Making your house a home

Newspapers like this one are full of advice about what’s hot in home design. We all like to give a nod to trendiness; some of us dive enthusiastically into it.

But often, in our headlong rush to embrace the latest floor covering or Pantone color, we forget to consider our home’s most important function: as a personal sanctuary. It should make us feel comfortable, snug, relaxed and right where we belong.

Frances Schultz, a well-known journalist and tastemaker, wrote about the “home as sanctuary” concept in her popular book, “The Bee Cottage Story: How I Made a Muddle of Things and Decorated My Way Back to Happiness.” After some major personal setbacks, Schultz bought and renovated a small home in East Hampton, N.Y., to refocus her life. Her book, based on a series of House Beautiful columns she wrote during the experience, examines the meaning of home and suggests ways of meaningfully customizing your space.

“(A personalized home) should be visually pleasing to you. It’s comfortable and personal,” Schultz said. “And it should reflect who you are, what your life is about: your values, your loves and family and travels. Your hobbies are around you. Everything should be arranged in such a way that it not only validates who you are and what you care about, but it supports you in those things.”

The concept sounds wonderful. But how and where do you start? Schultz’s primary rule: Be pragmatic. That begins when you’re shopping around for your perfect home.

“You have to be able to afford the thing. And you have to be practical about location. If your child is in school and the house is 40 miles away from the school, that won’t work.”

Schultz’s second rule: Decide what kind of architecture suits your personality and lifestyle.

“Architecture is a very powerful force in our lives, whether we realize it or not. The way houses are put together and the rooms are arranged, that’s all part of a very carefully orchestrated, though unconscious, melody.”

Pay attention to your emotions as you walk through a home you’re considering, Schultz advises.

“Do you get a good vibe in the rooms? Are there places where you can imagine cozying up, places that feel open and expansive? It can be a cottage or a castle — if it triggers the right feelings, then that’s it.”

Schultz prefers places that have been lived in over new homes. She bought an older cottage that showed the effects of years of living. Then she began to renovate without eradicating the magic. But Schultz has an unusual approach to that often onerous task.

“The standard advice is if you’re thinking about resale, then spend your money on the kitchen and bathrooms. But if you’re thinking of staying, start with the master bedroom. It’s often the redheaded stepchild of a home renovation project. But consider that your bedroom is the place where you begin and end each day. It’s the nucleus of your haven. Having a wonderful, calming bedroom is crucial.”

Schultz says you shouldn’t be afraid to alter your home’s look as you change. Don’t leave things static.