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Designing Women :: Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author Bettie Bearden Pardee, Living Newport: Houses, People, Style

Author Bettie Bearden Pardee, Living Newport: Houses, People, Style

It is an honor and a pleasure to have Bettie Bearden Pardee join us here today to share some of her tried and true entertaining tips. I hope you'll pour yourself a cup of coffee, tea or a glass of bubbly, which just happens to be Bettie's favorite, and stay awhile.

Bettie Bearden Pardee is an author, lecturer, garden connoisseur, former magazine editor and television host/producer. Pardee who makes Newport, Rhode Island her home, has written several books on America’s favorite City by the Sea. First published in 1979,  Newport in Flower: A History of Newport’s Horticultural Heritage  was updated and re-issued by Bettie in 2010. In 2004 Bettie received an award for a “commitment to excellence" for Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden by the Horticultural Society of New York. Her most recent coffee table book, Living Newport: House, People, Style, published by Glitterati, gives readers a glimpse into the fabled town where privacy is a treasured asset. 

Living Newport: Houses, People, Style offers up an insider’s view of Newport, Rhode Island which has long been celebrated for its stunning seascapes, famous mansions, Jazz Festival, annual Flower Show and world-class sailing. In Living Newport readers will get a rare glimpse into this fabled town where privacy is a treasured asset offering sneak peeks into the lives of the “old guard” as well as the “new” Newport social set. These tastemakers have the means and the ability to live anywhere but have chosen this perennially-favored City by the Sea. Readers are invited in to see how this exclusive community entertains, decorates, parties, gardens and dresses. 

Bettie has also been a contributing editor at Bon Appetit, hosted an entertaining segment for a 15–part PBS television series, “The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House where she presented a rare glimpse of United States Presidents at home, produced segments for, and appeared on many TV spots including, “Good Morning America” and “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.”

This accomplished hostess and active community leader has chaired many events including the Newport Flower Show, during which she received the Laurel Award for “creative, devoted and effective leadership” from the Preservation Society of Newport County.

Bettie and her husband Jonathan, who was born in Newport, decided to make the illustrious City-By-The-Sea their year-round home. Her design talents and love of landscape were put to use in the design and building of their Newport retreat, Parterre which is the heart of Bettie’s creative endeavors. Parterre’s often-toured gardens have been documented in the Archives of American Gardens at the Smithsonian Institution and are featured in the Garden Club of America’s Gardens, Private and Personal. Suffice it to say, Bettie knows her flowers!

Bettie Bearden Pardee

Bettie Bearden Pardee

What’s the inspiration behind your website? 
The inspiration was my latest book, Living Newport: Houses, People, Style, which is a follow-on to my earlier book, Private Newport: Houses, People, Style.  Both are coffee table books capturing the private side of a very public destination. In each, the focus is on tastemakers who have the ability to live anywhere but choose Newport. We all love to peek behind closed doors and garden gates to see…how these friends entertain during the America’s Cup Trials...dress for “Coaching Weekend”…spend their hours on the water…whose garden turns out the blue ribbon roses at the Newport Flower Show... what decorating instincts inspired an historic boathouse redo. 

Having a website and a blog, Initial Thoughts is a very new experience for me, but I love it and have so much admiration for all the beautiful websites already out there…and those to come. It’s exciting to be part of this new frontier. 

What’s your definition of luxury? 
Anything precious, not easily reproduced, in scant supply…like time. Or an exquisite flower that will only last a few days but prompts an almost overwhelming sense of awe at its exquisiteness.

Roses from Bettie Bearden Pardee's gardens

Roses from Bettie Bearden Pardee's gardens

What’s your definition of style? 

Being comfortable with yourself and not being a slave to trends is important and the true definition of style. At the same time, it behooves us to have the courage and the flair to bring self-expression to our homes, the way we decorate and dress, to the way we entertain. And always appreciating that a sense of appropriateness should be a first consideration. 

Parterre, Newport, Rhode Island Image property Bettie Bearden Pardee

Parterre, Newport, Rhode Island
Image property Bettie Bearden Pardee

What’s your favorite room?

My mud room.  All the things I love and that support my avocation and passion – my garden and flower arranging – are there. Shelves and shelves of books on both subjects, containers galore, baskets, stacks of hats, files for reference on so many topics, award ribbons from the Newport Flower Show, an English prie dieu from my church (a copy of the rush-seated ones at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London) odds and ends (plant markers, tools and accessories, gloves and rubber shoes.) And some of the original vellum sketches for my garden now disguise the front of the freezer door.

Bettie Bearden Pardee in her Newport, Rhode Island mudroom. Image via Meaghan O'Neill, Puddingstone Post 

Bettie Bearden Pardee in her Newport, Rhode Island mudroom. Image via Meaghan O'Neill, Puddingstone Post 

 Describe your entertaining style.

Just thinking about entertaining brings a smile to my face. It’s been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember. In my family, growing up Southern was all about entertaining. If we weren’t planning a party we were enjoying memories of the last one or looking for an excuse for the next. My philosophy about entertaining is that for a very few halcyon hours you provide guests the opportunity to step out of their everyday world, put their cares aside, be tended to and then depart with a memory, a “souvenir of life” that will bring them a sense of well-being when they reflect back upon it. 

