The ‘Sentimental Excess’ of Sarah Stiles

Sarah Stiles’s first address in New York was the Stratford Arms, an Upper West Side building that serves as campus housing for students at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Fittingly, the experience had its share of theatrics.

The year was 1999. Ms. Stiles’s parents, though long divorced, jointly shepherded her from “the hippie woods of New Hampshire” to the urban jungle of West 70th Street. “And when we got there, there was a giant inflatable rat in front of the building, and people were picketing,” said Ms. Stiles, 41, a star of the new Netflix comedy series “The Crew” and a recurring cast member — Axe Capital trader Bonnie Barella — on Showtime’s “Billions.”

The room at the Stratford Arms was too small to accommodate a standard twin bed, and at the time, some of the building’s nonstudent residents were being treated for mental illness, she recalled.

“There was a guy who would scream ‘Maria’ at me every night in an angry voice,” said Ms. Stiles, a two-time Tony nominee — for her performance in the play “Hand to God” and her showstopping turn in the musical “Tootsie.” “Things could only go up from there.”

The Upper West Side apartment shared by Sarah Stiles, a two-time Tony nominee and a star of the new Netflix series “The Crew,” and her husband, Jeff Dodson, has an otherworldly feeling. She prefers the term “sentimental excess” to describe her style.Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

Sarah Stiles, 41

Occupation: Actor

Home comforts: “I’m the kind of person who makes a home out of anywhere I go. If I’m working regionally or shooting a movie far away, I bring things like photos.”

And they did. After bouncing around the boroughs, followed by a brief marriage that landed her in Washington, D.C., and a lot of couch-surfing when she returned to New York, Ms. Stiles got the fairly steady use of a two-bedroom rental not far from that Upper West Side residence hall. Now she lives there full-time — and officially — with her husband of almost six months, Jeff Dodson. (The second bedroom has been outfitted to accommodate Mr. Dodson’s two daughters, Lily and Addy, who spend part of each week there.)

“This place has major history for me,” Ms. Stiles said.

It began almost 20 years ago, when she visited the apartment as a plus-one for a game night; her future first husband was a pal of the host. Soon, Ms. Stiles became the host’s pal, too. The friendship survived the breakup of her marriage, and Ms. Stiles often used the apartment as a crash pad.

“When ‘Hand to God’ came around, my friend’s roommate was moving out and my friend was spending a lot of time in Los Angeles,” she said. “So, basically, it was my own place for this really incredible time in my life both personally and professionally. I did a lot of growing up here.”

In the fall of 2018, two years after she met Mr. Dodson, who is the head electrician at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, Ms. Stiles moved from the apartment she loved to the Inwood apartment of the man she loved. Three months later, just about the time she had finished redecorating Mr. Dodson’s apartment, and right before the start of rehearsals for “Tootsie,” her friend called. He was vacating the apartment for good and wanted to sign the lease over to her. “He said that he wanted me to live there with Jeff and Jeff’s daughters,” recalled Ms. Stiles. She was happy to oblige.

Ms. Stiles has a thing for squirrels, so the acorn lamp makes perfect sense.Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

“We moved everything in, like, a weekend,” she said. “We repainted. We got some furniture, and now it’s our house.”

Several years and several rentals ago, Ms. Stiles made an unsuccessful stab at minimalism. Recently, she has contemplated following the example of a friend whose apartment was done in shades of cream and gray. “It was beautiful,” she said.

But she knew perfectly well that the red plastic chair that is part of her reading nook in the main bedroom, and the layered, multicolored tasseled rugs and pea-green side chair in the living room would be out in the cold with such a restrained palette. She loves bright colors. She loves bold patterns.

Ms. Stiles is the square root of a charming but slightly goofy sitcom neighbor. Her apartment reflects those qualities. The aesthetic may best be summed up as otherworldly woodland: tarot cards and an abundance of crystals mix with tiny figures created from sticks and twigs. A bird made of straw seems poised for flight in one window. In another, there’s a plush pigeon — a gift from Mr. Dodson, who, when he was first courting Ms. Stiles, saved the day when an actual pigeon flew into the apartment. Squirrels and their accouterment are represented in many forms: The base of a bedside lamp, for example, is shaped like an acorn.

Ms. Stiles prefers the term “sentimental excess” to describe her style.

Paintings by her aunt, her grandmother and great-grandmother hang in the living room and the main bedroom. Every window sill has a vignette, composed in part of drawings by Ms. Stiles’s niece and nephew, keepsakes from friends and tender mementos like the pine cone from a hike Ms. Stiles and Mr. Dodson took the day before their wedding.

“This apartment, the way it is with Jeff and his kids and me, is the most comfortable space I’ve ever had,” said Ms. Stiles (in Riverside Park with Mr. Dodson and her stepdaughters, Lily Dodson, left, and Addy Dodson).Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

A map of Oklahoma, Mr. Dodson’s home state, hangs in the bedroom. “Everything is here for a reason, and it all means something to me,” Ms. Stiles said.

The apartment isn’t perfect, and she’d be the first to say so. It’s either too hot or too cold. No matter how often she scrubs the bathtub, it doesn’t look clean. Because of a wall, the refrigerator barely opens a foot.

And yet. “It feels like I’ve been waiting my whole life to feel as safe and comfortable in a physical place as I do in this apartment,” Ms. Stiles said. “The things that my family and I love are here. We don’t think, ‘Oh, we’ll get nicer versions when we have more money.’ We’d choose them regardless.”

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