I have noted my childhood fascination with Gone With the Wind. In addition, in my early teens, I was interested in the history of the Civil War. I read a few of Bruce Catton’s books on the subject and was totally enthralled . As I matured, my focus on history turned to France and to the history of the Bourbon kings, Louis XIII through Louis XVI in particular. I suppose that was because of my career in fashion design and the importance of Paris in my world. I shifted my historical interests to the legendary courtesans of the late 17th and 18th centuries. From there I began, in my early twenties, to understand and appreciate France’s incomparable contributions to architecture, garden design, and the decorative arts. I fell in love with the country and that period.
After I left the fashion business in 1994 I rented a small but charming apartment in a Beaux-Arts building in Paris. While there, I set my sights on finding an 18th century property. After attending a party at the magnificent Vaux le Vicomte, I decided that my heart’s desire was to live in an orangerie like the Vogüé family, who own Vaux. For fifteen years I searched: in the Loire, Picardie, Bordeaux, and in the south of France. I found four charming places but, in the end, did not buy any of them. (That is another story in itself.) Below I have posted photos of some of the beauties I almost bought in France — and still dream of today.
The first picture above is of a charming chartreuse in Bordeaux that I liked. The front facade was more beautiful but, alas, I can no longer find that photo.
The second picture is of my ” big love,” a Rococo folly that was perfection — other than it was in a region where it rained all of the time.
Photo three is of a wonderful orangerie that I thought was perfect — but it was in the middle of nowhere and needed a total restoration.
Photo four is of a classic Mansard chateau with gardens that were supposedly laid out by Le Nôtre — you can imagine my bliss! But it was too big of an undertaking for me.
This long-winded story is to explain how I ended up in Charleston. I turned 60 last year. Overnight I began to think that while I adored my beloved France, I should embrace the practical realities of life and consider retiring in America. I certainly am not yet ready to retire but — perhaps it was that bloody birthday — I intuited that Charleston would be my first choice for a more temperate climate — after my knees can no longer handle the bumps of Aspen and the cold of the New England winter.
The first time I visited Charleston I was with my dear mentor, Bill Blass. We were totally taken by the beauty of the town and the surrounding countryside. History, architectural beauty, gardens, and good food are there in abundance, along with a highly talented group of artisans who focus on historic preservation. My good friends Dick Jenrette and Bill Thompson have hosted me at their beautiful house in Charleston and at their extraordinary plantation just outside of that charming city. On my third trip to Charleston in early May, I found the Greek Revival Chisolm House. I fell in love.
I have been working on the plans for the house and the garden for the last couple of months. I promise to show you the good, the bad, and the ugly, as well as what I hope to accomplish with this grand old lady. I say ‘old,’ but she is a relative youngster, dating from 1836 in comparison to Weatherstone, my wonderful Georgian house in Connecticut, which was built in 1765! So while I still dream of the Rococo folly in Picardie, I know this is the house and the future for me.
So now you have a bit of the history of how I got to Chisolm House. The next post will start the design process as I renovate the garden and the house. Please stay tuned!