In this story from March 2009, the actress shares why, even with all her world travels, home is the place she loves most.
Someone once asked me what my favorite place in the world was. I had to say that with all the traveling I’ve done, with all the incredible spots I’ve seen, the place I treasure most is home. Home. The word itself comforts me. Home is where my loved ones are, where I can kick back and be myself, where the kitchen is full of good smells, where the living room has my favorite books, where my dogs are welcome in every room and where at night I can fall asleep in my own bed on my own pillow, my head full of prayers.
Home is a sanctuary, and it’s been my passion to create a place of rest and regeneration for my family and help others do the same. Many of you probably remember me as one of the original angels in the popular seventies TV show Charlie’s Angels, but in addition to being an actress, I design a home and fashion line for Kmart, so I’m continually asking myself what makes a house into that incredible place we call home. Style, taste, colors—they’re all important, but I think there’s something even bigger than that.
I made my first foray in home decorating as a young girl growing up in Texas. Actually it started when my family visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s beloved home. There it stood on the green banks of the Potomac, with its long porch and white pillars. We walked through the whole house and I was struck by the loving detail our founding couple put into their home. Then we got to the bedroom. I stopped in my tracks and gasped at practically the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen: a four-poster canopy bed. “I want a bed just like that,” I whispered to Mom and, God bless her, she was totally on board with that dream.
“All right, honey, we’ll see what we can do.”
Back in Houston, we picked out a pink fabric with blue morning glories for curtains and a lace canopy for my new bed. Filled with my Madame Alexander dolls, it looked just wonderful. The transformation fired up my imagination. Soon I had more ideas. I found a painting for the walls and then decided the walls themselves needed a new color. At one point I had to have one of those skirted dressing tables like you see in 1940s movies. Later I went for an antebellum theme inspired by the movie Gone With the Wind.
I’m sure some of my ideas must have seemed crazy to my mother, but she was willing to let me experiment. She took me to look for antiques at thrift stores and let me pick out fabrics. She let me try different things, even when I wanted to make the room stark and modern. She nurtured my creative spirit.
After a year at Trinity University I moved to New York City. There I decorated my first apartment, a tiny studio with wonderful high ceilings. I had come to the city to dance and act and, as you can imagine, I had an extremely limited budget. Yet being so far from Texas I had to turn that little space into a real home. In that fourth-floor walk-up I put down a dark green carpet and covered the sofa bed with chintz. I painted the walls canary yellow and the molding glossy white. There was an old marble fireplace and a teeny, tiny bathroom and kitchen, but it felt like a palace because I’d made it mine—without spending much.
By the way, the bargain hunting reflects the values I got from my father. He’d always taught us that happiness didn’t come from buying expensive things but from giving, saving and economizing. (The first big check I got came from a Listerine commercial I made. I wanted to invest it in the stock market, but Daddy said I should only do that after studying a stock carefully, so I did.) Daddy made me understand that you don’t have to spend lavishly to live well. In fact, by spending wisely and modestly, you reflect an important value—thrift—and you learn how to make your money go farther.
With the success of Charlie’s Angels I was finally able to buy my own home, but only what I could afford, a place that needed some fixing up. That turned out to be half the fun. And I’ve continued that practice as our family has grown from the birth of our son, Gaston, named for my minister grandfather, and then our daughter, Spencer Margaret, Margaret, for my mother. I let the children have rooms that reflected their tastes, even when it didn’t fit with mine.
Now that my kids are grown and have moved out, I still keep their rooms the same—resisting the urge to redecorate—so that they know they have a place to come home to. In fact, I can still go back to my mom’s house in Houston and point to my bedroom. She taught me well.
This is the intangible quality that makes home a spiritual refuge. No matter what’s going on in the outside world, your home is the place where you’re always welcomed and loved. I remember experiencing this in my childhood when my grandfather Pa Pa moved in with us. For years he’d preached all over Texas—San Antonio, San Marcos, Waco, Corpus Christi, Gonzales—but in his eighties he was ready to slow down.
The way Pa Pa lived was his best sermon, positive, caring, always living beyond himself and looking out for others. That’s why we were so glad to have him living with us.
You see, it’s people who turn a house into a home. Even when it’s just me, my husband, Brad, and the dogs, my house feels full. I’m surrounded by things that have meaning for me. The books remind me of the people who gave them to me, the antiques recall trips to flea markets I’ve taken with friends, counters and tabletops are filled with photos of our family over the years: my wedding to Brad, the children’s baptisms, their graduations, their birthdays, Christmases.
In my office I keep scrapbooks and bound volumes of all the Charlie’s Angels scripts and pictures of friends I’ve made through the years. Yes, it’s a little sentimental, but it also reminds me to keep everyone I love in my prayers, and it’s those people who, in turn, prayed for me when I had my bout with breast cancer in 2002. There are so many people I care about and who care about me. My house is where they’re always welcome. It’s not just fabric or color or style that makes a home. It’s love.
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