February 14, 2018

Introducing Holly Holden, Queen of Classic Design!

Fellow entertaining enthusiasts, you are in for a huge treat today! The author of one of my favorite design books, The Pretty and Proper Living Room, has kindly agreed to share some of her timeless entertaining tips and secrets with us in an exclusive interview! It is with great delight that I welcome interior designer, author, and television host Holly Holden to the blog! If you are not already familiar with her work, you will instantly become a fan. Holly is that rare designer who believes in “decorating once…for a lifetime.” She’s all about creating classic, old-school interiors that transcend time and trends, and has been doing so for over 25 years.  

photo by Dean Greenblatt

Growing up in old houses furnished primarily with antiques taught me to value classic design. I instinctively gravitate toward quality pieces that I know will never go out of style — pieces that actually get better with age. Still, classic design and styling is an elusive art, even for someone who grew up immersed in it. So imagine my delight when Holly introduced me to her fabulous (and eye-opening) book! 

"The Pretty and Proper Living Room is about the creation of timeless, tailored interiors rooted firmly in English tradition. The rules of this style are like a secret code that has been whispered from mother to daughter over generations. Those secrets have always been inherited—until now" 

What started as a list of helpful decorating hints for her daughter has turned into an indispensable and timeless resource on classic design. From furniture and rugs to accessories and lighting, The Pretty and Proper Living Room divulges the many nuggets of design wisdom that all together compose the perfect timeless space (think Official Preppy Handbook for interiors!). It is a book that 1.) educates—much attention is paid (and rightfully so!) to the distinguishing features of English Georgian furniture, 2.) entertains—I find Holly’s “Forbidden Faux Pas” sections both necessary and fun! and 3.) inspires — Holly's suggestions for styling silver trays, arranging flowers, and presenting collections of decorative objects are simply brilliant! Take my word for it: Holly’s book should be required reading for ANYONE interested in interiors.

And now for more inspiration from Holly!!!

One of your design philosophies is to “embrace elegant understatement.” How does this translate to the entertaining realm?

I would encourage people to use their best serving pieces every day. These are not decorations - they are meant to be used! Being comfortable using prized serving pieces every day is the essence of elegant understatement in entertaining. It is never too early to begin collecting - and using - elegant serving pieces. Remember a small chip or a ding is just patina, which is a sought after quality and not something to avoid.

photo by Dean Greenblatt

What are your essential elements for a well-appointed table?

Everyone needs a good set of linen napkins. Napkins should be placed discreetly ON the table... not on a plate or [shudders] in a wine glass! I think that both food and people look better in candlelight so, if I am entertaining in the evening, I always use candles... my mother taught me this. One caveat: candles on the dining room table are only for the evening and should not be lit during the day. White candles in candlesticks or candelabras are the most traditional choice.

photo by Dean Greenblatt

Easter is coming up; can you share a few ideas for elegant little touches our readers could add to their party decor or place settings that will make an impact?

Bunnies, Bunnies, Bunnies. As a young bride, I began collecting inexpensive porcelain bunnies and baskets. As I matured, so did my collection, and now I have a whole colony of Herend bunnies. I think they are the perfect Easter accessories. Each person also gets a tiny silver basket of jelly beans.

photo by Deb Key

What is your go-to recipe/dish for a dinner party or stylish soiree?

I find that roasting a beef tenderloin just before my guests arrive is a simple and delicious dinner party entree. It makes the entire house smell divine and allows me the freedom to enjoy my guests instead of laboring in the kitchen. I let the beef come to room temperature, season with Montreal steak seasoning, place on a foil lined baking sheet, and roast uncovered at 450 degrees for 40 minutes (for medium rare). This works for any size tenderloin! I let it come back to room temperature during cocktail hour and serve it with Bearnaise sauce and a rosemary garnish. Bon appetite!

Also, I just recorded two more YouTube videos in my "Easy Hors D'oeuvres" series on the Classic Design Channel. So stay tuned for those!

In addition to creating elegant interiors, you are known for bringing life to rooms with your impeccable floral arrangements! What are your favorite ways to display flowers in the dining room?

I adore using unusual or unexpected vessels for flowers such as foo dogs or even small silver mint julep cups, soup terrines, and rose medallion bowls. Here is some useful advice: never put a centerpiece on the dining room table that might obstruct one guest's view of another. Floral arrangements used as centerpieces need to be kept short. The conclusion of my floral arranging video has a humorous illustration of this as its conclusion.

Favorite flower combination?

Peonies and more Peonies...preferably pink.

photo by Dean Greenblatt

Do you have any advice for our readers on choosing the proper flowers for every occasion?

The most proper flowers are the ones that are in season in your garden! I plan my gardens so that during each season I will have fresh flowers to clip for arranging. In the dead of New England winter I keep things cheerful at Fox Hall by purchasing roses from the store and growing orchids, daffodils, hyacinths, and amaryllis indoors.

photo by Dean Greenblatt

What do you feel are the most important entertaining pieces to invest in?

First and foremost, invest in good friends... parties with good friends are the most memorable! Beyond friends here is a short and incomplete list:
Silver Platters: they do not break and everything tastes better when served from silver.
A Champagne Bucket: Whether it is Veuve Clicquot (preferably pink), wine, beer or even Perrier, drinks need to be kept cold! Take away the champagne and add a pair of tongs and a champagne bucket becomes ice bucket. A champagne bucket can even be used as an elegant vase for flowers.
A Soup Terrine: Whether silver or porcelain, these can be used for soup or as a centerpiece (with or without flowers)

Can you tell us a bit about how you greet and welcome your guests into your house and how you graciously wrap up an evening?

I have found that the best way to welcome guests is with a kiss kiss and a pre-poured glass of champagne. Nothing is worse than having to go find the host and hostess upon arriving at a party. I believe that as a hostess it is not my place to wrap up an evening. The party has a life of its own and will continue as long as the guests are enjoying themselves. My job is to keep pouring and keep the conversation going...to moonlight, midnight and beyond.

photo by Dean Greenblatt

Where do you find entertaining ideas and inspiration?
I have some favorite books:
At Home in The Garden by Carolyne Roehm http://amzn.to/2DIysI1
R.S.V.P by Nan Kempner http://amzn.to/2Em18aR
Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations by Florence Fabricant http://amzn.to/2EoPEni

Thank you so much for your time, Holly! I have one final question! If you had to narrow your collection of china down to one pattern, which would it be and why?

That is a challenging question to answer because different occasions require appropriate china. A formal dinner party and women having tea are going to require different patterns. I have always been partial to Herend's Queen Victoria. It has flowers and butterflies in green and pink hues.

Besides being an accomplished designer and author, Holly is the host of Classic Design Channel, where she shares entertaining tips, recipes, trade secrets, and glimpses into her stunning Connecticut estate, Fox Hall. In addition to running her own design channel, Holly is also hosting the new PBS series “You Are Cordially Invited,” where she takes us on intimate tours of some of the world’s most distinguished private estates. I was so excited when she gave me a sneak preview of the first two episodes! 

stock photo
In the first episode, Holly and Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the Eighth Countess of Carnarvon, explore the magnificent grounds of Highclere Castle (the filming location of Downtown Abbey!) on horseback.  

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In the second episode, she and Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill tour the gorgeous English Baroque interiors of Bleinheim Palace. I am just blown away by her attention to the fine architectural details of the grand estates she visits! She has such an inquiring eye! 
Please keep checking this link to see when the series airs in your area. 

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