Review of a Hybrid Memoir: The Bee Cottage Story

Hybrid narratives are the latest publishing craze, and the hybrid memoir is a big part of that. Often combining self-help and personal narrative, the hybrid memoir fits the bill for people who want to make changes in their lives with the assistance of someone who has “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.” Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project is a classic example where we strive, alongside Gretchen, to tackle monthly challenges intended to make us happier.

The Bee Cottage Story is a self-help hybrid memoir with a difference. Here’s my review, using the simple #FridayBookShare format I’ve used for other books.

First Line of the Book

I’d planned to make Bee Cottage the perfect place to begin my second marriage. I’d bought it with my fiancé’s blessing. It was great for us and for his two sons. Though the house was old and needed work, I relished the prospect. If only I’d been as optimistic about the marriage, but the story of Bee Cottage begins, I’m sorry to say, with heartbreak.

Recruit Fans by Adding the Book Blurb

Inspired by Frances Schultz’s popular House Beautiful magazine series on the makeover of her house, Bee Cottage, what began as a decorating book evolved into a memoir combining the best elements of both: beautiful photos and a compelling personal story.

Schultz taps into what she learned during her renovations of Bee Cottage–determining how each area in the house and garden would be used and furnished–to unravel the question of how a mature, intelligent, successful woman could have made such a mess of her personal life. As she figures out each room over a period of years, Schultz finds a new path in life. She comes to learn that, like decorating a home, our lives must adapt to who we are and what we need at different points along the way.

Introduce the Main Character Using Only Three Words

Frances is privileged, likeable, and practical.

Delightful Design (Add the Cover Image)

book cover - the bee cottage story
The author painted the watercolour on the front cover. Inside, there are more watercolours and dozens and dozens of photos showing the before and after of the home’s rooms and gardens. You can see some of the photos here.

Audience Appeal

Schultz was a bit worried that The Bee Cottage Story might not work because it is a hybrid memoir, neither fish nor fowl. However, she asserts, it does manage to both swim and fly.

I agree. Reviewers on Goodreads who wanted a decorating book complain about the pages of memoir but I found that the memoir humanized the author. If Schultz hadn’t set some context to make her seem down to earth and likeable, her wealthy socialite lifestyle would have been too much to take.

So, who would like this book? Women who:

  • find themselves starting a new chapter in life, with or without a new house as part of it (Schultz notes that the two often go together.)
  • enjoy the eye candy of a beautifully decorated East Hampton beach house (and are willing to tamp down their envy or outrage when the author goes on about purchasing a few darling pieces from Katharine Hepburn’s estate).
  • are looking for practical decorating tips that also happen to be great tips for an authentic life. I picked up a few excellent ones that I share below.

Your Favourite Line or Scene

“In my sea of fear, self-loathing, and self-doubt, amid heaps of mistakes and missteps, the belief that I could make the house lovely and welcoming, that this was something I might get right, gave me a glimmer of confidence and a glimpse of joy.” (p.14)

“What surprised me was how the decorating process became both metaphor and means for personal discovery, and, ultimately, for healing. I came to see how inherent in my love for decorating were the very insights and analogies that loosened the knots in my spirit. I think this holds true for everyone, be their passion for sport, art, literature, science, cooking, or teaching–whatever the calling, career or hobby. All are rife with metaphors that point to our particular truths and what is authentic for us as individuals.” (p.15)

“When a space is right for you, there is an instinctive response to it–an intuitive sense of how you would live there, where you things would go, what you would keep and what you would change. It’s a project, but not a struggle. Why couldn’t I see that in my personal life as well?…If it feels right, it probably is. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. Instincts are not wrong; ignoring them is. Worse is getting so off-track that you lose your instincts altogether.” (p.54)

“…this house…would be a place where I could recover, be creative, be outdoors, be cocooned, be social, be alone, and best of all, be me, just…be. And that’s how it got the name Bee Cottage. I like the play on words, and I also like bees….” (p.65)

Half a Dozen of Frances Schultz’s Decorating/Life Tips

  1. If you don’t know what to do, with a room or in your life, WAIT; it will eventually tell you.
  2. Don’t shy away from big-scale pieces or bold graphics in small rooms. If it feels fun and right, go for it.
  3. If you don’t draw attention to imperfections, no one else will notice them. Learn to live with some of your flaws.
  4. You can collect and display anything from art and antiques to Pez dispensers. What’s important is asking yourself, “What do I like? What makes me laugh? What evokes fond memories?”
  5. “Letting go creates the space in your closet/day/life for the new/better/right to come in–or maybe there is just space, and that’s great, too.”
  6. Plan to organize your space, and your life, around what you really do, rather than what you think you should do.

Which of Frances Schultz’s decorating/life tips resonate for you? Please let us know in the comments below.

 

 

11 comments

  1. I loved this book, especially the decorating tips. It is always great to get ideas from others which quite often go along the line of what you were thinking. I really like how we use a lot of art in every room.
    We are now in the process of establishing new gardens which cause us to look at different and new plantings and coverings.

  2. Hi Karen, I am going to have to look up the bee cottage story at the library. Your review has me intrigued. I think a hybrid memoir is a great way to combine the two focuses of self-help and personal narrative. I am with you on getting to know the author while learning how to do something like decorate or change some facet of life.
    My memoir won’t be of the hybrid variety since what I have to say is more related to the personal narrative. I am not going to be talking about self-help on any subject. I want to simply relay some of the experiences I have been through in life thus far and encourage anyone who reads it that if I can come out the other side of all that and be happy, they can as well. I also want to let people know what helped get me through those experiences. The biggest message I want to pass along is that if someone is going through something similar they are not alone!

    1. I hear you, Jude. I too find memoir/self-help decorating a very unusual combo. I’m fascinated with hybrid memoirs, but I think for me it would be more like memoir plus photographs that evoke certain moods or express certain themes. Hmm – memoir plus sculptures and paintings?

  3. “If you don’t draw attention to imperfections, no one else will notice them. Learn to live with some of your flaws.” It sounds like common sense and I feel better thinking it really is that way (it is, usually), yet, we always are aware of our imperfections and in my case, not pointing them out to people once in a while would make me feel like a fluke or a fake. Yes! We need to learn how to live with our less attractive and perfect traits. Hard to do for perfectionists! 🙂

    “Letting go creates the space in your closet/day/life for the new/better/right to come in–or maybe there is just space, and that’s great, too.” So true. I just did that with a lot of my childhood belongings and memorabilia. Creating more space in my parents’ closets! Downsizing always feels great, though, no matter that I don’t actually have my own space that opens up.

    The “hybrid” memoir. I like it and it fills a niche for many stories and tips experts of certain things or lifestyles have. It adds a personal note and touch that I love and find important. Like your blog about Kris Kristofferson.

    1. Oh how I wish that I could more readily learn to live with some of my flaws. It is my mission to learn how to do that soon!
      I too love creating more space! Was it great to go through your childhood memorabilia? Did it help you with your memoir at all?
      Thanks for reinforcing the importance of a personal touch. As you know, it’s something I’m trying to do more and more of in my posts. It’s always nice to get support for that 🙂

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