Design & Décor, Living with Style

Revealing Insights for Expressing Your Personal Style

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My recent trip to Birmingham, Alabama came via an invitation from my dear friend, Margot Shaw, founder and Editor-in-Chief of the must-read Flower magazine. Ten years ago, in her great wisdom, she initiated the “Tastebuds” event  for the “Antiques at the Garden” weekend— where noted decorating, entertaining, and lifestyle experts share inspirational stories and tips to help young enthusiasts define and express their personal style.

Margot’s impetus for this educational opportunity was in response to the wider conversation going on in many families across our country — quite simply, some in the next generations coming along do not want antiques, they don’t understand “brown furniture,” and they can’t see themselves using silver flatware and grandmother’s fine china.


It was my charge, and pleasure, to share personal examples of why these heirlooms are so meaningful to me, to provide a perspective for incorporating family inheritances into one’s lifestyle. Not thinking of them as “things” but understanding first that they represent one’s personal “story” — the family’s history, the memories, the experiences  are part of who we are and what we have become. Anticipating that my readers may be familiar with this crossroads we’ve approached, I decided to continue our conversation in a post.

 The morning started with a comment my gracious mother had made as we were building our house twenty-years ago. Asking me if there was anything in her home that we would like, she wisely observed “I’d rather see you enjoying them while I’m alive; I won’t have that pleasure once I’m gone.” Bringing her spirit to each room gives me another reason to think of her as I walk through my house, making her a part of my every day. In the kitchen, her eighteenth century armoire was my inspiration for the old-world design of this heart of the house.

While the gilded mirror over the salon mantle helps carry through our intent for our home to look as though it had been built almost two hundred years ago, as our neighbors were.

Parterre was also the recipient of a thoughtful gesture by Newport friends that gives new meaning to recycling. Honduran mahogany paneling (in storage for thirty-seven years) from their former family home  now decorates our library, the room we use most often, and which we respectfully refer to as the “Powell Memorial Library” in their honor. We now have reason daily to think of a special couple as well as their distinguished history in our state. Aaah, the stories this paneling could tell…

And when I open my china closet door, I see wedding and trousseau gifts. With few exceptions, I can remember exactly who gave them to us (the parents of high school chums, a business colleague of my father’s, a college friend) and even the emporiums from which they came (many of which no longer exist — i.e. Bonwit Teller and Henri Bendel, I. Magnin, Foster’s in Westwood Village). Memories flood back of “past lives” and “times that were.” And the wisdom that those friends imparted to me.

Let me not forget the decanter and glasses set, a staple in our library bar, that a former beau gave us as a wedding gift.

With the holidays just around the corner, I’m anticipating a double dose of nostalgia. Like hand-me-down recipes, family heirlooms and entertaining essentials that were such a part of those past golden holidays are now their own set of treasures. I love to think of my thirty+year old niece, now living in Auckland, NZ, who recreates her grandmother’s December 26th curry buffet dinner party each year. Some guests will be sitting in antique chairs from grandmother’s home in Atlanta, with her soft monogrammed damask napkins on their lap…anticipating the next curry party that is now an annual event!

Thank you for joining me. I hope that these rememberances might reveal new insights for you and your family…or at the least be a part of an ongoing conversation. The past truly does inform our present. Yes, there are many ways to “express personal style,” but if only for the memories and stories associated with them, heirlooms deserve serious consideration. As we are reminded by the framed pictures placed around our homes, any opportunity for reflection…of family, friends, dear ones that have passed, places we’ve been…adds a beautiful note to any day.

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

17 thoughts on “Revealing Insights for Expressing Your Personal Style

  1. Good Morning Bettie
    We were smitten with your style and grace as revealed in your Tastebuds interview with Margot here in Birmingham. Come back!
    Best, Marjorie

    1. So sweet of you, Marjorie. Tastebuds inspired this post, so thanks to all of you in B’ham! xB

  2. Thank you for such a beautiful glimpse into your lovely house. I am fortunate that my son enjoys our silver, china, and crystal. He loves our brown furniture; his favorite, a piecrust table from 1760.
    Best, Jane

    1. Jane, your son has very good taste…and how much it must mean to you that he’s given a good home to your 1760 table! xB

  3. There is nothing better than reliving the past in the present with all of my cherished treasures.
    As the years go by, I tend to cherish them more and more.

