Even as I was moving from place to place, my undying affection for Gone with the Wind had led me to spend years on a quest for an old plantation house, searching from Georgia to Alabama, Mississippi to Tennessee. In the process I discovered something: Scarlett O'Hara and her people were very, very small. (I guess that's what happens when you've got Hattie McDaniel tugging on your corset strings every morning.) It turns out that the rooms of an old plantation house are so tight that to make it work as a modern home, you'd have to gut the whole interior and start from scratch. Frankly, my dear, I wasn't up for that.

Then one day Bob Greene, my trainer, adviser, and friend extraordinaire, found a house for me to see in Santa Barbara. As I rounded the corner and pulled into the long drive, my jaw dropped. It was a Georgian mansion minus the Georgian heat and humidity—my own private Tara. I actually thought about calling it Tara II, but the house had a spiritual vibe that had somehow eluded Rhett and Scarlett. "It seems like, I don't know, a place that fulfills something," Bob said. "Like being here might be your destiny." He thought a minute and added, "It's sort of like the promised land." That was it! I bought the place in 2001 and moved in on my birthday in 2004.

Sometimes I'd be sitting outside, and I'd look through the windows and think, "My God!" I could not believe this was where I lived. There was just one tiny wasn't. Indiana, Fisher Island, and now Santa Barbara—these were all places I'd head to when I wanted to give myself some respite. But every minute of every hour I spent there, I was acutely aware that the Oprah show was waiting and the clock was ticking and soon I'd be due back in Chicago. I always felt like a visitor. Then the show ended and something dawned on me: The Promised Land was a lovely place to visit, but maybe, just maybe, I didn't really want to live there.

You see, when I finally settled in full-time, I started to notice little things, like the fact that my living room was not designed for living. There was no place to put your feet up and hang out. Some have a fear of heights, some have a fear of flying; my great fear was that the dogs would slobber on the silk slipcovers. And though all the pillows were luxurious to look at, when you actually had one in your back, what you wanted more than anything was not to have one in your back. Objectively, I knew my house was impressive—I mean, just about every guest I ever invited for dinner told me so as they perched on the edge of the opulent sofa trying not to get fingerprints on anything. No doubt: I owned a stately home, and I poured my heart and soul into making it perfect. The place was everything a girl from Kosciusko, Mississippi, could dream of—and then some. Still, this feeling that something might be missing never quite disappeared.

Next: What one designer said that changed Oprah's outlook


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