Charleston Social Diary : The Charms Of Charleston, South Carolina

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The 1853 Isaac Jenkins Mikell House is an example of the historical antebellum-era Greek Revival architecture common in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston, South Carolina: The five days I recently spent here—my first visit to the “Palmetto City”—weren’t enough. There was so much more I wanted to see and do that I’m determined to return soon. Meanwhile, I’m sharing some highlights.

Jeanne Lawrence in front of some of Charleston’s architectural marvels, which run the gamut from Federalist to modern.
Visitors enjoy traversing Charleston’s orderly grid of streets on foot, by pedicab, bicycle, in a horse-drawn carriage, and even by Uber.


March was ideal for me to leave New York and take the 80-minute flight south to Charleston, now one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations—and for good reason. The charming city—South Carolina’s oldest and second largest—has a rich historical and cultural heritage, exquisitely preserved architectural wonders and gardens, coastal landscapes, mild weather, and great dining.

Ideal for romantic getaways and weddings, Charleston was ranked “World’s Best City” by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2016, and has been voted #1 Small US City for five years in the Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.

Buildings from Charleston’s prosperous Colonial days, the tumultuous antebellum period, and the 20th century stand side by side, testimony to its rich and layered history.
King Street, a main thoroughfare, has a mile-long stretch of boutiques, galleries, antiques stores, and home design shops.
Charleston’s Waterfront Park was awarded the 2007 Landmark Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


The oldest city in South Carolina, Charleston was founded and settled by English colonists in 1670 as Charles Town—in honor of England’s King Charles II. By the mid-eighteenth century, it had become a wealthy city, specializing in the cultivation of rice, cotton, and indigo.

The Civil War began in Charleston, when Confederate soldiers fired on Union-occupied Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in April 1861

The pink-hued Randolph Hall (built 1827) is now a national historic landmark, at College of Charleston (founded 1770).
Rainbow Row, a series of 13 colorful historic houses, is the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the United States.

Charleston’s continuing prosperity is due to its tourism industry and two large shipping terminals. It’s also an important art destination and a top location for information technology jobs and corporations.

A burgeoning art and design community, new shops, and an exploding food culture have helped create a current vibrant energy. The quality of life here is attracting new and returning residents from all over the country.

The Gibbes Museum of Art was designed in the Beaux Arts-style by architect Frank P. Milburn in 1905. Many of its 10,000 pieces of art have a connection to Charleston or the South.
At City Hall (circa 1801): Charleston’s annual Spoleto performing arts festival, founded in 1977.


The Charleston Historic Foundation’s annual House and Garden Tour was on my bucket list for years. Townspeople open their historical homes and gardens to visitors from around the world. It’s a must-see.

On a two-hour educational walking tour of the elegant, tree-lined streets of the Historic District, at every turn I saw the evidence of the past: gas-lit lanterns, hitching posts, cobblestone streets, historic landmarks, and stately homes and mansions.

Hibernian Hall (circa 1840) is a historic meeting hall and social venue in the Greek Revival style.
A cobblestone road, Chalmers Street is lined with historical houses.
Dating from 1804, City Market is one of the nation’s oldest public markets.
Known as “The Holy City,” numerous churches are visible on Charleston’s low-rise cityscape.


Conscious of its architectural heritage, Charleston has preserved scores of historical structures. The Old Charleston neighborhood alone has over 3,000 buildings—a mix of Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian styles.

Many of the grandest mansions were built by wealthy landowners as second homes. They served as centers of cultural and social life, with the second floor—away from the street—often reserved for entertaining.

Wide avenues meander past endless examples of splendid architecture from various periods.
Preservationist Dick Jenrette (co-founder of the Wall Street firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette) bought and restored the 1838 Greek Revival-style Robert William Roper House.
As a “living museum,” Charleston attracts crowds of tourists who fill the narrow streets to view historical buildings such as this 18th-century Georgian-style mansion.
The Calhoun Mansion (ca. 1876) in baronial Italianate style, is an example of Charleston’s Gilded Age architecture.
An example of Queen Anne-style Victorian architecture.


