Getaways: The Importance of a Personal Sanctuary for Well-Being with Chris Madden

By Chris Madden
WebMD Live Events Transcript

Chris Madden will discuss the importance of personal sanctuaries, which encourage family gatherings and personal renewal.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Spa Auditorium. Today we are discussing Getaways: The Importance of a Personal Sanctuary for Well-Being, with Chris Madden.

Chris Madden is the author of 13 books, design correspondent for NBC's "Later Today," and the host of her own show on the HGTV network. She has designed spaces for celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and has created her own furniture line. She also writes a weekly syndicated column and is the spokesperson for the Wallpaper Council.

Chris, welcome to WebMD Live.

Madden: Great to be here! I'm really looking forward to everyone's questions and comments today on the need for a getaway, a sanctuary, or whatever!

Moderator: Why "getaways"?

Madden: Okay ... I think most of us are leading very hectic, fast paced lives these days, whether we're on the super informational highway or not. And I think there is a great need to have somewhere in our lives, a place to get away from it all. Even if it's in our own backyard.

Dricka_WebMD: We have an old house in Manchester, Vermont and need some private do we/I find it?

Madden: Well, I'm in Manchester, Vermont as we speak! And, the way I found some privacy in my own home was to grab a room, and carve out a corner for myself. So, I suggest if you have a bedroom, or a living room, to take a little corner of it and put in a comfortable chair, or a loveseat, or a chaise longue, add a big basket or trunk next to it and fill it with things that feed your soul. Also, think about the five senses and think about adding music, candles (aromatherapy candles are great!), the right lighting, a cozy throw, and then personalize your little corner with photographs and personal memorabilia.

Moderator: Do I need a vacation home or cottage?

Madden: In order to create a getaway, the good news is you don't need to have a second home. Although it's wonderful if you do! But I suggest probably the best place is within your home because you know you can come home to that special getaway every night.

Moderator: Can I use one room or do I need to transform my whole house?

Madden: You can start small with one room and hopefully, your whole home will become a getaway for you and your family. But I always like to suggest to start small and go from there.

Moderator: What exactly are we "getting away" from?

Madden: (laughs!) I think, well, to quote Toni Morrison, 'A getaway is a vision of a place you've had in your mind. And, when you find yourself there, you recognize it.' And, for each one of us, a getaway or a sanctuary is as personal as we are. So some of us are trying to escape, again, from the computerized, fast-paced life we live. Some of us want, you know, a little tent in our backyard to chill out from the stresses of every day. It's really, I think, the day in and day out stress that a lot of us are trying, not really to escape from, but to sort of enter a new place, a new zone, to relax into.

Moderator: So you could have varying levels of getaway -- your home, your living room, your favorite chair --

Madden: Exactly! Yes. That's great. You keep getting -- or vice versa, you start small and make it bigger. And, for some people, hey -- it's their car! (laughs!) My little BMW convertible that got us up here, hey! That's my getaway! (laughs!) So good!

Moderator: What challenges do you face when designing spaces for others?

Madden: The biggest challenge I face when designing a space for someone else is to be sure to imbue it with their personality. With the elements that will work for them, that will make them feel comfortable and that will feed their soul. And, so, you know, whether it's Katie Couric, or Oprah or my sister-in-law, that's an important issue that I always put at the forefront.

Moderator: How often do you meet with a prospective client to determine their needs?

Madden: I meet with them, usually, like three times at the beginning of a project. And then we're together a lot. But, yeah, I really want to get a sense of where they are, where they're going, where they've been, what they want. And, I think that's a mistake that a lot of designers can make, not listening to their clients.

Moderator: Is it more fun designing for someone famous with an unlimited budget, or more challenging with a smaller space and limited budget?

Madden: No. It's more fun, I think, to design something with a limited budget because there's the challenge. But, I think all of my projects are fun because I love seeing the person's face light up when we finish the project, if we've been successful. And, so far, knock wood, we have! That's what happens.

