Patricia Altschul Answers Your Questions on Elegant Living!
by Luzanne Otte
The Glam Pad’s raison d’être is elegant living and interior design. Patricia graciously agreed to respond to questions submitted by fans on social media as to how these topics manifest in her life. From the questions emerged subtopics on interior design, collecting, entertaining, appearance and comportment.
What’s your favorite house in Charleston?
How has your design style changed over time?
I grew up in a home that was not a traditional Southern home. In interior design parlance, it was eclectic and the heterogeneous elements were unconventional for Richmond. We had dark English furniture that my Mother inherited combined with the French painted furniture to which my Mother gravitated. My Father imported many pieces during his travels to China, including exquisite rugs that I love to this day. We had needlepoint Fauteuil chairs that I wasn’t allowed to sit in. I didn’t like the formality. My style leans toward English country because it’s not regulated and comfortable.
Will you ever change the interior of your home?
Never. Many people make the mistake of cutting corners, then are compelled to redecorate. When you do everything properly the first time, you save yourself time and money. That’s why it’s important to take your time in the process and be deliberate in procuring things you love. I love everything about my home.
Where do I start in a decorating project?
You start with the backgrounds. Adding or subtracting any moldings, built-ins like bookcases, radiator covers, etc. Consider all of the structural changes, then figure out the color palette. The painting of a room makes all the difference in the world. If you invest in preparing the walls, even glazing the walls, in time it only gets better and won’t have to be redone in 5 years. Buy paint samples and apply to the wall using broad strokes. Observe how the color transforms throughout the day and in different lighting. Pull images of beautiful wallpapers by Gracie, Christopher Norman, Manuel Canovas. Evaluate the condition of the floors and how they might be improved. Consider window treatments and remember that curtains should complement a room, not define it. Once you’ve mastered the basics, turn to adding the decorative items that tell the story of your life.
Mario’s confectionary curtains are legendary. May I request a close-up of the edged curtains in the guest room and ask if you’ve got a favorite set of curtains in the house?
Despite the answer provided above, the lavish couture curtains in the dining room are my favorite. Mario [Buatta] took three shades of opulent mauve silk, sewed them side-by-side, edged them in a crystal fringe and backed them with lavender silk taffeta. In combination with the cascading valance, the curtains effect an optical illusion with waves of color. The best inspiration and advice you can buy is available in Mario’s monolith with Emily Evans Eerdmans, Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration.
For those starting out, what pieces are wise investments to look out for at antique stores and at auction?
Look for the best possible upholstered pieces you can afford. I’ve always had a decorator who would customize my furniture – pick out fabric, stuffing, style and had them made. You can find a pair of side chairs or sofa with great bones, then find a great upholsterer to put your fingerprint on them. A recent home auction at Doyle’s [Auction House] included a DeAngelis sofa and chairs that would’ve cost $20,000, but the three-piece lot sold for $1200. The structure of DeAngelis furniture is the best, and all you have to do is have the pieces reupholstered. Whatever it is you’re shopping for, choose quality over quantity.
How do you get scale and proportion right?
See article four from this series. The best way to get it right is to mix heights. Place a Chinese secretary next to a low chair for contrast. Another way to keep the eye moving up and down is by hanging art and mirrors. Most people hang mirrors and paintings too low or too high, rather than at eye level. During my Smithsonian fellowship, I learned that curators did it by eye and I learned to do the same.
Who is your go to for custom lampshades?
Why is there a chair beside your bed?
The bedside chair is common in Europe. When I receive guests, I don’t want them sitting on my bed. Plus, the dogs use it as a step stool.
Your favorite table linens are by Léron. From where are your favorite bed linens?
Do faux flowers offend you? What are your favorite flowers for arrangements?
I prefer real flowers. Mario likes silk flowers but I’d rather not. He incorporates potted trees, like fishtail palms, to bring an outdoor element indoors and to add height. My favorite flowers are peonies, fragrant roses, hydrangeas and vines. I do not like carnations or gladiolas. If the arrangement is for a party, I am careful to avoid fragrant flowers that risk offending a guest’s olfactory senses. The selection of varietals depends on the palette of the room in which they are placed.
I’m not particularly creative and wondering if there’s a resource from which you derive inspiration for floral arrangements?