One afternoon, our New York entourage enjoyed a private tour of the historic 1808 Nathaniel Russell House Museum, which was purchased in 1955 by The Historic Charleston Foundation and served as its headquarters for 37 years.

The Nathaniel Russell House Museum, widely recognized as one of America’s most important neo-classical dwellings, was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

Merchant Nathaniel Russell, a Rhode Island native, settled in Charleston in 1765 at the age of 27, when the city was a bustling seaport.
In 1995, Historic Charleston Foundation embarked on an extensive and ongoing restoration project that has included finding original paint and wallpaper samples.
The Russel House is an excellent example of the light and airy style popularized by English architect Robert Adam.
Today, the interiors have been restored to their original 1808 grandeur, furnished with an outstanding collection of fine and decorative arts from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Visitors rave about the eye-catching, magnificent free-flying staircase.
Alex Papachristidis, Jeanne Lawrence, Ann Wolf, Liz O’Brien, and Timothy Whealon at the Nathaniel Russell House Museum.


The entire Charleston trip was born at a cocktail party I hosted in my New York home when two of my guests connected—the dynamic PR maven Lou Hammond, who divides her time between Charleston and NYC, and talented interior designer Alex Papachristidis.

When they discovered that Alex was among the guest speakers at the upcoming 70th annual Charleston Antiques Show, the die was cast. We agreed to gather our friends and celebrate together in Charleston.

For the first year, the Antiques Show was held at the newly opened $142 million Gaillard Center.
The Neoclassical Gaillard Center has an 1,880-seat concert hall and venues for special events and performances.
Cindy Hayes; Historic Charleston Foundation President Kitty Robinson, who was on hand to personally greet guests; and Martha McLendon.
The Charleston Antiques Show attracts collectors and design enthusiasts alike, with thirty dealers from around the world.
On display at the show were 17th to 20th-century English, European, and American period furnishings, decorative arts and fine art, architectural elements, garden furniture, vintage jewelry, and silver.
Loana Marina Purrazzo, of San Francisco, specializes in vintage mid-century modern sculptural design, jewelry, and art objects from 1880–1980.
Tucker Payne Antiques, of Charleston, specializes in American and English pieces with fine decorative accents.


I signed up for the show’s “Collector’s Package” to get first access to the opening preview as well as the opportunity to attend private receptions at private homes. I also signed up for the inspiring designer lectures.

Jeanne Lawrence, Lou Hammond, and Pat Altschul.
Ann Merck, Darrell Ferguson, and Andrea Ferguson.
Tom Scheerer, Sandy Tecklenberg, and The Honorable John Tecklenberg.
L. to r.: Annette Rickel and John Leone.; Artist Johnathan Greene and Kitty Robinson.
Ann Bertram of Chicago, designer Tom Scheerer, Jeanne Lawrence, and Missy Derse.
Gates Shaw, Gil Schafer, and Margot Shaw.
Paula Yorke, Jamieson Clair, and Pam Houseal.
Sarah Hamlin Hastings and colleagues from Fritz Porter.
The Honorable Mike Seekings, Michele Seekings, and Paula Yorke.


“Intimate Talks with Design in Mind,” a series of discussions introduced this year, quickly sold out. Attendees got a peek into the lives of the designers plus a history of how their tastes developed. I was lucky enough to see the imaginative homes created by New York interior designers Tom ScheererTimothy WhealonAlex Papachristidis, and Mark D. Sikes.

At Gaillard Center, guests lined up for the designer talks. Proceeds from the show benefit the Historic Charleston Foundation.
Cindy Hayes, Martha Rhodes, Olivia Brock, and Historic Charleston Foundation President Kitty Robinson, who introduced each designer.
Flower magazine Editor in Chief and moderator Margot Shaw with designer Alex Papachristidis and his dog Teddy.
Architect and interior designer Alison Spear, who has homes in NY and Charleston, and Architectural Digest editor Alison Levasseur.
Olivia Brock and Missy Derse showing off Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits, which are rolled out by hand rather than machines. (We couldn’t stop eating them!)
Ann Bertram with Missy Derse’s daughter Athalie Derse, whose family recently relocated from Chicago to Charleston.