Moderator: Should married people have individual sanctuary spaces within their home?

Madden: Absolutely! (laughs!) If you have the space, definitely! I've been married 25 years and I think one of the reasons for its success is that even though we work together, we each have our own place to retreat to. And, when I was doing an interview on how I would design for the Clintons in Westchester, in their new home, I suggested that they both have their own private retreat. (laughs!)

Moderator: Assuming I actually have a getaway, how do I find the time to actually retreat to it?

Madden: Anne Morrow Lindberg said it perfectly over 40 years ago in her book, 'A Gift From the Sea' when she wrote that you need to carve out a place and most importantly a time for yourself. And, I personally, like to recommend 15 minutes a day to start. Whenever I lecture around the country, I always suggest to everyone to try 15 minutes a day and add to it, but never subtract. It's hard to do. But, you have to fight for that time and that's why I always suggest making that place that you can always go back to.

Moderator: Is sanctuary as important to men as it is to women? I think sanctuaries are important to both sexes. I do believe women must have them. As Katherine Hepburn said, "We need to refill the reservoir." We're by nature, natural nurturers. We give out a lot. And, in order to continue giving out without resentment and anger, we need to be able to take care of ourselves first in our space. Men, on the other hand, I think just need a personal space so they can be a little more contemplative about their lives and relationships.

Moderator: How do you account for the personalities and emotional needs of more than one person when you're designing a Getaway?

Madden: I think we do it, again, let's assume it's a room right now. Well, if it is an entire house or apartment, there might be one room that would definitely be more appealing to the woman in the relationship, that is the bedroom. She might want to make more of a retreat that takes care of her needs. Whereas the gentleman on the other hand may prefer the library. So, you might want to think about the different rooms. But, I also think a lot of us don't have that luxury of many rooms and spaces. For instance, if it is one room, it requires sitting down with the two of them and finding out what each one wants and working out the great compromise.

Moderator: What are some common things people request?

Madden: All of it. People ask for everything. They want comfortable furniture, good lighting, and a lot of storage space -- that's a big deal. They want to be able to have music, whether it's a new sound system or a media room. Depends on what their interests are.

Moderator: Your book profiles the getaways of a number of celebrities, all of which are unique. Did they all have something in common?

Madden: Yes. In both A Room of Her Own and Getaways, each one of those spaces or persons, you can say the common thread was that they were filled with the elements that that person needed to have around them. So, for Michael Keaton it was cowboy vernacular. For Katie Couric, it was the piano that she grew up playing as a child; it's now in her getaway as a grown-up. For me, it was comfortable architectural artifacts and pieces. I need the visual. Everyone needs something. And, that's what they have to think about.

Moderator: Does one's sanctuary have to be a confined space? Must it be man-made at all?

Madden: No.

Madden: In fact, some of the spaces in Getaways are just outside in gardens. In A Room of Her Own, the tent is man made, but we have a log in the middle of the Rockies. A lot of times it can be a favorite bench or a log in the woods.

Moderator: Can you differentiate between a "sanctuary" and a "getaway"?

Madden: A sanctuary is more a personal space that is more private, more for solitary use and a getaway is more communal. So, it can be for families, friends, compatriots! Speaking of which, right now, I'm here with my best friend, Kathy Johnson, in my Vermont getaway to be shared with friends.

Moderator: What was the best sanctuary you've ever seen?

Madden: That's a tough question because people have always asked me which is my favorite, and I feel the way I feel about my children. I love them all equally for different reasons! I find it hard to pick one because each one is so different from the next. In fact, Kathy Johnson's father's getaway is in the book, and he's a legendary race horse trainer and his getaway at Saratoga Race Track is in the book. We also have a 58' classic wooden boat which belongs to the King Brothers of "Jeopardy" and "Oprah" fame and that's certainly their getaway. And, then we have my little backyard getaway in the suburbs of Westchester country. And, we could go on and on ... there are tons more. They're all favorites! But, each one is unique in it's own special way.

