Inside Rachael Ray's Return to the Studio 20 Months Later (Exclusive)

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After 20 long months, Rachael Ray is returning to the studio to resume season 16 of The Rachael Ray Show, live and in person. After shooting from the guest house of her home in Upstate New York, Ray told ET's Rachel Smith that she wanted the studio to mirror her own home and reflect how different people's lives look in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's modeled after my home upstate; they took inspiration from that," Ray said of the studio remodel. "We've been living in the guest house as the new house is being rebuilt. This house has some of those elements. We wanted it to feel cozy."

"They turned it more into what my real life is like," she continued. "It would've been hard to go back to. It was a totally different speed before the pandemic. Twenty-something months ago, when we were in the old studio, I would wear high heels and fancy clothes. This feels much more relaxed. It’s much more like my real life. I’m wearing sneakers and jeans now all the time, it’s much more like my actual home. I'm never dressing up again."

And even with COVID regulations, the set brings that "intimate" feeling to the live, in-studio audience.

"They comply with the regulations for spacing, but they're cozier like they're in my living room. People get really comfortable," Ray explained.

In addition to filming in her newly updated home-away-from-home, Ray will continue with her pandemic practice of filming some of the show from her guest house upstate.

"We are doing two several week sessions here and the rest will be upstate," Ray said of splitting filming between the studio and the guest house on her Upstate New York property, which is currently being rebuilt after catching fire last year. "We have a lot to do there, there’s a lot to do on the rebuild. I film all day then go work on the house."

She added, "When we shoot upstate, we film all day. My husband and I then go up the hill, and I work on the house for, like, hours a night, so we kind of need to go back and forth until that's completed. We're hoping by the end of the year. We're hoping November, actually."

In August 2020, the celebrity chef and husband John Cusimano's Lake Luzerne abode was set ablaze after a fire started in their chimney and quickly spread. Ray has continued to give fans updates on the ongoing home rebuild. Ray told ET that the building is there, and they are now in the process of furnishing the home.

"The building is there, it needs stuff now," Ray shared. "The house was a total loss. The renovation teams do as much as they can to refurbish stuff. We also had a flood in our apartment three times! So it’s a mess, but we’re alive and we have jobs."

As far as what's next, the talk show host shared that she's been working on building her dream home in Italy. 

"We also are building in Italy," she told ET. "We had a party there recently. Every year we go back for our anniversary, but not the last two years."

For the completed project, watch the video below.

The Rachael Ray Show returns live and in studio, Wednesday on CBS. Check your local listings.

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