Invitations and menus. Images property Bettie Bearden Pardee

Invitations and menus. Images property Bettie Bearden Pardee

Entertaining does take time and energy to pull off, so best to make it fun for yourself from the beginning. My two fail safe fallbacks are 1) a theme, making an occasion of it. That’s another way to help guests feel special; show that you care enough to give this some thought. So for me it’s not just a Saturday lunch in January, but a “French Picnic by the Fireside.” Pique their interest, too, so they can enjoy the anticipation!

Secondly, the guest list…and this is your ace in the hole. Think that through well and your party can almost move along on its own, with all these sundry guests having discovered someone new, or in a fascinating job, or a favorite classmate’s second cousin, or has a shared interest in court tennis (yes, there is such a thing….and the oldest club court is here in Newport.)

Invitations and guestbooks. Image property of Bettie Bearden Pardee

Invitations and guestbooks. Image property of Bettie Bearden Pardee

What was the first party you hosted? 

I was about 8 or 9 years old. I’d created a bedroom tableau under a wisteria pergola (it was a short-lived episode, but it got my feet wet in the “world of design.”) After my friends finished playing on the badminton court, which fronted on the pergola, I’d coerce them into coming over for tea. They didn’t quite understand it, but they were good sports.

Fast forward a few decades and and this is what that experience led to…a bow-tied table...

Bettie Bearden Pardee's elegant and festive Easter table. Images property of Bettie Bearden Pardee

Bettie Bearden Pardee's elegant and festive Easter table. Images property of Bettie Bearden Pardee

What was the most memorable party you hosted?

This past Valentine's Day still stands out in my mind for the happy confluence of circumstances that provided the opportunity to entertain dear family friends that I seldom have a chance to see. It was a sort of “reunion,” into which went a lot of heart and soul. As part of a party weekend that began with 110 friends from North Carolina and a white tie dinner dance at Rosecliff, my husband and I hosted a small dinner at our home for the daughters and sons of my parents’ dearest friends (all now deceased.) There was a table that had old pictures of our parents together, memorabilia, magazine clippings of old ads for a business venture they’d all invested in. 

The decorations were as much fun to put up as they were for a dinner setting and were kept under wraps until dinner was announced; they stopped just short of prom night, and immediately added another layer of fun to the gathering when everyone walked in. Keeping to the informal theme the menu included short ribs as an entrée with tarte tatin for dessert.

Valentine's Day Fete. Image property Bettie Bearden Pardee

Valentine's Day Fete. Image property Bettie Bearden Pardee

Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Pardee. Image property Bettie Bearden Pardee.

Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Pardee. Image property Bettie Bearden Pardee.

You’ve accidentally burnt or dropped the main course and your house is filled w 12 very hungry guests. What do you do?

Just for this eventuality, I long ago identified restaurant resources (not pizza) for a particular dish that they can  produce in quantity (ie. spaghetti Bolognese, the best I’ve tasted outside of Italy, from our friends at Mamma Luisa’s to of course include their sautéed spinach made with lots and lots of parmesan.)

Image property of Bettie Bearden Pardee

Image property of Bettie Bearden Pardee

What 5 to 10 things should we have on hand for a last minute get together with friends. 

At our house that would be…salad fixings, jars of curry sauces (ie. Sharwood’s Red Curry with lemongrass), Jasmine rice, Hubbard’s Virginia salted peanuts, charcuterie selections ( sausages, artichoke hearts, olives, sundried tomatoes) eggs, potatoes… and a variety of ice cream bars and sandwiches. Don’t forget the benefit of a well-stocked freezer!!

What makes a party perfect?

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.) 

Party Prizes! Image via Bettie Bearden Pardee

Party Prizes! Image via Bettie Bearden Pardee

Do you have 1 or 2 entertaining tips for the novice? 

Don’t step outside your comfort zone. Luckily there’s a lot of latitude today in entertaining styles, from the very casual to the extra formal. (My Texas friends have come up with a happy combo that speaks to this point – “denim and diamonds.”) Serve what you know best and are comfortable with; guests would rather be at a chili party, enjoying your family’s winner of a recipe, than trying to gulp down some fancy dish of the moment that you felt obliged to serve.

Lunch in the Garden. Image via Bettie Bearden Pardee

Lunch in the Garden. Image via Bettie Bearden Pardee

What’s on your bedside table? 

Flowers and special thank you notes to enjoy before I turn off my light, a collection of little frames holding those near and dear to me, Burt’s Bees chapstick, notepad and pen, small porcelain boxes (to hold pills.) 
BOOKS: London:The Biography; The Snow Goose; Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias;
 Nancy Lancaster-Her Life, Her World, Her Art; Doodling in French-How to Draw with Joie de Vivre.

Bedside table. Image via Bettie Bearden Pardee

Bedside table. Image via Bettie Bearden Pardee

I never leave home without…

....lipstick (and some attempt at makeup.) It’s prompted by a mantra from my mother that I fondly recall, “put on a little lipstick, sweetie.” To her, that one gesture seemed guaranteed to solve any problem or dilemma that came along.

Bettie Bearden Pardee and her mother. Image property of Bettie Bearden Pardee

Bettie Bearden Pardee and her mother. Image property of Bettie Bearden Pardee

What’s your latest project?
Under consideration…adding a painted striped tent on the ceiling of our master bedroom…which would first require a redefinition of the original as-built design.

I invite you all to visit Bettie’s website, Private Newport, for gardening, styling and entertaining tips as well as regular sneak peeks into the élite world of Newport, Rhode Island. You can also follow Bettie on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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