A dear friend and lifestyle expert, Carolyne Roehm, has published many books about flowers and design. A new book, Design & Style: A Constant Thread will be released at the end of the month. My favorite book dedicated exclusively to Carolyne’s passion for gardening and flower arranging is Flowers.
What do you think is an interior design faux pas?
I don’t like to walk in a house and see monochrome. I find it boring. I like color. There has to be flow that makes a home inviting.
What piece of furniture is a home incomplete without?
A comfortable and inviting sofa. I like a down-filled sofa that gives you the feeling of being enveloped.
Solids or stripes?
Is there an appliance you would add to your home that you don’t have?
Yes, a wood-fired pizza oven.
I’d like to start an art collection on a budget. How do I go about finding great pieces?
There are myriad motivations for each of my collections – some evoke pride in owning exquisite objects, others bolster a connection to my personal history, or simply put: fun. Collect what inspires you. Isolate a topic and learn as much as you can about its history. Keep tabs on the major auction houses and develop an eye for the subject matter that captures your attention. I get most of my antiques at auction and antique stores throughout Europe.
Where can I start looking to build my own dog art collection?
The best place to start is the William Secord Gallery in New York City. Secord is the authority on 19th century dog paintings. Begin your studies there. Many of my pieces have been acquired at auction in England. Search under the category of “sporting art.”
What is your favorite glassware collection?
I collect antique Baccarat, etched crystal, and William Yeoward.
Do you have any specific authors whose books you collect?
Many but the ones that immediately come to mind are every first edition of P.G. Wodehouse.
What’s your favorite candle to light while entertaining?
In the powder room, are the guest towels paper or linen? Bar or liquid soap?
I use antique monogrammed linen hand towels. As far as soap, I provide a bar of Madrigal by Claus Porto but any French milled soap will do. I also give the option of a liquid hand soap. At the moment, it’s Banho by Claus Porto but it changes.
What does one wear to a black tie vs. a white tie event?
It’s always smart to consult Debrett‘s if ever in doubt about appropriate attire, etiquette or manners. You should also watch the finale of Southern Charm, Season 5 for pointers on what to wear. Perhaps, in some cases, what not to wear.
What is the most common etiquette blunder you see today?
The way people introduce themselves. There’s only one correct way: “How do you do? My name is…”
You’re hosting a casual but elegant affair. What China do you select?
Depending on the occasion, I would choose between one of my several sets of Mottahedeh China.
What are some musts for hosting a successful dinner party?
Offer the guest a drink straight away. Proper planning is crucial. A carefully considered guest list and equally considered placement. Serve delicious food that people want to eat – savory and sweet. One should always have a fully stocked bar with mixers and extra ice. Depending on the occasion, exquisite linens, a beautiful centerpiece and novelties for the table. The most important thing to have is a pleasant demeanor, as the host’s personality sets the tone for the evening.
Do you have any suggestions for creating formal dinner party menus?
If you’re looking for elevated dining inspiration, I recommend Nan Kempner’s R.S.V.P.: Menus for Entertaining from People Who Really Know How.
How do you make people feel at ease at a formal affair?
Tending to the aforementioned trifles in advance of the party allows you to be attentive to your guests. You will be more likely to make appropriate introductions, include someone standing at the margins in the conversation, and notice a beverage in need of refreshment. A sensitive awareness to the feelings and needs of your guests will make them feel at ease in even the most formal environment. More than anything, have fun. If you’re having fun, your guests will have fun.
When hosting a dinner party with a sober attendee, should one provide mocktails? Or is it better to ignore the situation and just provide water or tea?
Whenever you’re hosting a dinner party, you have a vast selection of juices for mixers and sparking water. Simply ask, “What would you like to drink?” and don’t make a special case of their sobriety.
You’re a proponent of having several duly stocked bars. What’s your policy on serving red wine at a party?
We will be able to make a guest the most obscure cocktail they can conceive, but I don’t serve red wine at a cocktail party in case there’s a spiller in the group. I do, however, serve red wine at dinner.
What’s your favorite brand of gin and vermouth?
Beefeater gin and Boisserie, extra dry vermouth.
If you rosé all day during the summer, have you a preferred vintner?
Château Miraval Cotes de Provence.
What’s your position on taking or serving shots?
