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

Frances Schultz

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Feb 09, 2016
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.” And 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. Although he 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 also loves herself.

BONUS VIDEO

Frances Schultz in action: