Since providing a behind the scenes glimpse of Newport, Rhode Island for my blog last year, Bettie Bearden Pardee has become a kindred spirit and mentor I deeply respect and admire. Many of you may already follow Bettie via her fabulous blog, Private Newport, and on Instagram. She is also the author of Living Newport: Houses, People, Style and Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden.
Born in the South and reared in Beverly Hills, Bettie returned to Atlanta in 1970 to launch Papillon, a catalog of entertaining specialties and fine home accoutrements. An offspring of the needlepoint shop she started right after college, Papillon quickly evolved into an upscale lifestyle brand. Bettie then moved to New York where she wrote Pardee Guide to Great Entertaining and Pardee Guide to Great Weekend Entertaining. These primers led to an 11 year career at Bon Appétit as a contributing editor producing “Entertaining with Style.” At the same time, she became the host and creative producer of a 13 part PBS series titled, “The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House.”
As a businesswoman and hostess, Bettie has been featured in Town & Country, Harper’s Bazaar, Time, Women’s Wear Daily, The Boston Globe, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A design graduate of UCLA, she has also received the Burlington Award for interior design. Today, Bettie and her husband Jonathan live full-time in Newport. She has chaired many events that are staples of the social season, including seven years with the Newport Flower Show, and she lectures extensively in the garden club and design world around the country. I am thrilled to welcome Bettie back for an exclusive tour of her breathtakingly beautiful home, Parterre!
Q: Please tell me about your vision behind the creation of your home, Parterre. Where did you find inspiration, and what key elements were most important within the design?
A: It’s rather humorous – for my entire life I said I’d never build a house; listening to so many horror stories from friends made me put any thought out of mind. So why was I constantly clipping magazines, filling file after file with the minutest of details (from dining chair slipcovers to tole lamps)? All elements of good interior design. So I really did have a vision (I just didn’t realize it). But then there were considerations, somewhat singular to building in Newport – specifically on Bellevue Avenue, one of the most historic streets in the country, with very large and magnificent mansions (Rosecliff is our neighbor to the south). Our wonderful architect’s (Fred Bissinger of Philadelphia) vision is what really carried the day…honoring our neighbors and scaling appropriately, but still giving us a manageable home. He created a sense of “massing” by adding out-buildings at either end of the main house (a dovecote, an orangerie, a folly).
This fool the eye technique also recalled French chateau estates, which was the style we’d chosen. The key elements to me were flow, good light and air, high ceilings, a kitchen that looked like another room not a “kitchen,” and views of the gardens from public rooms and master suite. One key element that comes immediately to mind is the old iron staircase that our architect had saved from a New York townhouse and stored in his barn for years. He says he designed the entire house around the staircase…
Q: How did you incorporate your passion for entertaining into the design of Parterre?
A: Specific (and disguised) storage in the main public rooms which is all about keeping entertaining essentials in convenient access to party functions (ie.ballroom chairs hung Shaker-style in the closet areas of the salon — see in the second image below, behind the settee). That way you’ll be more inclined to entertain. And I always keep in mind my four C’s…comfortable, chic, clever and considerate.
Q: What are the most important things to consider when creating a welcoming home for guests?
A: Making guests feel at home. That covers it all – from a gracious, warm greeting at the door to comfortable furniture (including small chairs that can easily be moved around) to a home with “flow” (where it’s easy to circulate and not get trapped) to a host and hostess who are relaxed and acting as guests at their own party. And always a little surprise (a funny take-home, switching guests around at dessert, an impromptu cooking demo prior to a dinner party).
Q: What is your philosophy when it comes to interior design, and how would you describe your style?
A: Classic with a twist, always a bit of whimsy in a room (as in the garden) and an easy relationship between the rooms in the house and “rooms” in the garden. But most of all, comfort, first for my husband and me and secondly, visitors and guests. How to assure that they feel at home. Funny enough, while I was familiar with feng shui and respected its concept, I didn’t go so far as to retain a consultant on this Asian concept. A few years after we’d moved in, a trained feng shui practitioner just happened to be in town; I heard about him and invited him over. Intrigued, I walked with him throughout the house. We received high marks. Perhaps that is why so many guests seem to have an almost visceral affection for Parterre.
