Frances Schultz | Home Front

Frances Schultz
Sep 10, 2015

Journalist and tastemaker Frances Schultz recently wrote “The Bee Cottage Story: How I Made a Muddle of Things and Decorated My Way Back to Happiness.” She is an enthusiast on decoration and design, food and entertaining, travel and style.

A contributing editor to House Beautiful magazine and former editor-at-large for Veranda, she has written also for The Wall Street Journal, Town & Country, Indagare, and The New York Social Diary.

Born and raised in the small town of Tarboro, North Carolina, Frances graduated from the University of Virginia. With husband Tom Dittmer, dog Stella, assorted horses and critters, she lives in the Santa Ynez Valley of California with visits to Manhattan and summers at Bee Cottage, in East Hampton.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

Good Morning! I am super "buzzed" about our chat today about The Bee Cottage Story and decorating our ways to happiness! I'm sort of teasing but sort of not.

Thanks for being on the chat. I think your book "The Bee Cottage Story: How I Made a Muddle of Things and Decorated My Way Back to Happiness” is wonderful and inspirational and I read it on my vacation at the beach. Frances has been an editor at House Beautiful and other magazines and she is an enthusiast on decoration and design, food and entertaining, travel and style. So bring those questions on.

Meanwhile if you want to win a copy of "The Bee Cottage Story" then share with us how decorating a house or a special room helped you get over a tough period in your life. I will pick the winner at the end, and if you are chosen please email me your mailing address at

I have always loved Oriental rugs and have a number of them from various sources. I agree that consignment shops are a good source, as well as, although I also have some purchased abroad. I think they can look very modern but still warm up a room. On to ants -- I have an infestation of tiny little ants in my kitchen. They seem to go after any tiny little crumb left on the counter. Is there a (preferably natural) way to keep them out?

Love the combo - rugs and ants. Glad you are enjoying your Oriental rugs. I hope the ants are going near them. The most important thing to get rid of ants to to keep wiping down your counters and floors with soapy water. And don't leave any trash out overnight.  Cinnamon, Vaseline or white vinegar are some of the natural substances used to repel ants. You can sprinkle them around the edges of counters and walls. Does anyone else have tips to share about getting rid of ants?

I bought your book as a house warming gift for a friend recently divorced and starting over in a smaller new home. She's finding it inspirational, now that it has finally arrived. I'm just curious, why was it on back order for so long considering it was just so recently published?

First of all, thank you so much for buying my book, and I am so happy your friend is inspired by it. As for the back-order status, this is what we call a high-class problem. It sold out quickly and went to a second printing, which also sold out, and now it is in its third printing! Woo-hoo! But sorry for the wait. You can also buy them through my website,, as I have a special connection to the author and can get you a signed copy asap. ;)

I have two large walls in my house that are difficult to dress or decorate. One has a large AC intake vent, the other has a thermostat right in the middle. The only thing I can think of to do is a gallery wall for the wall with the thermostat, but that would be terribly awkward to do on the wall with the vent. Any suggestions?

Great question and a problem many of us have. My advice would be to ignore these necessary but nonetheless eyesores by creating lovely diversions. I think you idea of a gallery wall is excellent and rather think it might work on both walls, though difficult to say without seeing. If the intake vent is all that bad, might you be able to cover the wall with fabric, or even a curtain sort of treatment? Something decorative and yet porous that would allow the air to flow?

Can you recommend a red color of paint for our front door that would go well with BM Rockport Gray siding and white trim? I also wanted to say I'm a huge fan of your chats and read them weekly from Madison, WI.

Hello, Madison, WI! You have many attractive options here. A walnut or dark wood stain would be handsome, as I did on Bee Cottage. Also that blackish-green I call Charleston Green would be good. Navy or red would also be good-looking. All of the above in a high-gloss finish. Choose what intuitively feels most harmonious with the house and its surroundings. And the good news is it's not an Act of Congress to change if you feel you made a mistake.

I've had the small red ants before. Try and watch them - you can follow them back down their trail and find the entry point. That's where you really want to spray rather than all over the kitchen. If the trail is down at a floor board you might consider something like Raid just at that entry point.

Here are some ideas.

We have a vacation house on the Eastern Shore that we would like to turn into a rental. The house is 100 years old, but not particularly historically beautiful. We are in the process of replacing all of the drywall and repainting. Would you paint the (dark red) trim on all of the windows, baseboard and railing, which limits the paint colors or would you paint the trim white and then paint the walls to give it a nice "beachy" look? I'm leaning toward painting because it's hard to give the house a beachy feel when there is so much dark red wood.

Oh yes I know about those dark paneled beach houses -- seems they were all that at one point. A happy compromise might be pickling, a process of painting the walls and rubbing off the paint as you go, so the paint goes into the grain of the wood but does not obscure it entirely. It is a terrific look and very beachy, yet preserves the effect of the paneling--like it's been bleached. Then, yes, I'd paint the trim white. Consider painting the mullions a darker color, gray or bluish gray perhaps.