Moderator: How would you create a "getaway" with limited funds in an urban location?

Madden: To create a getaway on a budget in an urban location, I presume it's in a house or apartment, the first thing I would think about would be heavy insulated curtains to block out the sounds of the city. I'd get a good sound system to add your own beautiful sounds. I'd make it as tactile as you can afford, thick, plush carpeting, wonderful cozy throws, candles (masses of them), if you have a fireplace, pile them in the fireplace in the summer to give your room a glow. Finally, add your personal memorabilia to the walls and bring a sense of history to that room. I hope that helps!

Moderator: Can you create a "getaway" in the workplace?

Madden: I think you can create a "getaway" in the workplace. But, I think you should only think about using it after hours or before hours in that mode. The majority of us don't have the luxury of being able to create our own work places. So, we have to think about others, especially our boss or bosses, and their reaction to the getaway theme .... (the heated, vibrating barcalounger!) (laughs!) But the women who work with me work under tremendous pressure and I think that this getaway feel really helps everyone in a work situation, especially ours.

Moderator: Are there any scents, fragrances, or aromas that you've found particularly conducive to creating a sanctuary?

Madden: I, personally, go crazy over lavender. So I travel with lavender pillows, a little eye mask, and a great bath oil I buy from the Body Shoppes because I find lavender majorly relaxing. There are also a couple of other scents that I happen to love ... Evergreen, smelling like the forest is a great one, and Rigaud Candles makes that particular scent. I know this may sound unusual, but I am madly in love with the Elton John candle. It has the best smell ever! (laughs!) It's one candle that some company makes, can't remember who, and someone gave it to me for Christmas, and I was like, 'Ugh, the Elton John candle, I don't think so!' But, it's lasted for 2 years and it's a happy smell, people love it when they walk into our house. And aromatherapy has a great impact on relaxing.

Moderator: Aside from the physical space and its accoutrements, what elements are important for cultivating a sense of escape and replenishment?

Madden: I think, again, a little thought towards what would appeal to you. Is it music? Sound? Sense? Smell? Touching? Certainly for me, the basics have to be covered -- the right lighting with dimmers, candlelight, lots and lots of books, maybe a bottle of wine and a glass, personal pictures, I love black and white photographs, which I always recommend to people to do, convert their pictures into sepia or black and white. And, of course great music in that comfortable seating.

suzan_tony_WebMD: Can you name a few of the most unique themes you've seen? I need ideas.

Madden: Okay -- unique themes -- I would say Michael Keaton's wonderful wild west theme. Japanese bath and a wonderful -- the Zen serenity of Asian design. An aviary kitchen getaway. This woman has -- she's got birds in her kitchen! It's in the book. And, Walter Iooss, the renowned sports photographer's wife's studio, on the cliffs of Montuak, where she has created an artist's studio, is one of my favorites.

Moderator: Can't a "getaway" encourage isolation and withdrawal rather than replenishment and gathering?

Madden: I would hope not. I think in this day and age of people sitting in front of their computers alone, that is not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a space where you would go to replenish yourself, which I think every human being on this planet needs to be in touch with their own needs and dreams.

Moderator: Do you think the intensifying invasion of personal space by technology -- cell phones, pagers, cameras, laptops, etc. -- heightens a previous need for sanctuary? Completely! I totally agree with you When I started on this journey, these last two books, about 6 years ago, I wasn't sure why there was such a need for a personal space, except for my own need. And as I began to talk to more people, I realized it was an antidote to the super informational highway that we're all riding on.

Moderator: Do you consider the desire for sanctuary to be a "primal urge?"

Madden: Yes, I do. In fact, I wrote in my book, "this almost primal urge emerged after spending the last three years traveling and lecturing across America about this subject. It struck a chord in people that seemed to me, very primal."

Moderator: You've mentioned traveling the country. How can someone who travels a lot create a sense of sanctuary or serenity while on the road?