Q: The gardens at Parterre are truly magnificent. How did you go about designing them, and how long did it take to get them to where they are now?
A: My garden design consultant had noted (to my frustration) that it takes a garden ten years to appear even slightly “mature.” She was right; but truly a garden is always a work in progress…and that’s what I love the most about this whole process. You can tweak, refine, refresh – whatever you wish to call it – and it keeps a garden alive and “you” engaged and stimulated. I am a design major, so I totally immersed myself in the creation process – going on every garden tour I heard about, looking at magazines, visiting private gardens whenever I had the opportunity…and asking questions! It wasn’t long before I had a clear vision of the appropriate relationship of the garden rooms to the house’s design and interior — each to set off the other. Also, with our former Belmont estate property came a collection of grand old Newport trees – beeches, oaks, European little-leafed lindens. This was actually one of the main reasons we purchased the property, so my dream of having a mini arboretum is slowly coming to fruition.
Q: What advice would you give to someone like me who has a black thumb, but longs to have exquisite gardens?
A: To my points above – with focused study and “research” a black thumb can soon become green. As with entertaining, one of the best pieces of advice is to be realistic – understand your limitations and manage your expectations. And start with perennials, then you won’t have to take on replanting a garden every year. Remember, be patient – maturity is a garden’s best friend and asset.
Q: Are there any educational gardening books you recommend for the novice to experienced gardener?
A: My favorites and old standbys, because it’s all about the basics – Russell Page, “Education of a Gardener;” Beatrix Farrand, “American Landscapes;” Arabella Lenox-Boyd,“Designing Gardens;” Starr Ockenga, “Earth on Her Hands” and of course, David Hicks,“My Kind of Garden.”
Q: Do you have a favorite flower, color scheme, or style you like to incorporate into Parterre’s gardens?
A: That’s a question that applies to interior design just as much as it pertains to a garden – my favorite flower is the one that’s blooming at the moment (though I do have to confess a soft spot for peonies); I’m partial to the “sunset colors” (peach, russet, buttercream) but at the same time I have the most delicious black parrot tulips in my Black and White Garden. The “style?” – as I like to say in my garden brochure, Parterre is a series of gardens in the classical French tradition, designed with an American accent and Newport-inspired details. One of those details is the parterres (a French term for shaped beds) that gave the house its name.
Q: With such beautiful flowers surrounding you, how do you go about bringing the outside indoors?
A: When starting the design process for Parterre twenty years ago, I put many thoughts down on paper – from “a few of my favorite things” to “horticultural design statements.” Even back then I knew that just as important as the garden visually is the garden horticulturally. In fact, upon reflection, I realize that (with a few exceptions) every plant choice must pass the litmus test – “would this enhance a floral arrangement?” And that is my number one priority… arranging flowers and always having them throughout the house. Something is just missing to me if a home doesn’t have flowers.
Q: Since debuting last year, your elegant Parterre bench has enjoyed tremendous success! What inspired you to create the bench, and what new developments do you have in store for the future?
A: Thank you! Thirty years ago, while pheasant shooting in Ireland at Birr Castle, I chanced upon an intriguing piece of furniture. The Earle of Ross had a garden bench whose design looked like something straight from Alice in Wonderland; the swooping R’s with tails resembled the devil’s pitchfork. Intrigued, its image stayed with me. When designing my Newport garden in 1999, I specifically created a bower in our winter garden that can be seen from the main rooms in our house. It came with the promise to myself that I would someday recreate this bench whose memory I had been carrying for so long. In 2007, to honor my book “Private Newport; at Home and in the Garden,” the bench came to be. From my travels, I have a vast collection of images to inspire new designs for garden accessories and “lust and must” necessities.
Such a little slice of heaven… Thank you Bettie for welcoming us into your exquisite home and gardens! To experience more of Bettie’s enchanted world, I highly recommend her books Living Newport: Houses, People, Style and Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden, and her primer, the Pardee Guide to Great Entertaining and Pardee Guide to Great Weekend Entertaining. For daily inspiration, please subscribe to Bettie’s blog, Private Newport, and follow her on Instagram. For inquiries regarding the Parterre bench, please click here. And stay tuned, because on Monday, I will feature Bettie’s tips for becoming the perfect houseguest or gracious hostess!