Back in May 2011, Jessica Chastain exploded onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere. She emerged, a fully formed movie star, on the Cannes Film Festival’s red carpet to begin promoting an astounding six films coming out that year, including The Tree of LifeTake Shelter, and The Help (for which she was nominated for an Oscar). In the five years since, she’s redefined what it means to be a Hollywood leading lady, playing a tough-as-nails CIA analyst in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty (winning a Golden Globe for that one) and a flinty astronaut commander in last year’s The Martian. She’s already receiving awards buzz for her role as a gun lobbyist in Miss Sloane, due out in December.

According to Chastain, the secret to making such complex characters come alive is to have a simple “real life.” To create a suitably grounding home base, she and her boyfriend, fashion executive Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, recently refurbished a 19th-century apartment close to New York’s Central Park. Their elegant redo has returned an address steeped in history to, in her own words, its “warm and cozy glory.”

Sitting on the living room’s voluminous green-velvet Ralph Lauren sofa, near one of the home’s six fireplaces, Chastain veers down memory lane for a bit. “Being on a film set, you’re always going to different places,” she says.

Chastain was raised in Northern California and attended Juilliard, in Manhattan, on a scholarship sponsored by Robin Williams. In those student days, she and two friends—a Julie and another Jessica—“shared a three-bedroom apartment probably the size of this room,” she says, laughing. “I’m not exaggerating.”

When she first came to see her current home, Chastain realized that, as starving students, she and her friends often went to the restaurant directly across the street. “My grandmother would send me $20 once a week for the baked ziti. So every Saturday night, as a big splurge, we’d go there. I didn’t know until we saw the apartment, and I said, ‘Oh, my God, it’s right here.’”

The ziti wasn’t the only good omen. The unit’s seller was composer Adam Guettel, whose 1999 record Myths and Hymns Chastain played whenever she was homesick for the West Coast. “As soon as I found out it was him, I felt like it was meant to be,” she recalls. She then learned that another previous occupant had been West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein. (Yes, there is a fire escape!) The cabaret legend Bobby Short and TV star Larry Storch have each lived in the apartment, too, and the likes of Lynn Redgrave and Vera Miles have called the landmark building home. “When I found out about all the other artists and actors who have lived here, I was in love,” Chastain says. And so in the winter of 2015, she became the apartment’s latest owner.