Madden: Good question! A couple of ways. I overpack. Let's just put that out there! I bring my own pillow, framed photographs of my family, my favorite candle given to me by Adrienne Vittadini, which is that wonderful Evergreen scent. I bring relaxation tapes that I listen to, a yoga tape, I absolutely must have certain things with me when I travel. I rearrange the furniture in the hotel to work for me. And these all personalize a hotel room for me, which I think is paramount for those of us who travel a lot.

Moderator: Let's talk a little about Feng Shui. Do you feel it works, and how?

Madden: After going to mainland China and Hong Kong and various parts of Asia, and having done a wonderful interview with a Feng Shui master who studied for 15 years, her name is Pun Yin, I learned that Feng Shui is not something that you can become a master at over a weekend. But I do think there are some common sense rules and some wonderful elements of Feng Shui that apply to us in our western lives. I think Feng Shui takes into account sights, astrological charts, many many elements to make architecture and design improve one's life. So it's not just a question of putting a mirror behind a cash register to double your profits! (laughs) But, I do feel that we can learn from this 5,000 year old belief in making our homes more conducive to harmony and relaxation for ourselves.

suzan_tony_WebMD: Most men are happy sitting in front of the TV watching a sporting event. How do we women encourage them to participate in "getaways" and "sanctuaries"?

Madden: Suzan, I think you can't really take away the wonderful couch potato mindset of guys these days. After all, they work hard and when they come home, they want to relax. But I think you can probably examine what you think he loves besides the remote control. (laughs!) For instance, sports books, history, videos, a couple of dinners together just talking about his interests will probably evoke or pull out what might interest him in creating a getaway. So, listen very carefully when he talks and take that as your cue.

Moderator: Do you recommend experiencing a getaway or sanctuary alone, or with a friend or loved one?

Madden: Okay, this is a good question, because the first book, Women's Personal Spaces, A Room of Her Own, -- my 12th book, A Room of Her Own dealt with the solitary sanctuary for women. And, my latest book, Getaways, deals with the evolution of this space or room into more of a family retreat. And, I think we owe it to ourselves to have both in our lives and we can.

Moderator: Is there anything you can do to create and inhabit a sanctuary within your inner space? That is, can you cultivate a "getaway" state of mind?

Madden: Absolutely you can! And that's a great question. If you take a look at A Room of Her Own, you should look at Victoria MacKensie Childs who speaks eloquently about the need to create a personal space within one's self. And I think very Zen, probably a little bit of Tibetan thinking goes into this. But I certainly believe in this, the need to have that core within ourselves that we can retreat to, in a hotel room, no matter where we are, our own internal space that we can go to. Very important. Victoria sort of -- we weren't able to write a lot about it, but I thought it was important.

Moderator: What role does color play in influencing mood?

Madden: Color is VERY, very important and Kathy (Johnson) can probably answer this question! In hospitals they usually paint the walls green according to Kathy because it's a very soothing color, and I think we have to think about the colors that really relax us. For me, it's a lot of creams. I have a lot of stimulation color-wise in my daily life. So I like to be surrounded by a soothing, relaxing color palette. Some people love bright, primary colors. In fact, it's been proven that it will help baby's IQ development if they're surrounded by bright, primary colors. It all depends on what appeals to you, but think about this long and hard before you go out and buy that can of paint or roll of wallpaper.

Moderator: Unfortunately we are almost out of time, so Chris could you please share some final thoughts with us?

Madden: Well, this was great! I loved all the questions. It was wonderful for me to share my latest book, Getaways, and the previous one, A Room of Her Own, with all of you. And, to be able to talk about the need for all of us to create these sanctuaries in our lives. Thanks again!

Moderator: Chris, Kathy and Winnie the dog, thank you so much for joining us today!

Madden: (laughs!) Okay! I'll tell Kathy and Winnie! Thank you! Bye!

Moderator: Chris, thank you for joining us.

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