Eschewing over-the-top accessorizing and conspicuous luxury, Tom offers a more restrained look that he describes as “cheerful” and “no-nonsense.”


The first “Intimate Talks” speaker, Tom Scheerer, explained the evolution of his tropical style. I’ve seen his talent first-hand at the exclusive Lyford Cays Club in the Bahamas, with its Old World ambience. My family has enjoyed many special vacations there.

Tom grew up in New York City but spent time with family in beachy and tropical locations such as the Hamptons and Florida, the influence of which is apparent in his work.

In 1995, on a visit to Charleston, he fell in love with a house, bought it on an impulse, and lived there for several years before work called him back to New York. “It became my tropical retreat,” he said, “unpretentious and eclectic.”

Tom told us that the public space that he renovated at the Lyford Cays Club is one of the most Instagrammed rooms on the web.
This dining room in a Rhode Island house was inspired by the dining room in the East Hampton home of Tom’s grandmother, who decorated it in blue and white in 1946.
Tom’s simple, low-tech, easy-maintenance approach frequently incorporates distressed cypress and wicker, plus a beachy ambience.
For this old-fashioned guest bedroom, Tom had a long-discontinued chintz pattern copied to envelop the room, then painted the dresser to match.
Tom says that this Florida estate’s vast living room became “the talk of the town” thanks to its mix of French furnishings and exotic elements.
Tom Scheerer and Jeanne Lawrence with his book, Tom Scheerer Decorates.


Moderator and Flower magazine Editor in Chief Margot Shaw said she has such a design crush on Timothy Whealon’s work that she “can’t stop talking about it.” She appreciates his high-end classicism seen with a 21th-century eye and incorporating elements of different cultures.

Timothy attended Kenyon College and went into banking, but his passion for art and design led him to Charleston. He later took the Sotheby’s Works of Art Program in London and visited English country houses, where was exposed to antiques and influenced by William Kent’s Palladian-style architecture.

I, too, took the Sotheby’s course in London for two years. It influenced my fondness for English furniture and design; the rooms are so grand yet livable.

L. to r.: Timothy chose his Gramercy neighborhood penthouse for its terrace, and used lots of white to create a light, airy environment.; Timothy made the bay window the focus of this Sutton Place neighborhood townhouse living room.
Timothy avoids interiors that look “decorated.” He uses an eclectic blend of items from different periods and cultures, artfully mixing the pristine and the provincial.
A fresh and welcoming foyer in a pre-war Park Avenue apartment.
A symmetrical Upper East Side, NYC family dining room combines modern furniture with antique-style wallpaper.
Timothy Whealon signing his book, In Pursuit of Beauty.


Though designer Alex Papachristidis and I have been friends for years, I had never heard him speak publicly until this event. I was charmed by his delightful and informative talk, which revealed a surprisingly humorous side.

Alex’s taste is eclectic, sophisticated, and highly luxurious. Attentive to every detail, he believes in living elegantly. Not only does he set his own table daily with crystal and silver, but even his beloved dog Teddy dines from a rock crystal bowl set on a silver platter.

The provenance of items in his signature rooms often dates back to famous past designers, and he loves to include animal prints, which he considers “neutrals.” He also prefers beds to be upholstered, and recommends Leontine luxury sheets.

L. to r.: Alex Papachristidis signing his book, The Age of Elegance.; Alex is known for elegant interiors that meld classical motifs with a modern perspective and sophisticated details—the ideal backdrop for a glamorous lifestyle.
L. to r.: In this dramatic, masculine apartment, the dining room features a bold Alexander Liberman painting, blue-and-white porcelain, and a life-size gilt ostrich.; For this Upper East Side room, Alex combined antique furniture with contemporary art, such as this Anish Kapoor wall piece, vintage steel console, and 19th-century gilded rope chair.
This tonal sitting room featuring custom Gracie wallpaper was featured in the 2016 Kips Bay Decorator Show House.
For this Greenwich, Connecticut house, the client wanted a casual and low-key style, so Alex chose a nuanced color palette in harmony with the New England setting.
Designer Alex Papachristidis with Teddy and moderator Karen Elizabeth Marx of Elle Décor.


