Around the House and In the Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement

Around the House and In the Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement

by Dominique Browning

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For six years, House&Garden editor-in-chief Dominique Browning has written a monthly column that weaves together personal stories and tips about home decorating, gardening, and raising children with universal themes of domestic life. In Around the House and in the Garden, Browning adapts and expands these well-loved pieces, adding dozens of new


For six years, House&Garden editor-in-chief Dominique Browning has written a monthly column that weaves together personal stories and tips about home decorating, gardening, and raising children with universal themes of domestic life. In Around the House and in the Garden, Browning adapts and expands these well-loved pieces, adding dozens of new essays, to create an insightful and moving narrative about the solace and sense of self that can be found through tending one's home.
From bedrooms and bathrooms to gardens and trees, from the importance of a couch in the kitchen to the spiritual role of a grand piano, Around the House and in the Garden reveals the intimate relationship between home and self. Browning illustrates the ways her domestic needs, instincts, and arrangements have reflected major changes in her family life. Considering her own divorce, she focuses on how grief inhabits a room: "When I was divorced my sense of home fell apart. And so, too, did my house." Eventually, attention to her home helped to mend her heart, and the attention to her heart helped her to tend her home.
Brimming with warmth, knowledge, and the useful decorating and gardening tips that have made House&Garden a favorite for one hundred years, Around the House and in the Garden is a book for anyone who has ever felt the need to reinvent a life or a space, who has ever fallen in love with the idea of home -- the place where we reinvent ourselves, "the place where we have the final word about what goes where,...what feels comfortable, what is life-enhancing...a place that gives us strength to go out and embrace the world."

Editorial Reviews

Vito F Sinisi
Dominique Browning, the editor-in-chief of House & Garden, expands the autobiographical pieces she's written for that magazine into this memoir that combines personal history with helpful hints on gardening, decorating the home, and raising children. The book also includes numerous original essays that further explore how a meaningful life can be best lived through the joyful tending of one's home.
Publishers Weekly
When Browning and her husband of 15 years divorced, she kept the house and garden they had shared in Westchester, but for a long time she was too depressed to care about where she lived. Gradually, she begins to see that working on the house she had neglected and transforming it into a home again is a way to recover from her despondency. In these short, elegant essays, Browning, a former editor-in-chief of House & Garden, muses on the aspects of domestic life that revived her and shows how she healed her heart and her home at the same time. That symbol of doomed love, the master bedroom, for example, she had abandoned. She fills the bathroom with comfortable furniture and flowers and learns to enjoy lounging in the tub while looking out the window at the moon. A garden bench, a fireplace, chairs grouped together for companionship, the long-neglected garden, impractical objects like a grand piano or ornate candlesticks, the kitchen, a place for companionship as well as "a nice place to be lonely" all these she comes to revere. Soon even the moss-covered bricks in her crumbling driveway delight her, as do ordinary rituals like weeding the garden, planting a tree and cleaning her closets so she can enjoy the memories they contain. Browning has written a warm and graceful paean to the commonplace, imbuing everything she contemplates with magic. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Browning expands on her popular column for House & Garden. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The editor-in-chief of House and Garden revises and expands on columns she wrote for H&G to chronicle her spiritual and material evolution post-divorce in terms of her changing relationship with her house. This is the story of the end of a home and the halting, unhappy, but forward-moving steps toward building a new one while living in the old one. Many of the short chapters still have the stand-alone feel of magazine columns, but they are held together by context. After a good stretch of being paralyzed by the emotions roused by her divorce, Browning sets about looking-from a new perspective-at her home and garden and how she lives in them. She writes about what each room means to her thoughtfully, clearly, and with an honesty that makes the reader's ears prick up. She wants the house to bring her and her two sons pleasure and happiness-not the kind that a well-heeled mom can buy, but the kind that must be discovered: of putting a big old sofa in the kitchen (when Browning notes that a good couch is hard to find, it has all the ache of a country-and-western song), of allowing sufficient time to unwind in the bathroom, of weeding and pruning, of getting on with the project at hand. Her humor, though black, is like a deep breath of air. When she calls an exterminator about a problem with flies, he says, "All you need to do is find the dead thing and get rid of it. Then the flies will disappear. They're maggots, by the way." Uncontrived and self-revealing, spiced by a screw-the-experts attitude, Browning's words feel genuine and hard-won, just like her story.

