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The New York Post

She's Home . . . At Last

By Tina Traster

February 26, 2009 -- If we'd read the diva handbook, we'd have known better than to arrive at Ann Hampton Callaway's Westchester house 20 minutes early for a noon interview.

She squinted when opening the door, ushered us to the roaring fire in her living room and asked us to wait. When she reappeared - holding a tall espresso and wearing a black suit with coattails, sequined-seamed pants and a cobalt-blue blouse - she apologized.

"Sorry, I'm on diva time; I got home late from my gig last night," she said, referring to her two-week engagement at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which continues through March 1.

But this diva is sleeping a whole lot better these days.

In 2007, the jazz chanteuse, pianist and composer ditched her Upper West Side two-bedroom and bought a new 4,000-square-foot, four-bedroom Colonial on a woodsy road in Croton-on-Hudson.

Both the move and Callaway's 12th album, "At Last" - an eclectic trove of re-interpreted classics including "Over the Rainbow," "At Last" and "Comes Love" - were prompted by falling in love two years ago with her partner, Kari Strand.

"I didn't realize how lonely I was on the road," says Callaway, a statuesque woman with piercing blue eyes.

When Strand and her Persian cat, Muffin, relocated to New York, Callaway decided to upgrade her digs.

"Sure, I miss Zabar's and people-watching, but being with the sky and stars and the trees restores the psyche," she says.

But for a couple of gold and platinum music awards on the living-room wall and a Boston baby grand in a sunlit corner, a visitor might not guess that this house belongs to a musician.

The airy living area - with its casual sectional couch, minimalist silver end tables, black-and-white area rugs and shelves filled with art and photo books - is a shrine to the visual arts.

A trio of large, Expressionist-style paintings hangs on one wall, and atop the stone fireplace is one of Callaway's biggest treasures: an original Picasso.

Near the piano is another painting of a fractured woman's face that looks like a Picasso, but it's an oil painting Callaway did at 19.

"I painted her with no mouth," she reflects. "I was going through a hard time then; it was when my parents divorced."

The living room leads into a more countrified pinewood breakfast nook decorated in cranberry and greens, and the island kitchen has all the modern trappings: granite counters, stainless-steel appliances, an espresso maker.

In the center hall hangs a large Greta Garbo serigraph by Rupert Jason Smith, the printer for Andy Warhol during the 1980s.

"I always wanted to meet Garbo," says Callaway. "I wrote her letters, I invited her to my gigs, I told her there would be a Manhattan on the rocks waiting for her, but she never came."

Callaway had better luck when she sent a letter to the son of Milan artist Piero Fornasetti, praising his father's art. The songster had already amassed a collection of the artist's plates that hang on her dining-room wall, but the son sent her a Fornasetti DVD encased in a signed Fornasetti box topped with one of the designer's iconic faces. She also keeps a prized collection of plates with Al Hirschfeld imprints, a gift from her father.

The largest room upstairs has been turned into an office, where music statuettes and Broadway paraphernalia line the shelves. The master bedroom at the other end of the landing is a tranquil oasis with a four-poster bed. The smaller bedroom is called the guestroom, but clearly it's Muffin the cat's lair.

At 50, Callaway is at the top of her game and has no plans to slow down. Touring takes her away from home nearly three-quarters of the year. Her claims to fame include a Tony nomination for her role in the musical "Swing!" and composing for other musical divas including Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. Callaway has also performed in films such as "The Good Shepherd," and composed the theme song for TV's "The Nanny."

To balance her busy life, Callaway has turned a fourth bedroom into a meditation room. The scent of incense hangs in the air. A picture of her spiritual teacher adorns one wall, and a gold-painted wooden Buddha is on another.

In late autumn, Callaway and her partner completed a bi-level deck with a hot tub under a pergola and stone fire pit. The singer is looking forward to spending warmer nights in her back yard.

The suburban life seems to be working out well.

"I can relax more out here," Callaway says. "I don't have to put on makeup to run to the grocery store."

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