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Craving a Space to Get Away From It All

Books: In 'A Room of Her Own,' Chris Casson Madden zeros in on women's need for a place where they can indulge in peace and quiet.


I need my space.

We may not be shouting that every time the room gets crowded with noisy kids or demanding spouses, but the thought could be tweaking at us. These days, it just seems harder for most people to find a little haven to regroup, rethink and re-energize.

Chris Casson Madden often felt that way, and she wondered if others had the same complaint. Madden, a syndicated columnist and the host of HG-TV Network's "Interiors by Design" program, began traveling around the country interviewing women to learn what part of the home serves as their personal retreat.

Months later, she finished "A Room of Her Own" ($40, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1997), a book that lets dozens of women--some well-known, others not--tell where they go to get away from it all. Madden will sign books and talk about her experiences with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou and Ali MacGraw, among others, Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the San Juan Capistrano Library.

Although "A Room of Her Own" is all about sunny expression and loaded with Jennifer Levy's bright photos, the idea came to Madden during a dark period. Her younger sister, Patty, had died, and Madden found she "had no place to go to mourn for her."

"That's really where it came out of, that I didn't have somewhere I could be to deal with it," said Madden, who lives in Rye, N.Y., with her husband and two sons. "I finally had to take over this little bedroom we have, converting it into my space with a little office in the closet.

"It's really teeny, but it's where I can be behind closed doors. It's a room for myself, where I can go to think and meditate."

She discovered that other women felt the same need and had, whether consciously or not, created a room or area special to them. It made sense to Madden, who believes women are facing more stress than they used to.

"I think women are trying to juggle so much at this point," she said. "Men are too, but women especially. They are workers, nurturers and everything else. They are constantly giving out, [but] they also have to feed their souls."

Not always an easy thing to do when adding the complexity and congestion of modern life to the mix. Madden, like many people, believes that technological advances are great for progress but not necessarily for peace of mind.

"We are all experiencing a high-tech whirlwind, and it's hard to stay on the balance beam," she said. "More than ever, we need to take a break from the activity and find some sanctuary."


Sanctuary for someone like Winfrey is right where she works, in a small room near her Chicago office. The spot had been collecting junk until Winfrey decided to re-christen it "the grounding room." She filled it with mementos--Emmys and other awards, alongside favorite books--and now sees it as a space for "work, for celebration and for reflection," Madden said.

Angelou often ends up in the kitchen of her North Carolina home when she needs grounding. "Cooking consumes my whole focus, my thinking, all my senses," the poet explains in the book. "I like seeing it, I like smelling it. The work recedes into the background."

A sitting room in her Ojai home is the most relaxing spot for 104-year-old artist Beatrice Wood. The room is a mini-gallery of crafts, art and keepsakes she's collected--including a pillow given to her by Rudolph Valentino--with a view of the mountains.

"Here, in this space, I never feel isolated from nature and the beauty of life," Wood said.

These women, of course, have the wherewithal to form such spaces. Other women, without the time or money, usually turn to that all-purpose hideaway, the bathroom.

Madden said nearly 50% of those interviewed go there to escape.

It's something Carrie Mattea of Fountain Valley could relate to. "Sure, you can lock the door if you want to," said Mattea, a mother of three girls, during a shopping break at the Westminster Mall. "I have my makeup there, my perfume. . . . I'll just drift, especially when I'm in the bath."

Her friend, Leslie Peters of Orange, agreed but added that she often has to compete with her husband. "We both like to take baths, like, for an hour or two," she said. "A great place to unwind. The next best is my garden."

As for men, Madden thinks they have needs too. The library and study have always been male retreats, but there may be others as well, which Madden said could be the focus of a second book.

"Men have come up to me and said 'I need a space,' so I have a feeling that I may be working on that one of these days," she said.

Chris Casson Madden will discuss and sign her book at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the San Juan Capistrano Library, 31496 El Camino Real. Tickets are $25. Proceeds benefit the Reeve-Irvine Research Center at UC Irvine, Camino Health Center and the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley. The event is sponsored by Roger's Gardens and Decorative Arts Villa. For more information, call Chris Wenham, (714) 488-9600.

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