“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”
- Ernest Hemingway

Books

The Bee Cottage Story: How I Made a Muddle of Things and Decorated My Way Back to Happines

Frances Schultz

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jul 07, 2015
Category: Art and Photography

I can’t remember how I became Frances Schultz’s online friend, because the process was so effortless it seemed we had always been sassing one another.

And I can’t recall why it seemed like a good idea to have drinks with Frances and her husband when they were in New York — I don’t drink, and without reading much about Tom Dittmer, I had a feeling he has the kind of political views that drive me nuts, and probably vice versa.

But I can’t forget that evening, because within five minutes Frances, Tom and I were telling whoppers, gossiping irresponsibly and just generally acting like the old friends we already seemed to be.

When I left, promising to read her book, I thought: Is it possible to adore her book more than I adore Frances?

“The Bee Cottage Story: How I Made a Muddle of Things and Decorated My Way Back to Happiness” answers the question — the book is the woman, the woman is the book.

Frances Schultz has described her East Hampton hideaway as “a little stucco cottage with pretty blue shutters and a big heart.” Works for a description of her as well. Shutters don’t obscure anything; they simply frame a window. And as for the heart…

Here is Frances, on page 1, buying this run-down cottage as “the perfect place to begin my second marriage.” Which didn’t happen. Nice guy, bad fit. And there she was, in “a spot that illuminates the space between where we are and where we thought we’d be… in a sea of fear, self-loathing and self-doubt.” Well, if she couldn’t fix herself, she’d fix the house. It wasn’t much of a goal — “a point of light in a big dark room, but it was something.”

Why a house? “Start where you are, begin with what you know.” Well, she knew about houses. She was a contributing editor to House Beautiful and former editor-at-large for Veranda. For six years, she’d been the host of a cable show, “Southern Living Presents.” She’d written a few design books.

And she was Southern. Her mother “had a thing for pilots,” so she married one. Her father “had a thing for girls,” and left his wife and two daughters. At 22, Frances got married — “When he proposed, he made it clear in the nicest way that if I said no, he’d move on, and I didn’t want to let him go.” They stayed together for six years. “Twenty-five years after we divorced, he came to my mother’s funeral. God bless him.”

Twenty years “of mostly serial monogamy spiced with the occasional madcap affair” followed. There was some introspection, but mostly there was muddle:

When the road was smooth, I made bumps. But I’m good at tying bows and make a hell of a lamb stew. I can arrange flowers and furniture in my sleep. I can tell jokes. I’m artistic, and I’m a decent athlete. Some days I can even write. All these things are hints, by the way, to Who I Am, but back in the day I sometimes ignored my instincts and natural inclinations.

You may guess what followed. Dating New York men, “expecting more and accepting less.” She needed, she realized, to be hit by a truck. In 2004, she was: breast cancer. Small and caught early, but a wake-up call. The next year, her mother died. Buying Bee Cottage? After all that, how could she not?

We’ve now reached page 50 of a profusely illustrated 150-page book. Some readers will be delighted to learn that decorating stories make up most of the final 100 pages; I was having such a good time following Frances’ adventures that I didn’t expect to care much about home improvements. Happily, home improvements and self-improvement dovetail for Frances, who is, on page 50, now 50, unmarried and looking for a place to put her love. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Bee Cottage is not some spectacular palace. It’s small, in the village, not that much of a house. But Frances had energy, creativity and personal need — she made it a home. Her home. See for yourself.

Naturally she’s now married to a man with a ranch in California and no great affection for the ocean. So she’s bi-coastal, “a high-class problem, for sure.” The house is too small for her husband, “but he appreciates what I’ve created, and he gets that I need to be there.”

Which leads her, after decades of searching and not quite finding, to this:

It is one of life’s greatest reliefs — right up there with the ending of your child’s school play — to realize that no one person can fulfill all your needs, much less mirror them. Just as no one person, situation, thing or house will make you “happy,” as if happiness were an egg that hatches when you pick the right nest.

And yet. The ideal of happiness eludes us, the metaphor draws us in. Especially for this woman in Bee Cottage. “A house stands for who we are, and how we love ourselves and others.” No doubt about it. Frances Schultz always loved others. Now she finally loves herself.

BONUS VIDEO

Frances Schultz in action:

Short takes

A nail-biting, true story of a French family in World War II

Heroes tend not to talk about their exploits, so no one told young Charles Kaiser what his French cousins did in World War II. It was a lot: André Boulloche coordinated the Resistance movements in the nine northern regions of France, and when he was captured, his sisters did all they could. The price was high: As the war was ending, their parents and brothers were taken to Germany and killed. Now, a lifetime later, Kaiser excavates their story. More: in a mere 230 pages, he also offers a capsule history of the war, with telling anecdotes that were new to me. Like: Hitler slept through D-Day. The French police weren’t asked to arrest children, but in 1942 they sent 4,051 to Germany, where they were immediately gassed. Bicycles cost as much as cars. Men pedaled to charge generators to keep the lights on. Heat? A memory. “The Cost of Courage” is well named. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

‘Pot Luck’ won’t get you high. It may just improve your health.

Richard Lewis spent two decades in charge of the Absolut advertising account — he invented those classic Absolut ads. He’s taught Branding at Yale and NYU. You may recall his book, Why Hire Jennifer? Now he’s back, with an equally accessible book: “Pot Luck: Why Marijuana is Today’s Medicine.” Huh? His reason: 23 states have legalized medical marijuana, 4 have gone further and legalized recreational marijuana. And there are hundreds of books. His aim: the simplest and most factual. In 200 pages, with big print, many illustrations and contributions from doctors and patients, he pretty much does that. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

A first-time director to watch, an actor’s breakthrough performance

Lou Howe is married to my favorite and only stepdaughter, but if I didn’t know him, I’d still be knocked out by “Gabriel,” the film he wrote and directed. Rory Culkin is devastatingly compelling as a damaged kid so desperate to fix his life that he stalks a long-lost girlfriend. “Gabriel,” a little film that launches two careers, is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. The website lists other cities, streaming opportunities and much more objective praise.

You are falling into a deep, deep sleep

Jason Clement is the first engineer to be inducted into the Sony Samurai Society, the most prestigious honor that a Sony employee can be awarded. When someone of this stature creates an app and “Zen” is in the title, I pay attention. Not that I grasp the tech: “Zen Tunes combines Isochronic tones with monaural and binaural beats.” Translation: Zen Tunes lets you create a custom mix of sounds, set volumes individually, and then store your personalized “mixes.” Result: “brainwave entrainment.” Translation: Your brain eases into a deep state of relaxation or sleep. Who would like this? Insomniacs. Travelers. Dreamers. Aficiondoes of the new and cool. Deep dive here.