“So, Mom, did you Meg-anize it?” This is the big question, Meg Ryan tells me, that her 24-year-old son, Jack, teasingly asks whenever she’s finished decorating a new home. And this being the ninth home the actress—and now director—has renovated, the answer, fortunately for Jack (and for us), is a resounding “Yes.”

“I know it sounds crazy to most people, the idea of renovating that many houses,” Ryan says as we stand in the kitchen of her SoHo loft, afternoon sun filtering through the soaring windows. She is dressed in a fuzzy oversize navy sweater and olive-green pants and smells faintly of jasmine. “But I love renovating. I think it’s tied to living the actor’s life. As an actor, you are so rarely in control. You’re always saying words that someone else has given you, standing in a room that someone else has designed, to create a reality that someone else wants to see. But with decorating I am in control; it’s a chance for me to bring my vision into the world.”

For 25 or so years now, we’ve all been fortunate to live in a Meg-anized world—one that has a bit more radiant beauty, wit, grace, and intelligence thanks to performances that include her breakthrough role as everyone’s crush in When Harry Met Sally . . . and continued on to Prelude to a KissSleepless in SeattleCity of Angels, and You’ve Got Mail. She also starred in the recently released World War II–era drama Ithaca—alongside son Jack and Tom Hanks—which marks her directorial debut.

“I’ve had so many lives,” Ryan goes on to say. This is not just a reference to her career and the roles she’s inhabited; it’s about the stages of her life, from a quiet girlhood in Connecticut, to Hollywood stardom and marriage to Dennis Quaid, to today. A few years ago, after she and Quaid were divorced, she left California and moved back East, where she rented various apartments around Manhattan. It was while she was living in her fifth rental, with her daughter, Daisy True, that Ryan decided the time had come for something more permanent.

Strangely enough, Ryan first encountered the loft apartment she now calls home around 15 years ago, when she attended a party there. She forgot all about it until she was on her house hunt and stepped back through the door. “I remembered immediately having been there. It was all quite different back then, and the space had been through many eras. At one point Cindy Sherman had used it for her photo studio. In fact, what’s now my coatroom was her darkroom. But even when I had visited all those years ago, I was amazed by the volume. It was like so much of New York: cinematic. That’s what attracted me. And that’s what I wanted to work with.”