Any suggestions for what type of rug I could use in a main and fairly large entrance hallway (wood floor) when the hallway looks directly into a dining room that already has a strongly patterned oriental rug in it?

Like Audrey Hepburn said about Paris, sisal is always a good idea. Perhaps in a color that compliments your Oriental?


What is your opinion on using silk plants (e.g. 3-4 ft palms or small trees) in a living room area. Are they outdated? Thanks!

While I have seen silk and other artificial plants that look awfully good, I confess I think they are best avoided. Fresh flowers are so easy to come by these days, even in groceries and delis. Treat yourself to those and save yourself the dusting. ;)

Many years ago, suddenly found myself a single parent in NYC......a real challenge for someone who grew up in a small town in eastern NC. Stayed in the city for professional reasons and for my daughter's education. I had a rent stablized apt. so moving to a place w/o memories in the city was out of the question. Needed to make the space my own -- with emphasis on "space"... never enough in NYC apartments. I became interested in Japanese furniture of the Edo period. Loved the lines and the storage options. My daughter and I learned together and shopped for pieces we could afford and would fit into our space. Several years ago, I came home to care for my mother and my daughter came to NC for law school. She promptly met her future husband -- who collected Edo furniture while posted in Japan as a naval officer. I cannot overstate how much our interest and efforts in this facet of decorating have meant to us. For me, I look at my own pieces in my mother's house and understand where I've been and what I've accomplished.

You sound like such a nurturing person. These Edo Japanese pieces have a very important part in your life and now in your daughter's life. Thanks for sharing this very charming and meaningful story.

Our powder room is situated at the front of the house and has a large window, exposing anyone going to the bathroom to the entire neighborhood. Currently, we have a shade that is constantly closed, as it is a bathroom that is very regularly used. I hate to lose the natural light from having the window covered. But, I also can appreciate one's preference of privacy while the toilet is in use. Any suggestions?

Perhaps a sign that reminds guests to wear their best bloomers and hold their tummies in? Lol! Actually, a lace panel would work beautifully here and accomplish exactly what you need. They are readily available from Internet sources and easily installed with simple spring rods. At night, instead of a bright overhead light, you might also use a small lamp that isn't too bright.

Since you are a Southern girl, how do you like living in California?

California is great! All these people don't live here for nothing, that is for sure. The weather, the spectacular scenery, the farms and vineyards, and the cowboys, honey! Seriously, though, it really is wonderful. And we are so lucky to live in a small town, Los Olivos, in the Santa Ynez Valley, and it is really very much like the small town I grew up in in North Carolina, Tarboro. It's a wonderful little community with wonderful people, and that's what makes it.

Chili powder works. But be careful. It can stain if it gets wet.

Good thought!

The special project I took on was actually not an indoor room but an outdoor one. My gardens (flowers plus tomatoes and herbs) have always been a special pride of mine. I work full time but have always found the time and energy to raise a bumper crop of beautiful tomatoes plus enough herbs to keep us going with at least our italian dishes. I've been facing cancer for several years (reoccurence of breast cancer after 11 years) so the energy for my garden was almost nonexistent this year. Nonetheless, knowing how important it is to me it became a special project for my husband. He would put a lawn chair in a key spot and have me direct his efforts. It has resulted in our usual outdoor room full of beautiful tomatoes and basil but he wanted to try his hand at Indian corn, green beans and pumpkins. We've had a lot of fun together watching it grow and I have to say it is the most relaxing "room" in our home right now (plus we get to eat and enjoy the crop). Thanks for letting me share. Love your chats!

What a beautiful story. Gardens are very healing and they are indeed outdoor rooms. I wish you all the best in your recovery and in your fall Indian corn harvest! Thanks for being a part of our chats!


Thank you so much for your inspiring story! My husband and I just moved into an apartment in Chevy Chase right next to the metro to take advantage of being "free" and hopefully not becoming couch potatoes as we were in our big home where we raised the kids. I'm having much difficulty though making it "homey". I have the essentials but it is a mishmash of things from our home so I'm not sure how to make it special. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

Hmmm, difficult. Congratulations on your big move and major life-enhancing decision, first of all. Second of all, give it time. And third, your "mish-mash" hints to me that you may be clinging to  a lot of "stuff" that is "perfectly good" so you have kept it. My guess is that some of that stuff  has real value and meaning to you, but ALL of it does not. Am I right? have you read "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. I wrote about it in my blog a while ago - it really WILL change your life by allowing you to keep only what brings you joy and to let go of the rest, which will let the new and fresh come in. Sounds corny but works. Let me know...

A few people have been asking how to find all the home and garden stories we do at the Washington Post in one easy place. Our Facebook page  is a good place to start: it is Washington Post Home and Garden To read all of my articles, this is my author page that is updated daily:

You have been writing about decorating for years now. What do you think of the current trend towards minimalism and weeding out stuff?