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What's It All About?

When I was divorced my sense of home fell apart. And so, too, did my house. The rooms looked ravaged, sacked as they were of furniture, art, books, the mementos of a life constructed with someone else; everything fallen into disrepair. For a long time I couldn't bring myself to buy new furniture. I couldn't replaster and repaint; it took too much energy even to consider choosing colors. Except for the children's rooms, I wanted everything to be clean, but empty, redolent of failed love. I was very, very sad. I went through days, months, and maybe even years fully able to be a good mother, and to be a friend, and to work -- in fact, taking comfort in the time-consuming distraction of it as well as in the structure the job's demands gave to my days. It was only my house -- disheveled, lonely-looking, pale, and crumbling -- that showed the symptoms of my uneasiness in my new life.

I am a slowpoke, in some profound ways, and always have been. Some people bounce quickly out of divorce into new relationships, new marriages, and new houses; lucky for them, I say. But it took me years to renovate my attitude, and it was a messy job, proceeding in fits and starts. So there is no chronology in the writing that follows; there was no narrative to my heartbreak or my healing. Just a starting point -- but maybe not even that, as divorce, or any kind of suffering, usually does not seem like the beginning of anything, just the end of something.

Strangely enough, my divorce came through when I was starting a new job as the editor of House & Garden, a magazine about making homes. Nothing in my professional background could have prepared me for this subject; I had worked at magazines like Newsweek and Texas Monthly and Esquire, which, if they have anything to do with home, say so only indirectly. Maybe because I was now making a living thinking about houses, I was more self-conscious about the state of my own home. But because I was so intensely busy with the magazine, I didn't have to press myself actually to do anything about it. I lived vicariously, in other people's tailored, well-appointed rooms, surrounded by their beautiful things. Whatever I was looking for I found in photographs that seemed always to capture domestic perfection. So long as the children were comfortable, I felt free to go my own, slow, meditative way in pulling things back together. My children saw that their house -- one of their houses -- looked strange, but they were graciously, instinctively generous in their acceptance of it.

I began to pay close attention to how people talk about making homes, whether they are decorators, architects, clients, or people like me, who have always done it -- or not -- themselves. I began to appreciate how deeply charged a subject home is; it really is not about chintz as opposed to toile -- or it is that, and much more. We invest our homes with such hope, such dreams, such longing for love, security, a good life -- and stylishness to boot. That's what I have been trying to explore in what follows. Sure, making a home is a materialistic endeavor. But it is often, maybe usually, undertaken with intense spiritual energy.

I cannot say my home healed my heart. But I can say that, as my heart healed, my home reflected it. Perhaps my house forced my hand, at times, with its unrelenting demands. And perhaps at times my heart, gladdened, let me turn my attention homeward. Whatever the strange, looping path I took out of sadness, it wound its way from room to room, like a recurring dream I had as a child, in which I kept looking for something in a cavernous, empty old house, never finding it, but never being able to stop the ceaseless searching, either.

Maybe my subject is yearning; maybe that's the case for most of us. We yearn to live in houses full of love, happiness, passion, and peace, too. We yearn for domestic bliss. Even when we have found it, we are restless about wanting things to be better. As soon as we get what we want, we want more. That's the nature of being alive, of persevering, of striving.

And that is the nature of redecorating.

Copyright © 2002 by Dominique Browning

Meet the Author

Dominique Browning has been the editor-in-chief of House & Garden since 1995. She was previously the editor of Mirabella, an assistant managing editor of Newsweek, and the executive editor of Texas Monthly. She lives in New York with her two teenage sons.

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