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“Holly Holden’s Pearls of Palm Beach”: An Exclusive Q&A with the Author!

For this week’s post, we did a Q&A with our affiliate partner, Holly Holden, and asked her 8 questions about her fabulous new book, “Holly Holden’s Pearls of Palm Beach”, which provides readers with a sneak peek into timeless homes of Palm Beach, as well as tips on how to curate similar interiors.

Besides being a writer, Holly is an international interior designer, public speaker, and an Emmy nominated TV host and producer. She writes the weekly newsletter, “Mummy’s Monday Manners”, on the secret nuances of etiquette and is the author of two interior design books: “Pretty a& Proper Living Room” & her most recent, “Holly Holden’s Pearls of Palm Beach”.

We’re proud to feature “Holly Holden’s Pearls of Palm Beach” in our store and on our website, which you can view here.

We want to thank Holly Holden for taking the time to answer our questions and hope that you enjoy the interview. Don’t forget to subscribe to Holly Holden’s newsletter, “Mummy’s Monday Manners” to get some tips on etiquette and as always, leave some questions of your own in the comments!

Your book takes us through a sneak peak of eight homes or “pearls” of Palm Beach, that are “elegant, timeless & tailored.” Why did you choose this location, specifically, as the destination for the “pearls?”

From the moment I first visited Palm Beach, I was enchanted! Palm Beach encompasses a society of gracious, intellectual and international people. It is a paradise of pretty houses, old-world glamour and historic charm. Charitable philanthropy meets pristine beaches and private clubs in Palm Beach. Manicured hedges conceal many of the magnificent houses, which makes the homes hidden behind them even more enticing.  They remind me of gift boxes that you cannot wait to pull the silk ribbon off of, and open in awe!  

The eight homes I chose to represent are indeed pearls, because similar to a pearl, each one is uniquely different, yet undeniably unique and enchanting. Like a string of pearls, elegant to wear, these houses are timeless and elegant to live in.  A pearl is a gem that is created naturally.  The pearls of Palm Beach refer to the owners as well as the houses. Tantamount to reading a mesmerizing novel, each house has a story to tell through the examination of the photographs in the book, and each is uniquely created and decorated by the owners. The story of their personal touches are told through their interiors, accessories, and architecture within the pages. 

What were your initial set of criteria for the types of homes you wanted to feature?

The interior design aesthetic that I am attracted to, and have created an interior design business around, is timeless, tailored and traditional, all of which have classical roots. This is precisely why I am grateful to Mr. Michael Scully for writing the foreword to my first book, The Pretty and Proper Living Room. His appreciation for the timeless quality of beautifully designed and unique items is what I admire and hold dear. Michael’s philosophy upon which he built a business is that a thing of beauty is a joy forever.  

These eight houses are not trendy. They are up-to-date, stylishly inviting and rooted in English tradition. The owners have mastered the art of integrating family heirlooms with newly purchased items of distinction to create family homes.  

There are subtle nuances that contribute to well-appointed interiors. They are easily recognizable and add to a sophisticatedly inviting atmosphere. These quintessential details are covered in each chapter in the “Darling Detail” section of my new book. The photographs in this section offer an up close visual to empower readers to have a genuine understanding of what contributes to creating a comfortable and inviting house that has evolved over time. I like to say, “Design once… for a lifetime!” This is one reason I write a weekly newsletter, Mummy’s Monday Manners and Lessons for Lovely Living.  I adore sharing etiquette and design secrets… the ones that mothers have whispered in the ears of their children for generations, and are not always written in books!  

What’s a common trait you observed among all the home owners featured in your book, specifically in regards to how they define a “timeless home?” Did this align with your definition?

A common trait found in all of the houses in my book is that the owners embrace their family as an integral part of their lifestyle, while also being well equipped to entertain guests royally, albeit comfortably, too! A timeless home tells a story, whether through the art displayed, the silver frames holding memorable photographs, or within the decorative accessories. Details make the difference! Some examples include a crystal decanter for mouthwash, pretty cachepots with orchid plants in every room, lovely bespoke linens, porcelain Meissen birds, sea shells dipped in silver, attractive luggage racks, needlepoint throw pillows, fabulous coffee table books, and bedside water and a glass for houseguests. And, their assortment of dinner plates and serving pieces create mesmerizing table settings, whether indoors or outside.

I also noticed that kitchens are spacious enough for caterers to do their magic, and dining rooms are appointed with Chippendale or Hepplewhite chairs and sideboards. And, every house has a guest book in the front hall to commemorate parties and canonize guest attendance through the years! 