    Happy Holidays Bettie !
    Elaine C

  4. Bravo Bettie! Though I enjoy all of your wonderful posts this one hits close to home. I too grew up in an era when a wedding registry included your choices of fine crystal, china and silver. (By the way, I was registered at Strawbridge and Clothier, another long gone institution). My mother also was at her best entertaining and I remember wonderful parties where everyone was dressed to the “nines”. My father was a surgeon in Philadelphia so their social calendar was always full. I followed suit by marrying a naval officer and spending 25 years travelling and entertaining at more addresses than I care to remember. Our house today contains 18th and 19thc “brown furniture” and enough silver and china to entertain in a gilded age style. Though very little of it is used today I find it impossible to part with it. Every piece is a story or memory (especially of our naval career). Though our children at first did not seem interested, as the years pass and their families grow the seem to want to continue the family history. I find my daughters and daughter-in-law are now all lobbying for “who is going to get what” when we are not longer around! Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories. Barbara Caldwell

    1. Oh, music to my ears, Barbara! “Lobbying for who is going to get what.” I was hoping I would hear stories like this.
      Thank you for sharing yours! xB

  5. Dear Bettie, what a thoughtful and beautifully written post. You have expressed my sentiments exactly. Thankfully my mother-in-law passed many of her treasures down to me, as she knew her other children did not appreciate them as I did. Now I am reminded of her generosity daily and think of her fondly. I very much hope my children will do the same one day with my treasures. I will be forwarding them your post.

    1. Hello Celia, I love hearing these personal stories from my readers! Your mother-in-law was fortunate to have youto pass along to. This reminded me that when friends asked my mother what I wanted for a wedding gift, my mother said, “she adores silver and heirlooms.” I was a lucky recipient as you were with your mother-in-law. xB

  6. Love your thoughts and wisdom on beloved livelong lifelong collected items. They are who we are. Am trying to get this across to my family. We purchased wholesale,$12 .50 per stem /decanters /dessert plates and vases of
    Queen Lace. I love it and hope my son does as it is in my gifts to him. I love seeing it in your house. Thanks so for this
    one on remembrances!

    1. Thank you, Lynn, I knew there were friends out therefor whom this post would really resonate. Fingers crossed your son likes your clever gift! xB

  7. I am JUST LIKE YOU on SO many LEVELS!Loved the PEEK into YOUR PANTRY………
    MY eye went RIGHT to THE PINK PLATES!!!!!!!!
    This generation will GROW UP and HOPEFULLY LEARN TO APPRECIATE if WE keep using THE GOOD STUFF!!!!!MAKE MEMORIES PEOPLE BY USING IT AND TELLING STORIES ABOUT IT!!!!!!Make it harder for them to TOSS IT!!!!!!!!

    1. To the point, La Contessa, love that you “say it like it is!” Make it harder for them to toss…CHeers!

  8. Thank you Dear Bettie, for so beautifully expressing the richness and resonance of family pieces, brown furniture, and silver flatware. How true it is that these are not mere objects but memories and stories, and our houses resonate with their beauty and a kind of aesthetic wisdom that the new and shiny just don’t.

    1. Aah Frances, spoken like a true southerner…and what a gift for words! Thank you for your gracious comment. xB

  9. Oh my, Bettie. J’adore your gorgeous kitchen, and your house is stunning! I have the good fortune of being the only girl child among my siblings, consequently the happy recipient of many of my mother’s and grandmother’s beautiful heirlooms from an earlier and more gracious era. I’m a native Californian, consequently I grew up in a more casual environment than people on the east coast or in the south, but I am old enough to remember those fabulous old stores you mentioned, that are unfortunately no longer in existence. Every day, I pray, that many of the lovely refined ways that seem to have disappeared, will come full circle. After all, everything old is new again! (Sigh…I am a woman born into the wrong era.) As always, thank you for your lovely post.

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