Renowned as a summer resort for the American aristocracy, Newport, Rhode Island is legendary for its stately mansions, stunning seascapes, world-class sailing, and lavish entertaining. In this fabled town where privacy is a treasured asset, Bettie Bearden Pardee takes us behind the scenes into the world of Newport’s old guard and new tastemakers through her blog Private Newport and her new book Living Newport: Houses, People, Style. Bettie shares how America’s Society Capital entertains, decorates, parties, gardens, and dresses with Newport’s exceptional old-world architecture as the exquisite backdrop. Town & Country featured Bettie’s book as proof that “Newport is the epitome of old school American elegance.”
I am honored to have Bettie join us here today!
Bettie and her husband live year-round in Newport. Bettie’s design talents and love of landscape were put to use in the design and building of their home, Parterre. An accomplished hostess and active community leader, Bettie has chaired many events that are staples of the social season, including seven years with the Newport Flower Show. She has lectured extensively in the garden club and design world around the country. Most importantly, Bettie embraces the ethos of giving back, especially to the Newport community.
Q: What made you and your husband decide to move to Newport?
A: My husband, Jonathan, is from Newport; for his business, we had moved from Atlanta to NY to Boston, so it was an easy decision to make our weekend home a full time residence.
Q: Newport sounds like a magical land untouched by time. What do you find are its greatest charms, and how does Newport inspire you?
A: Newport’s sophisticated charm has a ‘vibe’ that heralds the next chapter in this town’s history-repeating-itself scenario — attracting a vibrant new crowd and social energy to our shores… It is these impressions that inspired me to take pen to paper and write my most recent book, Living Newport: Houses, People, Style and now blog, Private Newport, to celebrate the private side of this City by the Sea through the prism of those who had the means and opportunity to live anywhere but chose Newport.
Q: In his recent guest post for your blog, photographer Nick Mele said, “In many ways Newport, Rhode Island is one of the last bastions of old school American high society. The grand houses of yesteryear still stand, often untouched by modern renovation and style.” What are some other examples still remaining of the old guard?
A: They don’t tear down homes, their favorite hors d’oeuvres is a small toast round with crunchy peanut butter topped with crumbled bacon (referred to as “Newport caviar”) and they don’t seek publicity.
Q: Are there many similarities between Palm Beach and Newport?
A: The biggest similarity is that Newport heads to Florida, especially Palm Beach, in the winter; I call PB “Newport south.”
Q: Your professional background is incredibly inspiring to me. How did you become interested in journalism, and what are some of your favorite career highlights?
A: As a young single girl in Atlanta, far from Beverly Hills, California where I grew up, I loved entertaining but always wished that there was one little “primer” that I could reference for details I’d forgotten. Moving to New York after my Papillon catalog years gave me the time and opportunity to create just what I’d been looking for; they’re called Pardee Guide to Great Entertaining and Pardee Guide to Great Weekend Entertaining. These, in turn, led to an 11 year career at Bon Appétit as a contributing editor producing “Entertaining with Style.” At the same time, I became the host and creative producer of a 13 part PBS series entitled, “The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House.”
And finally, to wrap up the journalism note, the decision to build our home in Newport prompted my first coffee table book, Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden followed by Living Newport: Houses, People, Style.
Other career highlights? My upscale catalog company in Atlanta, “Papillon,” that was an offspring of my needlepoint shop which I started right after college. As we grew into lifestyle products (i.e. tabletop, entertaining essentials, decorative accessories and furnishings) the by-line of my catalog was birthed… “The Art of Living Graciously.” And this was way before the word “lifestyle” became part of our lexicon.
Q: Your garden is truly amazing. How did you develop your green thumb? And how did you become interested in interior design?
A: I came late to the gardening game, but like so many, once bitten it was enthusiasm that drove me…attending every garden tour I had time for, peppering established gardeners with questions, pouring through books. It was all about immersion! And the same with interior design, though I am a design graduate of UCLA so that study started much earlier than gardening.
Q: I love that you founded a needlepoint store in Atlanta! I have recently begun to needlepoint, and I am completely obsessed. I would love to learn more about your favorite pieces, and hopefully see a few pictures!
A: Thank you for letting me take this trip down memory lane. I was just in North Carolina for a wedding and our host pulled out some old designs that his mother had done from my shop many, many years ago. Oh, the stories and the lovely customers…here are a few designs (I have vellums and original canvases stacked up in my studio because I just can’t bring myself to toss them out). These photos are taken in my house, some favorites that still fit my design aesthetic after all these years…and were stitched by me.
Q: Where in the South did you grow up, and how did this guide and inspire you to where you are today?
A: Atlanta, in the summers. And then I moved there full time after college. Gracious living and a love of people is such a southern hallmark, and both my parents were from the South so it was part of our life, no matter where we lived. The preface to my first Pardee Guide says it so well (I’m paraphrasing)…“Growing up Southern is all about entertaining; we were either recovering from the last party or concocting a reason for the next one.”
Q: I have been taking keen note of your fabulous hostessing skills! Can you tell me more about your popular lecture “Entertaining, Newport Style….when Grace Kelly was a Guest”?
A: Newport has always been at the epicenter of the action; summer in Newport, whether you were a Gilded Age mogul or a college age preppy, attracted a long list of talented, inquisitive, successful (or soon to be) people. Parties, and many of them, brought people together; Grace Kelly was here filming “High Society.”
Q: Please tell me about your favorite causes, and the importance of giving back.
A: Giving back to the community is the essence of gracious living; it’s also following in the tradition of a town that has existed for over 375 years! From the Redwood Library and Athenaeum (our country’s oldest circulating library, 1747) to the Aquidneck Island Land Trust to the Boys and Girls Club, and many more deserving, well supported causes in Newport that contribute to the quality of life we all enjoy here.
Q: Please tell me about your newly released Parterre Bench.
A: A very exciting debut took place last week…the “Parterre Bench,” which I designed for my garden a few years back and have now decided to make this iconic accessory available to others. I was inspired by a bench in an Irish garden I had visited 35 years ago! But what makes this especially meaningful to me is that it substantiates holding on to a vision, no matter how long it might take to realize.