Never in my life have I been offered or taken a shot. Drinking to get drunk? It’s not convivial. While we’re on the topic, I have serious health concerns about the Bravo Clubhouse’s “shot ski.” Do the glasses ever get washed? Who knows where those mouths have been.
How do you deal with uncomfortable family dynamics or a conflict at the table?
Compliment the offender and try to change the subject. If that doesn’t work, pretend you hear the doorbell and leave.
If you could be transported to one party in history, what would it be?
Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball in New York City, 1966. Forty years later, my coauthor, Deborah Davis published the definitive resource on the soiree, Party of the Century: Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball. Its enduring legacy is a testament to Capote’s skill as an entertainer!
Appearance and Comportment
Do you workout to maintain your figure?
A trainer comes to the house twice a week to work on balance and strengthen my core. If the temperature allows, I love to swim in the pool once the sun goes down and before the mosquitos come out.
What’s your basic skincare routine?
Look at the article I published with Luzanne and Emily [Selter] in Town & Country for details of the routine. In brief, I double wash. First with a gentle cleanser like Germain and do a second wash with a gentle gel cleanser. I follow with micellar water and apply a prescription medication to treat rosacea.
What’s your go-to foundation and signature lipstick?
Do you have a particular outfit you like to wear when hosting a party?
Caftans, of course! They are comfortable and versatile. If it’s a casual affair, I wear ballet flats. A more formal dinner, I break out the heels. Make the look come to life by pairing with bold accessories. Have fun with it.
Can Southern charm exist outside of the South?
Being Southern is a privilege not available to all. Its charm may be imitated but never duplicated.
Do you have any advice for those of us with a good personality and manners but feel clumsy around the upper class and want to be more elegant?
Watch TCM (Turner Classic Movies) of the 30s and 40s. These movies capture the glamour of a bygone era and will introduce you to a lexicon worthy of resurrection. To be comfortable navigating between classes, you have to understand distinctions between them. The social satire Noblesse Oblige: An Enquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy by Nancy Mitford offers insight in a humorous way. Observe the Grande Dames of a bygone era. Attend events like the one I’m keynoting this November Southern Style Now to gain exposure to elegant people, places, and things. Through the study of the good and the true, beauty reveals itself, of which elegance is a constituent part. Make a deliberate choice to pursue an education on all things lovely. As your mind transforms from focusing on the beautiful, so too will your behavior.
What’s one item that can instantly elevate day-to-day living?
A butler’s services! I don’t know about single item but certainly adopting a mindset of elegance is essential to living the good life.
Thank you again Luzanne and Patricia for this delightful series! I am sad to see it come to an end. If you missed the first five weeks of The Glam Pad’s six-part series of guest posts from Luzanne Otte, links to get caught up are below:
- WEEK ONE: INSIDER SECRETS FROM PATRICIA ALTSCHUL’S HOUSEGUEST
- WEEK TWO: THE HISTORY OF SILHOUETTES AND AN INTERVIEW WITH PATRICIA ALTSCHUL ABOUT HER COLLECTION
- WEEK THREE: THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM PATRICIA ALTSCHUL’S BUTLER, MICHAEL KELCOURSE
- WEEK FOUR: PATRICIA ALTSCHUL DISHES ABOUT HER FAVORITE TABLE LINENS
- WEEK FIVE: THE MAGIC OF MARIO: THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF MARIO BUATTA
For additional information, please consider A Day in the Life of Southern Charm’s Patricia Altschul by Luzanne Otte for Town & Country, Patricia’s book, The Art of Southern Charm, and past features on Patricia and Mario Buatta from The Glam Pad:
- PATRICIA ALTSCHUL’S TIPS FOR CREATING A TIMELESS HOME
- 10 OF PATRICIA ALTSCHUL’S FAVORITE THINGS
- PATRICIA ALTSCHUL’S HOME IN CHARLESTON HOME + DESIGN
- MARIO BUATTA AND PATRICIA ALTSCHUL EXUDE SOUTHERN CHARM IN CHARLESTON
- SOUTHERN CHARM WITH PATRICIA ALTSCHUL
- PATRICIA ALTSCHUL’S DERBY PARTY IS FULL OF SOUTHERN CHARM
- PATRICIA ALTSCHUL’S MANHATTAN MAISONETTE: DESIGNED BY MARIO BUATTA
- MARIO BUATTA’S TIMELESS ALLURE