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One week in the Deep South



Ben

We’re back! We had a fantastic time… thank you to every single blog reader that we met who made us so welcome. Charlie and I are having the quietest weekend, banning alcohol, drinking only water…. eating fish and kale…. necessary measures given the excesses of our time in Atlanta, Savannah and Charleston.

Altanta was great. The Cathedral Antiques Show was a blast, a round of cocktail parties and dinners in extraordinary houses, of our talks, book signings, of zooming around town from one venue to the next in an ever-present fleet of Ubers, hurtling along the six-or-eight-or-ten lane highways that snake through the city and speed one from concrete canyons to the quiet, green and leafy hills (and mansions) of Buckhead.

I didn’t take a lot of photos, if I’m honest, because we were too busy rushing from one thing to the next.  But one magical trip was our time looking at three beautiful Philip. T. Shutze houses, of which the most remarkable was perhaps Swan House, where we were given the most brilliant private tour. Shutze was the supreme classicist of the early and mid twentieth century in Atlanta, creating sublimely beautiful houses that were effortless in their approach and unequalled in their detail.

Here is the sweeping staircase of Swan House….

The beautiful kitchens…

The plaster hall, 

And the extraordinary garden front, Italian baroque in extreme. 

The north facade is sober and Palladian and equally beautiful. 

Our two days in Atlanta flew by. Friday arrived, Charlie and I gave a talk all about the house and garden down in Dorset and we spun out of town on the long flat drive to Savannah.  Our friend Austin was with us (Spencer was flying down to Savannah to meet us there) and the stalwart driver (and epic partner in the Southern road trip) was renowned bookseller Kinsey Marable – who’d also been speaking to the crowds in Atlanta on the subject of English Country House libraries. I told Kinsey that I thought rule number 1 of a Country House library is that books are there to be seen, not to be read – a trait that I suppose is true on both sides of the Atlantic. When you buy books as rapidly as Charlie and me, I don’t think it would be possible to read very many of them, if the truth be told.

We arrived in Savannah as dusk was falling and had a brilliant first night. We woke, somewhat blearily-eyed, to a beautiful, crystal clear dawn.  We were staying, courtesy of the great kindness of the Savannah College of Art & Design, at their splendid Magnolia Hall. This was the view that greeted us every morning from the porch.  The Spanish Moss was extraordinary and beautiful – something I have always wanted to witness.

Early flowering Magnolia, despite the chill in the air. 

Savannah corners. One never feels too far from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. 

Our first stop was the Owens-Thomas House, where (as so many times on this trip) we were treated to a brilliant private tour of the building. We started in the hauntingly atmospheric enslaved quarters. The unsettling combination of extreme beauty and the extreme pain of history was ever present on this journey.

The house was faded and magnificent. 

Extraordinary interiors include insane early 19th century carpets, woven in England.

The cast iron balcony on the side of the house, from which The Marquis de Lafayette spoke in March, 1825. 

We moved to another extraordinary Savannah house, pwned by famous antique dealer, Alex Raskin.  I’ll be honest; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it.

The four floors of the building are filled with incredible, I mean, incredible treasures. Almost overwhelming.

In Alex’s office is this copy of a brilliant note that he wrote his mother when aged 7 (Danny is Alex’s brother):

We left, clutching a stack of rather rare and unusual architectural books… all we could fit in our suitcases.

We meandered on, via the Telfair Mansion

And then to the Green-Meldrim House, with its extraordinary high-Victorian Gothic interiors, for yet another brilliant tour:

And then to the sublime Mrs Connie Hartridge, one of Savannah’s finest. 

We dashed into the beautifully crumbling Sorrell-Weed House, which I think was my favourite building in the whole of Savannah, although said (by the tourist guides?) to also be the most haunted.  I didn’t feel that energy at all, I’ve got to admit. The house is currently closed but we somehow persuaded the young curator to show us around and give us a tour of its splendid interiors. 

Drinks (more drinks) as the sun went down. 

The following morning, after breakfast, we set off to Charleston, via Beaufort, Drayton Hall, and Mulberry Plantation.

I’ve visited Drayton Hall years ago, and the memory of its faded, empty interiors is seared on my mind for ever. It was as beautiful as I remembered it. 

Evocative, haunting; again, those contrasts of beauty and pain.

Mulberry was a dream; it felt almost like an English Jacobean House, with its four corner pavilions. The setting was sublime. 

And we arrived, exhausted, in Charleston, by nightfall.  Another hectic night of tomfoolery.

We went to see my friends Christopher Liberatos and Jenny Bevan, brilliant and dedicated young architects, in their amazing townhouse office. 

The Market Building:

We arrived at the Nathaniel Russell House, where we were shown around by the excellent Lauren Northup, Director of Museums for The Historic Charleston Foundation

The recreated interiors are rich and vividly coloured….

Wallpaper by Adelphi Paperhangings…

The view from the roof across the spires of Charleston. 

More walking:

And home after the longest day!  Dinner at Leon’s Oysters, which we loved.

The following morning, no rest for the wicked.  We had a 9am start at the Aitken Rhett House, also owned by the Historic Charleston Foundation.  Here we were shown around by Valerie Perry, who manages this incredible place, with its faded interiors that rest like a distant, faded memory of a rich past.

Again, we began in the empty, still, enslaved quarters.

Before moving into the mansion itself. The decay is poetic, and powerful. 

We stopped briefly at the extraordinary Miles-Brewton House, a piece of England dropped in to Charleston. 

Almost my favourite interior was the superb, simple summer-house in the garden, lined with Delft tiles.

We zoomed up town for a hurtling tour of the extraordinary American College of Building Arts, which teaches students drafting, joinery, carpentry, plasterwork and ironwork.

Brilliant. Then back downtown…. 

Drinks at the Gatewood House – beautifully restored by my brilliant friend Gil Schafer

The next day, early, everyone left. Charlie and I had a last quiet walk around town that morning.

The gatehouse and interiors of the Joseph Manigault House, now owned by the Charleston Museum after an unbelievably ropey 20th century history. 

We had a last lunch and made our way to the airport, back to Atlanta, and home. We arrived in freezing, snowy London almost overloaded by so many things seen, so many conversations spoken, and so much to think about.

We are having the quietest weekend imaginable….Except that tonight, Charlie is on his way to Wales to pick up our new puppy – another corgi, who is called Enid. Watch this space….!!!

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