Perched on a wooden chair in her sunny, minimally furnished spare room, Combsseems a provocative blend of caution and audacity, a young woman whoknows both when to take her time and when to seize the day. The 25-year-old actress now plays Piper Halliwell on the WB's Charmed, the most girl-next-doorsy member of a troika of good witches, but she actually first spotted her fifties ranch house while appearing as the precocious teen KimberlyBrock on the Emmy-winning Picket Fences. And when browsing turned to buying,the backyard was the deciding factor -- not because she fancied the poolor the Jacuzzin, but because it had a huge kennel, perfect for her dogs."There is all this space for them to run around in," Combs says. An ardentanimal lover, she currently has two pooches, Lola, who at 5 months is stilla puppy, and Travis,a German shepherd. She also owns two quarter horses, Jesse and Jake (which she keeps at the nearby equestrian center), along withtwo cats, four lovebirds and two physically challenged hamsters. "One only has three legs, and the other one's really fat," she says with a giggle.
Settling in the Valley -- by L.A. standards, a fairly affordable area --appealed to Combs's scrupulous side. "When I was growing up, my family didn'thave a lot of money, so they instilled in me a belief in saving and saving and not living extravagantly." Still, Combs says, "I was very nervous. I wanted my payments to be normal, nothing too high, so that if I never worked again I could maintain them. My house is small, but it's cute."
While she may have shown a conservative streak in buying the two-bedroom house, she has been anything but when it comes to decorating. "With every job I land, I remodel," says Combs, a TV-movie veteran. "I redid the pool, front porch and driveway, installed the gate, and did a ton of landscaping."She painted the interiro herself, leaning toward cream, gray and muted shades of green. The actress has also gone through numerous phases of decorating--and redecorating; she's currently in the midst of an indoor-plant phase,but she has left many other enthusiasms in her wake. "For a long time, I went through this red phase, where I had a deep red couch and red tables. The red armoire in my bedroom is a leftover from that phase. I went through a huge basket phase for a while, so there are probably about 10 baskets inthe garage, aside from the ones in the house." At other times, she embraced lanterns, candlesticks -- and angels ("like everybody else").
Combs offers a theory about her habitual yen to redo her décor. "I think that because this is the first house I've lived in for such a longtime, and I can't just pick up and move, I [like to] make it look different. I'm constantly rearranging. I come home and start pushing the couch around.And my fiancé is like, 'What are you doing? It looked fine the wayit was!'" Said fiancé is Storm Lydon, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher Combs met in Mexico in 1998 while vacationing with co-star Shannen Doherty;the two are looking to marry next year. "Storm's just now in the process of moving in," says Combs. "He's here most of the time, but not all of histhings are here. It's a slow process."
For now, the cozy residence is filled with pictures and memorabilia that chronicle Combs's young but eventful life. Framed photos of Combs andher mother look more like shanp shots of sisters, and, in fact, her mom, aformer actress, is only 15 years her senior. Born in San Diego, Combs hada bohemian childhood that included a move to New York at the age of 8, where she grew up in cramped quarters. "We had the typical studioapartments. One was in a basement, which we shared with three other people.At another apartment, I slept above my parents' bed in a little loft, which was about five feet by four feet." And while she's close to her mom, whountil recently occupied the guest room, Combs admits she didn't learn a lot from her as far as setting up house goes. "She gypsy-travels," Combs saysof her mother, who is currently going to college with an eye toward studying entertainment law. "She'll move and just leave all her stuff behind. She only takes a few things with her. I didn't have a lot of space grwoing upin New York, so now I keep everything. It's why my garage is so cluttered.I'm a pack rat!"
Most days Combs spends more time in her Charmed house )a set made to looklike the inside of a San Francisco Victorian) than in her charming real-lifeone. "We work 12 to 15 a hours a day," she says."We usually go in around 6 A.M. They're used to seeing me in my flannel pajamas and slippers." The experience of working on two shows has strengthened her faith in her own abilities and in her future-- a future she's not likely to overplan. "I've been pretty lucky. I've done stuff I've enjoyed, and worked with people I've liked, and learned from my experiences. I just kind of take it as it comes."
It's the end of the day, and Combs goes to check the hamsters, which are on summer break from their school-year home in Lydon's classroom. Stealing a moment in the master bedroom, Combs and her fiancé enjoy aprivate laugh, and one gets the sense that learning to share a homewon't prove too daunting for either of them. Together, perhaps, they willcontinure to fine-tune the place well after Lydon's students are in highschool and Charmed has hit Nick at Nite. "After I remodel the kitchen andthe guest bathroom, then I'll be done, hopefully," says Combs. "Every time I do something, I'm like, 'OK, I"m done with this house. I'm not spending any more money!' And then I find something else. It's a never-ending project." Combs quickly scans the room; suddenly her eyes light up with enthusiasm. "Soon," she declares, "I'll be doing the doorknobs."