Of all the beautiful homes I have shared via The Glam Pad over the years, I am often asked if I have a favorite… Yes, I do! It is the antebellum Charleston home of Patricia Altschul, decorated by my favorite interior designer, Mario Buatta. I have featured her home numerous times and even had the privilege of interviewing Patricia last year when she shared her tips for creating a timeless home. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Luzanne Otte, Patricia’s close friend, offered to write a guest series of features detailing Patricia’s home and style. Today, Luzanne is sharing a detailed account of her experience as Patricia Altschul’s houseguest. If you have read Patricia’s book, The Art of Southern Charm, you know she is an expert on the fine art of entertaining. What a treat to get an insider’s review of what it is actually like to stay at the historic Isaac Jenkins Mikell House! I am thrilled to welcome Luzanne today as we kick off the first of our six-part series on all things Patricia Altschul and Mario Buatta!
From the Diary of Patricia Altschul’s Houseguest
by Luzanne Otte
Patricia Altschul’s repertoire includes mother, art dealer, small business owner, animal activist, professor, socialite, style maven, entertainment expert, one of the Salonniere 100 and breakout star of Bravo show, Southern Charm. The tale of how our friendship evolved is for another time, but it begins with a California native identifying Patricia as an aspirational model of femininity and the living embodiment of Southern hospitality. Fast-forward to present day. Patricia is a dear friend who graciously hosts my semi-annual sojourn to Charleston.
Regular readers of The Glam Pad are well-versed in the exquisite interiors of the Isaac Jenkins Mikell House (the Mikell family enjoys mixed pronunciation among themselves: Mïkle and Mīchael. Patricia usually pronounces it, “Michael.”) designed by the legendary, Mario Buatta. The Mikell house is the pinnacle of Buatta’s oeuvre.
During my first stay at the Mikell House, I never wandered from the guest quarters unsupervised, and contemplated inviting Patricia to search my luggage upon departure. Patricia did not do anything to make me feel like I should provide an accounting. Quite the contrary, Patricia’s total ease with me was disconcerting. My unconscious mind had forejudged Patricia as the archetypal indomitable and impervious woman. While my conscious mind confirmed the indomitable spirit, Patricia was not at all impervious but entirely relatable. In light of this revelation, presenting an unsolicited security check of my personal possessions seemed indelicate. Instead, I determined we would build trust over time – less overtly – and now our cups runneth over with trust equity.
My Spring 2018 trip to Charleston was different from the past, in that, I was a guest taking notes. How did the hostess guidelines set forth in Patricia’s inaugural tome, The Art of Southern Charm, jive with reality?
Upon ascending the brownstone steps and entering the light-infused antebellum mansion, I am immediately aware of having gained entrée into a rarefied world. Guests may not know Landseer from Lands End, but transcendent beauty is unmistakable.
As I proceed through the entry hall, to the left are portraits of the Old South by William Aiken Walker. On the right is a portrait of an anthropomorphized primate by Donald Roller Wilson. While the objective value of renowned artists is a significant component of Patricia’s collection, her subjective appreciation for the pieces is granted equal weight. If I were to extrapolate from this environmental dichotomy (and I will) between traditional and whimsical portraits, I’d state that the art is an extension of Patricia’s interior milieu: extrovert and introvert, high-brow and down-to-earth, humble and grand, expensive and expensive – very expensive.
Standing at the base of the sweeping staircase ornamented by a sprawling collection of antique silhouettes (the next subject in our series!), I return my gaze to the front door. The natural light streaming in obscures the light fixture but captures the glow that envelops the home.
I follow Patricia and her majordomo, Michael Kelcourse, up the rather daunting staircase. Their relationship has a certain je ne sais quoi that is a delight to behold. The constant repartée is reminiscent of Nick and Nora Charles, or Nichols and May. If you think Patricia is high-maintenance, you’d be absolutely correct but Michael may have her beat. Bantering about their respective demands is a well-honed shtick. Once we arrive at the landing, Michael offers to carry my suitcase the two remaining yards to the guest room straight ahead. Kidding! He gallantly carried my luggage the whole way. For guests who do not travel as lightly, Michael has the luxury of transporting luggage to the second floor via a 21st century elevator.
Patricia provided a high-level overview of the guest room’s features – how to use the television, WIFI access, location of odds and ends like spare chargers – and then shepherded me to a nearby refrigerator in the event of any late night cravings. Keep in mind, the house is nearly 10,000 square feet. A trip to the kitchen on the opposite end is a minor trek, so the accommodation is greatly appreciated. Patricia opened the refrigerator and voila! the food preferences she had inquired about the week prior lay before me.
Following a brief respite to allow me to get situated, Patricia reemerged and we reviewed our schedule for the following day. It was then that I discovered one of my favorite things about Patricia. She, too, does not like to be rushed in the mornings. Upon agreeing that we would see each other around noon, we went to bed. By “went to bed,” I mean, “I explored every square inch of the guest room and left no stone unturned.” Motivated purely for the sake of research and perhaps a scintilla of nosiness.
I’m not prepared to admit that I was poised to be a whistleblower, but I’m not prepared to deny it either. The fact of the matter is that serving as an informant, aside from seriously endangering my Holy City lodging, would be a fool’s errand. Patricia is meticulous in everything she undertakes to perform. Aiding in the execution of Patricia’s vision is a staff with Edwardian standards of attention to detail and cleanliness: Michael, Joan DiPietro, Connie Simmons, and Carla. I am pleased to report that there were no known vulnerabilities. The guidelines set forth in The Art of Southern Charm were duly fulfilled. Whether or not I reciprocated the same high-standards as a guest shall be revealed in our final post from this series, “An Interview with Michael.”
Any effete academics inclined to render judgment based on the pictured titles should reserve it. Patricia holds Masters degrees in Archaeology and Art History from George Washington University. The vast majority of the bibliophile’s 2000+ library catalog is more Lockean than Libertine.
A mirrored console at the foot of the bed displayed an array of reading material. Patricia and I speak everyday, but I did not realize how well she knew me. She provided a thoughtful selection of my favorite periodicals – Garden & Gun, Town & Country, Vogue – as well as the most recent catalogues by Verdura, a jeweler with whom I have a longstanding affair. In addition, the New York Times, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal were delivered daily. Much in the same way the sullied towels and trash disappeared, fresh towels and newspapers simply appeared. Every night, my blackout shades and curtains were drawn. Every morning, they were raised. I never ran into anyone in the room, nor did I see anyone enter the room. Being taken care of with maximum efficiency and minimum fuss imbued me with a sense of calm comfort.
Trifling as some of the gestures may at first glance appear, the creature comforts and punctilios of politesse became a powerful force in the aggregate. Patricia’s assiduous attention to detail demonstrates self-respect, as well as respect for me as her guest. These trifles are precisely what distinguish the social elite from the parvenu, and an average hostess from an inimitable one. Patricia’s guest room earns this aesthete’s full five star rating for accommodations. I will definitely be back!
Luzanne, thank you for this delightful sneak peek inside Patricia Altschul’s world. I am ready to pack my bags and move it to that guest room! 🙂 Please check back next Wednesday for Luzanne’s second post on the history of silhouettes, inspired by Patricia’s extensive collection. In the meantime, you won’t want to miss Luzanne’s guest post “A Day in the Life of Southern Charm’s Patricia Altschul” featured last week via Town & Country. More of my posts on Patricia can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And don’t forget to tune in to Bravo tomorrow at 9 p.m. ET for the Season 5 Reunion of Southern Charm.