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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Bee Cottage Story


Have you read this book yet?  

Frances Schultz writes for Veranda magazine and House Beautiful and has written several books, as well as hosting the cable show Southern Living Presents.  She also paints.  The book begins as a memoir.  I skimmed that part and went to the decorating part which includes decorating tips and lots of photos.  I soon started over at the beginning because I wanted to get to know more about Frances.  Her choice of house and decorating style told me a lot about who she was, and I wanted to get the facts about her life.  It's the same the other way around when it comes to people in my life.  I  have the facts about them, but I also need to see where they live so that when I think about them I can "see" them in their personal space. 

Frances Schultz's book, The Bee Cottage Story--How I Made a Muddle of Things and Decorated My Way Back to Happiness, was published in 2015.  I've only just read it this month.  I can't even remember now how it came to my attention, but once it did the title jumped out at me (Cottage!) and the subtitle reeled me in.  By the way, she is no relation to our family, but I can heartily identify with her need to decorate.  For me, thankfully, it's not because I've made a muddle of my life, as she professes to have done, but because I become bored with my surroundings after a while.

My conundrum is because I moved around so much as a child (from age 5 to 18 I lived in 12 different houses) I longed to put down roots.  In my soon-to-be 55-year marriage we've only lived in three houses and have lived in the same region of Maryland all those years.  Staying put has been hard even though that's what I wanted.  I've dealt with it by rearranging furniture even to the point of switching rooms back and forth from time to time.  Decorating and redecorating has helped as well, especially as my style preferences have changed.  I'm so grateful that my husband has been a willing participant and has no strong opinions that would clash with mine.  It seems I married the right fellow and may be why we've been married for so long.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you what Frances learned from decorating her house along with my own revelations....

Francis wrote:

By coming to an understanding of what was right for my house, I came to a better understanding of what was right for me...I believe this is universal, by the way, and the more conscious we are of how we shelter ourselves, both literally and figuratively the more conscious we are of ourselves.

I've read elsewhere that our houses are mirrors of what's going on inside us.  As a recovering perfectionist there are still times when I find myself obsessively cleaning areas of my house that my guests will never notice--like when I was in my 20s and my in-laws were bringing their friends to stay with us.  I found myself up on a stool cleaning the TOP OF THE DOOR JAM!   In my 30s I had a friend who was also a perfectionist so I couldn't understand why her house was always a mess when I visited.  By then I'd started reading books about perfectionism and discovered that some perfectionism displays itself as messiness because the person feels that if they can't do it perfectly than why even bother at all.

As much as form follows function, I confess I did not have all the function figured out at first.  When I moved in at summer's end of 2008, it was with boxes of uncertainty about the house, the future, and ever finding happiness.  At least in the decorating I could start with a few decisions and work up to the rest.  I told myself just to wait, to let design solutions come.  Maybe other solutions would present themselves as well.  The house was becoming a metaphor for my life.  I kept seeing parallels between fixing up the house and facing my now-upended life, and I wondered if the house was a way toward healing.

I've come to believe that all of life is a metaphor.  This came to me one day years ago while sitting on my porch swing.  I don't remember what I was thinking about at the time, but the rocking chair I was staring at on the other side of the porch seemed to recede into the background and the background became my focus.  That's when I realized everything that exists (in nature or man made) is a metaphor for some truth that we have a hard time grasping.  If we could just see the metaphor, the answers would come.  I think God knows we need visuals and tangible experiences in order to learn.  After all, isn't that why we're here?  To learn?

It is such a lovely thing to change your rooms with the seasons, putting crisp cotton slipcovers on wintry upholstery.

This goes along with rearranging furniture and switching rooms.  I also decorate for all four seasons.  I even change the seasons in my miniature doll house.   I don't have slipcovers, but I will change out porch pillows and dining room curtains.  I hang seasonal garland and display seasonal knick knacks.  I love having my home mirror what's happening outside in nature.

Sometimes you have to be willing to let a room surprise you, and also to let it change.  Our rooms evolve as our lives evolve, and we go with that.  It's a way of getting unstuck, acknowledging loss, accepting change, and moving forward.

The biggest example of this is when each of my three sons left home after college I used their rooms for different purposes:  guest room, a room for my desk where I wrote my blogs, and we even moved our bedroom into one of their rooms.  Doing this helped me start to accept my emptying and eventual abandoned nest.  Since then I've moved our bedroom back to its original room and taken that son's room as my "studio".  I have one less guest room, but we no longer host a houseful of people for weddings since all our sons are married now so I'm moving onward.

Patience.  I firmly believe if you let it all swim around in your unconscious for a while, the answer will eventually surface.   

I am not a patient person.  If I get an idea on how to rearrange a room, I will jump up and start moving furniture!  As for larger projects that require other people (contractors, for instance) I am more likely to do nothing.  The ideas bounce around, surfacing from time to time to get me excited, only to fall by the wayside as doubts and the practicality of it begin to rise to the surface.  At least this has saved us beaucoup money!

These small projects that bring such pleasure were a salve to my then-troubled soul.  Creating even small bits of beauty calms me and makes me happy, especially when I am down.  Makes me think there are at least some things I don't make a mess of.  Nobody wants to admit they feel sorry for themselves, but sometimes we just do.  Doing something you are good at helps get you out of it, boosts confidence, and in turn helps you get to the next place you need to be.    That's what doing this house did for me.

Don't laugh, but what I do is go outside and pick up fallen branches and sticks from our yard and in our woods.  I'm known as the stick lady and a couple of my grandchildren not only help me when they see me doing it, they will pick up sticks at their nearby park. If I'm really upset about something I go out into my woods and pull up unwanted invasive bushes....a wonderful metaphor for getting rid of unproductive thoughts that invade our happiness.