Mark D. Sikes creates beautiful and timeless interiors that reflect an indoor/outdoor lifestyle. His early career in the fashion industry influenced his current modern and unfussy style, which mixes American and European, traditional and modern, and new and old sensibilities.

In 2016, Mark designed the much-celebrated dining room at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House in New York and the Grand Garden Halls at Greystone in Beverly Hills. He also recently completed work on the Southern Living Show House in Birmingham.

L. to r.: Mark began his career in fashion before transitioning to interior design, and has been featured in Architectural Digest, Domino, and House Beautiful, to name a few.; Mark’s New York Times best-seller, Beautiful: All-American Decorating and Timeless Style, celebrates American style today, showcasing chic and accessible ideas for every home.
Mark’s signature “Timeless Neutral” philosophy is presented in semiformal rooms filled with chinoiserie, gilt, glass, mirrors, banquettes, and French chairs.
“Blue and White Forever” designs feature indigo stripes, batiks, and wicker in casual rooms such as porches and pool houses.
This bedroom combines Mark’s flair for blue with his “Sun-Faded Hues” theme of rustic coastal rooms with weathered fabrics and furniture.
There are also “Beautiful Brights,” fun, colorful rooms that are an unexpected mix of chintz, florals, and Middle Eastern influences.
Mark’s work is inspired by California indoor/outdoor living, with natural fibers and crisp color.


People are flocking to Charleston for both vacationing and resettling. My New York friends just love the balmy weather, the storied history, the charming houses—and the low taxes.

Born a southerner, formerly a New Yorker, Pat Altschul moved there eight years ago. An interest in history led her to acquire the antebellum Greek Revival-style Isaac Jenkins Mikell House, built by a cotton planter in 1853.

The Mikell House’s monumental portico is supported by six gigantic columns carved from cypress and ornamented with rams’ heads.
Pat’s sprawling gardens are flawlessly groomed.

Entrepreneurial, versatile and charming, Pat Altschul has created a full life in Charleston. She stars on Bravo TV’s reality show Southern Charm (now in its fourth season), just released her new book The Art of Southern Charm, and is debuting a line of caftans customized with customers’ pet photos.


Pat collaborated with New York-based decorator Mario Buatta to turn the Mikell House into a stately yet cozy English-style country house that has been featured in Architectural Digest.

Houseguest Jeanne Lawrence with host Pat Altschul, star of Bravo’s Southern Charm reality show.
The double drawing room is painted a glowing hue that decorator Mario Buatta calls “apple green,” and it features French doors leading to a balcony.
The cozy red-walled library is lined with bookcases holding thousands of books.


It seems that everyone who visits Charleston is curious about Pat’s house, so she invited my group of New Yorkers for champagne and southern appetizers.

Pat’s guests included antiques dealer Liz O’Brien, designer Timothy Whealon, designer Alex Papachristidis, host Pat Altschul, designer Scott Nelson, Jeanne Lawrence, and Jane Scott Hodges.
L. to r.: Harry Slatkin and wife Laura, founder of Nest fragrances and candles.; Jane Scott Hodges, of luxurious Leontine Linens in New Orleans, with daughter Talley Hodges.

Photography by Jeanne LawrenceHolland WilliamsFrancesco Lagnese c/o Tom Scheerer; Max Kim-BeeJoshua McHugh, and Tim Street-Porter c/o Timothy Whealon; Tria GiovanPieter Estersohn, and Thomas Loof c/o Alex Papachristidis; Amy Neunsinger and Chris Brantley c/o Mark D. Sikes; and Wikimedia Commons.

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