What were some surprises/challenges you came across when putting together “Pearls of Palm Beach?”  

Well, living in New England, it was difficult to leave the snow and ice in January and February and fly down to a sunny, warm, “palm paradise,” but… someone had to do it, right?!

It was a wee bit challenging arranging a time to photograph the houses during “the season,” which are the months between November until Easter weekend. This is the time that the height of entertaining takes place, along with houseguests arriving and departing, so I had to work around various schedules. But, the homeowners were all SO very accommodating which is a testament to their gracious hospitality and genteel lifestyle! 

I am extremely grateful that each homeowner entrusted me to discreetly document their private abodes. They kindly answered the myriad of questions I asked, shared their personal stories, and set elegant tables for me to photograph. Their affable hospitableness made my team feel exceptionally welcome. All eight homeowners have become my dear and cherished friends!  

You have a section devoted to “Darling Details” in the book –  what was your process in curating this list?

I was actually inspired by Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill’s first book, Classic English Interiors, which sadly is no longer in print. I purchased it at Blenheim Palace, her childhood home. Henrietta is the eldest daughter of the 11th Duke of Marlborough. While my daughter was studying at Oxford University, we took our family to tour Blenheim, which was a nearby drive. In the back of her book, there is a brilliant section that has a medley of various up close, small photographs of an interior design item, from curtains, to light fixtures, carpets and collections. These small photographs spoke to me as a designer. I could easily explain to a client what and how a particular detail was, and how it was being used. In the back of my mind, I had always envisioned a section dedicated to what I would call, “Darling Details,”  so that my clients and readers had easy to understand visuals. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the small photographs of various details DO make a difference! 

Henrietta and I filmed an episode together at Blenheim, in the Private Apartments, for my public television series that I hosted and produced. So, I am especially honoured when Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill agreed to write such a lovely foreword for my Palm Beach book! 

 Have you always gravitated towards traditional/classic interior designs, or was it something you learned over time, after experimenting with other styles?

My father was British, and my parents took me all over the world as a child to tour museums,  grand houses and gardens. Because of these experiences, coupled with living in Richmond, Virginia during my prep school formative years, I developed a genuine affinity for classic design by osmosis! When I first started my interior design business thirty plus years ago, I had a few contemporary commissions, but soon realized that it was not what I am passionate about, and that they go out of style more readily than classical lines. If anyone is going to invest in interior design and decorative appointments, why not make the investment last?  It is similar to “going green!” 

 What suggestions do you have for first time decorators, who want to undertake the project of curating their own elegant & timeless home? What is a way to start without feeling overwhelmed?

This is the answer that I give millennials, or first time decorators, when they ask me: start with one piece that you absolutely LOVE and cannot live without! And then… build on it.

For me, as a young bride on a limited budget, I was willing to have a bare living room for a few years in exchange for an Oriental blue and white carpet that I just HAD to have! During that time, I called our living room the “prayer room.”  It was where I would pray for living room furniture someday! And guess what? That same carpet still graces our living room at Fox Hall, our c. 1803 Federal in Farmington, Connecticut. My husband Stuart and I have built our collections in the living room to complement the carpet colorwise and theme wise… and it continues to bring me joy! And, my, oh my, does it have stories to tell through the years, especially with all the parties we host at Fox Hall!   

In my first book, The Pretty and Proper Living Room, I list my 13 Secrets for Old-School Interiors, which continues to be timeless advice for anyone decorating. The words “old-school” do not mean stagnant design, something that does not respond to trends, or does not change over time. To me, old-school translates into timeless. It  means purchasing something you can build on over time. Because of its tailored lines, it will not look dated. Like a fine wine, it just gets better with time! 

A few of my secrets are:

Buy what you love, and it will grow old with you!  

Buy in pairs, as symmetry creates balance. 

Surround yourself with colors that you love to wear. Most likely, those colors will make you feel happy and comfortable.  

Use your best pieces everyday, and do not save them for a special occasion. Living each day IS an occasion!   

Aside from the difference in weather, how do you see the styles differ between traditional homes in New England and in Palm Beach? Are some elements universal?

Actually, I do not see too much difference between the two! Perhaps there may be a little more attention placed on specifying breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen in Palm Beach, along with rattan or bamboo pieces, and a sprinkling of sea shell or coral themed objects. But, the formality and traditional goal for entertaining and interior design remains paramountly the same: to create inviting spaces that are timeless and charmingly enchanting!  


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