Claiming space for my work was a small act of self-validation, if not entirely banishing a bit of my spurious subconscious, then surely chipping away at it.

My previously-mentioned studio was a way for me to validate my hobbies of writing and, hopefully, to  banish my reluctance in picking up the paintbrush again.  The latter is still being chipped away at.

I arrived at Bee one weekend thrilled to see the hole dug and the re-bar laid [for the pool] the wrong place, by about ten feet to the left.  I fretted over it something terrible, wondering if I could live with it.  I couldn't....They say everything happens for a reason, and in retrospect I wonder if the pool gods were trying to tell me to make a larger pool, which I now wish I had.......I've come to see wisdom in wondering about a seemingly random event or mishap, and at least to look at it from different perspectives.  Almost invariably there is an insight to be had, or a solution to a problem, or a touch of grace.

The only example I have for wishing I had done some remodeling differently is when the contractor who put the roof on the slab of concrete attached to the front of our house suggested he put in a skylight over the dining room window.  Because it faces west I thought it would be too sunny on the porch so I declined.  Afterwards I wished I'd said yes because the dining room is much too dark.  We've talked about having a skylight put in now, but I think my perfectionism is not wanting to spend the extra cost of putting it in after the fact.  And besides, I'm still not convinced it would provide enough light into the dining room.  (There is the doubt and practicality coming into play.) 

What's important about collections in decorating is that they reveal something of the heart of the inhabitant.  A by definition personal, and decorating void of personality might as well be a hotel lobby. 

My decorating style is very much about my collections.  Years ago I did a blog post about all the hearts that filled my home.  You'll also find miniature cabins, miniature scenes, Amish themes, pottery, family photos, Westies and Calico Cats, books and more books.

A morning of tossing wet, ruined things prompted donating or selling even more.....If we are paying attention, God, nature, or a flooded basement gives a nudge, and we have to act.  Awareness in one area of life even the basement....can lead to awareness in another.  What's in the basement of my head?  My heart?  My life?  Is it adding value?  Is it helping me to add value to others?

Frances' basement flooded.  For me, getting older and doing estate planning has prompted my decluttering binge.  I read Margareta Magnussen's book The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly in which she devotes a chapter to her first book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.  There she says our kids shouldn't be left the job of clearing out all our stuff.  Stuff that holds no meaning for them......which for the most part is EVERYTHING I OWN.  My kids either have no room for more stuff or no interest in the things I've accumulated in a house we've lived in for more than 42 years which has a full attic!  So I've started in the attic.  Pretty soon the only thing stored up there will be THEIR stuff they're storing in my attic because they have no room in their homes.  I'm not complaining.....they must take after me.

Simone de Beauvoir wrote,  "The ideal of happiness has always taken material form in the house, whether cottage or castle.  It stands for permanence and separation from the world."  Yet while the ideal is ephemeral, the metaphor is enduring.  the house, whether cottage or castle, stands for who we are, how we live, and how we love ourselves and others.  I wish for you a home you can be yourself in, and a self you can be at home in.  

The end, for now.

I love Beauvoir's quote.  Our homes do, or at least should, stand for permanence and separation from the world.  When we married our plan was for me to work long enough to save up a down payment for a house so we could start a family and I could stay home and devote all my time to "making a home" for our family---a place of permanence and separation from the world.  We ended up having to wait 10 years to start our family, but I do not regret that because I succeeded at what I'd set out to do.  Now our grandchildren love coming here.  We have friends and family who visit who say they feel like they're coming home when they visit. 

I hope you will look around your home to see what it says about you.  Maybe it is wanting you to be more yourself and not what you think others expect of you.  I say, if you're the one who takes care of it, you get to make it to your liking!  Please let me know if you do make some changes.

☆If you want to see some of the rooms Frances decorated in Bee Cottage check out her blog post HERE.

☆Read Flower Magazine's article about the latest on Bee Cottage HERE.

☆And you really must read her latest blog post HERE if you want to know what Frances is up to now.  It's no surprise she ended The Bee Cottage Story with "The end, for now."


  1. Loved this. Have been wanting to your last post. Will respond soon.

    1. I'm so glad to hear this. I wish I knew who you are, Anonymous!

    2. Podso. I meant to say I wanted to respond to your last post. Blog comments don’t seem easy to do anymore.

  2. I need to read this at greater length. The very title Bee Cottage draws me in! Could not agree more that we are reflected in our homes. Mine is currently run down and in need of repair. So am I. My inner turmoil reflected in the Howard Carter Rooms.

    1. Please let me know who you are so I don't confuse you with another Anonymous! Your Howard Carter Rooms reference intrigues me.

    2. sorry Cathy, it's Debbie from CountryWays . . . no idea why intermittently I become anonymous. HCR refers to everything thrown into one room, higgledy piggledy.

    3. Hi Debbie! I have found that only Chrome will let me stay logged in at a Blogger site (both are owned by Google). I have to log into Google every time I use another browser. I hope you can find a way to fix up both your home and your inner life. It's been especially hard since the Pandemic, doubly so for anyone with additional burdens. Just remember that everything begins with a thought, for good or bad. I've been listening to a lot of positive podcasters to help lift me out of my doldrums. It's really helped!

  3. Hi Cathy, this is Edie. Your home definitely reflects your personality! It is lovely. I feel the same way about my home, and, as you know, I have changed it (the actual home) and rooms within it as I change.

    1. Thank you, Edie.❤️ Moving for us would be an overwhelming task for us at this point in our lives, so we are trying to accommodate our stage in life. There are times, though, I would like to "start over" somewhere else. Who knows what the future holds!


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