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“Take your shoes off, ladies.”
That’s how the genial doorman greeted the group eagerly gathered on the front porch of the Gaillard-Bennett house at 60 Montagu for a tour to kick off Historic Charleston Foundation’s Charleston International Antiques Show Young Advocates Soirée. This small request wasn’t a nod to Japanese tradition, rather once inside a quick glimpse downward reminded me that restored heart pine floors and high heels don’t mix.
But throughout the tour, most eyes were focused 12 feet overhead, where some of the most immaculate period plasterwork I’ve even seen embellished cornices and ceilings. In the front parlor, the fireplace mantel boasted a bas-relief plaster shell motif and the dining room has an equally impressive plasterwork design featuring grapevines and other agricultural themes. Throughout the house, the Stewarts, our gracious hosts, had spared no detail in commissioning plaster restorer Dave Hueske to return the interior to its original splendor. Mary Edna Sullivan, our guide who met us in the main hall, explained, “In just one room, over 7,000 individual pieces of plaster moulding had to be removed and restored.”
Outside, we ran into the Stewarts, Mary Caroline and Steve. and Steve was generous enough to conduct us through the property’s latest restoration project: the carriage house. Steve, whose professional background is in construction, explained that the structure is now actually two buildings in one: the original was so out of square and structurally compromised that it now encases a new structure that supports the original while easily accommodating modern electricity, plumbing, and heating and air.
Back outside, we saw Hunter and Maggie Brett Kennedy. As we chatted, a waiter cheerfully accommodated us while Maggie and Hunter, along with the aide of my wife, Elisabeth, and I, managed, to polish off a tray of some of the best spring rolls, provided by JBC Catering, that I’ve tasted in a long time—a promising start. We were soon joined by Susan Waring while her hubby, Charles, who was shooting for the Mercury, went to find a place to recharge his camera (oh, the occupational vagaries of journalism).
Joining the party inside the incredible gardens, we met up with Nancy Izlar Bryson who was chatting with Trevor Weston while enjoying the cool sounds of Leah Suarez jazz trio. I was delighted to learn that Trevor, a composer and CofC professor, was recently commissioned by a Virginia choir to write several choral works that the choir will perform during Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral while on its upcoming tour of England (Kudos, Trevor!)
Under the tent, we met up with Mitchell Crosby, Randall Felkel, and Barbara Heddinger. Mitchell wondered why I wasn’t out in the country helping Cousin Randolph Stafford roast a whole hog for the South Carolina State Barbeque Championship. Well, Mitchell, a blogger’s work is never done.
Aiken-Rhett House manage Liz Hurley and her fiancé, Andrew Skinner, looked especially radiant, and for good reason: they're hardly a month away from getting hitched.
We became new friends with Way Way and Robertson Allen, who seemed like old friends after we played six-degrees-of-separation and then wondered how we managed to never meet before. Then we ran into our neighbors Mimi van Wyck and husband Ham Morrison, who are always hilariously entertaining (name another man you know who has the self-assurance to wear a crown and ermine-trimmed cape for his wedding but who also races modified trucks).
All told, the night was a smashing success with perfect (if slightly chilly) weather for a cocktail party in this beautiful garden. A bit of very encouraging news: this is the second year in a row, since the Young Advocates Soirée moved from it’s old digs in the Carolina Yacht Club parking lot last season, that the party has netted a profit that will help support the continued work of HCF. Perhaps the best thing about growing attendance and closing in the black, though, is that both are promising indicators that the future of HCF is in good hands.