Ha! See previous reference to "Live Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and perhaps my blog post about it, and about another really good book on minimalism, at the end of which I wondered if there were a minimalism for spoiled brats, because I actually DO need 200 pairs of shoes and 20 cocktail dresses. Yes, I do. And 40 Staffordshire figurines, and 12 sets of china. You get my drift. I love minimalist spaces and admire the discipline of their creators, but I don't want to live in one full time. I also know maximalist decorators who live in minimalist spaces.  But... I do think we are all happier and better off without clutter. It is clutter that that weighs us down, decoratively and emotionally, and have you noticed how the two can be closely related?

I snagged a beautiful Oriental run at auction, and it is now in my dining room. However, there is no pad. Is one required, and if so, what thickness or type do you recommend? Thank you.

Not required but a good idea. A pad will help keep the rug in place and will also help preserve it. A minimal thickness will suffice, and the folks at the carpet store can advise you on the specifics.

I had a friend who moved cross country, away from his family and all his friends. For a while, he was living on an air mattress with his clean clothes in bundles on the floor. A trip to IKEA with him, and a weekend of assembling later, he had a beautiful bedroom and felt grounded. When you launch yourself into the world, it's nice to have a retreat to escape to at the end of the day.

That is so true! Your orderly and attractive home can do a lot to improve your mood. It's great that you were able to help him get reasonably priced bedroom furniture that makes him feel at home.

Ants are not an endangered species. Kill them. Get some Terro bait traps at the hardware store, that is the best product I've ever used - I get an ant infestation in my kitchen every spring. They feed at the bait trap and take it back to the nest, and they're all gone in a couple of days.


What are some fun things that you do in your homes in the fall to give them a seasonal look that is not corny?

Changing rooms with the seasons is a lovely gift to yourself, your family, and your house. There is something almost ritualistic about it that honors nature and our place in it. Some easy and affordable touches are pillows and throws in yummy textures and warm colors. Seasonal arrangements of autumn leaves, grasses, twigs, and mosses are also effective. Bowls of autumn fruits and vegetables can be used instead of--or with--fall flowers. And lastly, a change of rugs, or a layering of rugs can also add texture and warmth.

Just an FYI, and amazing store, Marco Polo Oriental rugs in Alexandria (648 S Pickett St, Alexandria, VA 22304 (703) 461-0207), is actually, truly going out of business and discounts are nuts. He told us he is retiring and his nephew might take over, but maybe not. We spent far too much on two astonishing rugs a few weeks ago, but we paid 80% less than list (and yes, I know all rugs are always marked up and you should bargain. These still were a good deal). One is a silk Persian Tabriz with 400 count knots and and the other a wool/silk Afghani rug. They threw in super high quality pads, too, which was very nice. Anyway, not an owner, but a repeat customer who wants to pass on the word of some great deals.

Thanks for sharing this with us. I'm glad you like your new rugs.

For the person looking to decorate the wall with the vent on it, look for a decorative register cover, like this: Acorn Grille

They come in all sorts of colors and patterns to match the room's decor.

Thank you!

Love your style...


Hi, I posted the ants question, and regarding killing them -- I am a vegetarian and I am already distressed at how many ants I have killed over the past few days! I appreciate the suggestions on how to keep them out.

Good luck. Happy we could help.

I have a few one of a kind (handmade) rugs I really like but have no use for currently. What is the best way to store them? Rolled up under a bed? Rent a storage cube? Laying flat on top of one another?

I am not a rug expert, so you might be best to look this one up or ask a rug merchant for advice. My guess is that rolling is probably the way to go as that would put the least amount of stress on the fibers. But hang on--if you're not using them, might you not sell them or give them to a friend, family member, or charity that WILL use them? Just a thought. ;)

I just purchased and moved into an 1890 townhouse in Old Town Alexandria. In having the chandelier relocated, my electrician pointed out that the existing fixture was largely made of plastic and cobbled together to look old, contrasting with my beautiful, antique and all crystal LR chandelier. I'm looking for a replacement more like that in LR. I've checked eBay - any ideas locally? Also, along oriental rug theme, I have two Persian rugs that are my favorites - both in raspberry and turquoise with other colors - they are vibrant and work perfectly in my new home.

I bet Alexandria and environs have wonderful antiques shops and estate auctions, but as I'm not local I cannot help you with specifics, sorry :( 1st dibs is also a good source. But did you like the old chandelier--ersatz as it was? If you liked the way it looked, who cares what it was made of? Keep it till you find just what you want?

What was it like writing a book vs. writing an article or design column? How long did it take you?

I think I always had the book in the back of my mind as I was writing the column. The difference between the column and the book, though, is that each column stands alone, while a book must be a cohesive whole of many parts. There needs to be a sense of continuity and overall theme.

It was great to have you on the chat. I really appreciate your taking the time to tell us about your new book and share your decorating tips. The winner of your book is the single mom in NYC who discovered Edo period Japanese furniture. Please email me your mailing address at and a book will be in the mail to you soon. Thanks everyone. Next week's chat guest is Maxwell Ryan from the popular Apartment Therapy blog. Have a great week everyone.

Thanks so much for having me! What fun! Can I come back? I will be in Bethesda and Alexandria in October. Details here, to come, and on my website.

Use window film. You can install it from chest level down, or over the entire window. Provides privacy while letting in some light since it's not totally opaque.

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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