Hudson River from the windows in the living room and bedroom.
In the entryway, there is a photo of Ms. Ray and Mr. Beard walking on the beach in Santa Monica in the early days of their courtship, and another of them on their wedding day in Pala, Calif. Make no mistake. They look very happy.
But (and you’re reading it here first): She has a thing for another guy, a science guy. His portrait — and it’s a big one — also hangs in the entryway.
“I love Bill Nye,” said Ms. Ray, who bought the likeness at a vintage shop in Portland. “I was home-schooled as a kid. Bill Nye did a segment on ‘The Mickey Mouse Club,’ and he was always doing stuff and blowing things up. It got my brother and me excited about science, and we’ve really leaned into it over the years. If I could meet Bill Nye, I would be speechless.”
Until then, she’ll take what she can get. Some years ago, when her “Blue Bloods” co-star Will Estes met Mr. Nye at an industry event, he scored an autographed coaster for Ms. Ray. It’s tucked into a corner of the picture frame.
When Ms. Ray became a series regular in 2013, she latched onto a very substantial tan sectional from Crate & Barrel. “This couch is huge. It’s practically a twin bed,” she said. “It was the most expensive thing I had ever bought in my life.”
Perhaps in the interest of getting her money’s worth, Ms. Ray has brought it along to every apartment she has rented in the intervening years. “I will say, I don’t need a lot,” she said. “If I have a couch and a blanket, I’m pretty thrilled.”
Those who know Ms. Ray will laugh at the above declaration about “a blanket.” She has, at last count, about a dozen blankets in the apartment, all stashed in baskets — among them, Mexican blankets, Pendleton blankets, camp blankets and a white polyester number from Restoration Hardware of surpassing softness and coziness.
“My husband is like, ‘Enough blankets, babe,’ but I like to switch things up,” she said.
She feels the same way about kitchen towels. She has them for every holiday: Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Halloween. “I’ve got them all,” Ms. Ray said. “I think I was a school receptionist in another life.”
Her collection of essential kitchen utensils is, by contrast, positively austere. The most frequently used are a citrus squeezer (she squirts lemon on pretty much everything) and a couple of pairs of tongs: “You can stir with them. You can sauté with them. You can toss a salad. You can flip a steak. You can use them to get something out of the oven real quick.”
Those tools are stored in the drawer of a butcher-block-topped kitchen cart that also holds a Nespresso machine and an Aicook juicer, a recent acquisition. “This is the key spot,” Ms. Ray said of the cart. “It was the perfect size. The story of my life is that I’m always one inch off, but this really nailed it.”
Watching over her in the kitchen are photos of her grandfather, a master of the barbecue, and her uncle, Scott Smith, who taught her the joys of spices and sushi.
If the kitchen is the apartment’s center of activity, the living room is a place for reflection. There, Ms. Ray sits on a pouf near the TV cabinet, writes in her journal and reads. If affirmation is what she’s after at the end of a tough day, she need look only as far as the table next to the sectional, where “yes” is spelled in wood blocks.
“I have ‘yes’ signs everywhere,” she said. “When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had a friend who did that growing up, and I was like, ‘I want to do that, too, so I can remember to stay positive.’”
There’s another ‘yes,’ in brass letters, in the bedroom. Ms. Ray and Mr. Beard are currently in talks about getting a neon ‘yes’ sign. “But,” she said with a sigh, “we haven’t said yes to it yet.”