A Rebecca Gardner party is a many-splendored thing: china and silver, crystal and linens, flowers and frivolity and always one unexpected detail. It might be a basket of puppies with blue satin collars, or a mariachi band or a giant cake on wheels with a pink-sequined dancer who jumps out the top. The fun is in the fancy.
Every great hostess knows how to make a home, and Gardner elevates this expectation to an art form. “It’s kind of fun to be in the teeniest house on Jones Street, surrounded by all these quintessential Savannah mansions,” she says of her 1875 rowhouse, nestled in a stretch of four modest dwellings originally built for railway workers. “I think it’s hysterical that they put this plaster in,” she says, referring to the parlor’s original Victorian cornice moldings. “Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear — it’s an overarching theme.”
After purchasing the house six years ago, Gardner’s foundational interventions amounted to stripping the original heart pine floors and painting the walls and trim in two shades of white from Farrow & Ball. Her grandmother’s camelback sofa, Elvis Presley blue under a scalloped saffron linen slipcover, sits next to a tabby fireplace flanked by a pair of Jacques Garcia for Baker lamps, bought on eBay a week apart, from two different sellers. Their oyster silk shades take the prize for best shape in the room, except perhaps for the pattern on a French gilt chair, which started out as a Marni dress. Look closer still and find the odd dash of cheek that makes the room: an array of ashtrays from European hotels and a mounted deer head, purportedly shot way back when by the lady of the house. Next to a Circa Lighting sconce, a framed gouache by fashion designer Chris Benz depicts Gardner’s French bulldog, Little Lord Button, wearing a beret and smoking a cigarette — only in France, Gardner quips.
For Gardner, this house is an evening place, in part because it doesn’t get much natural light and also because that’s the time she has to spend here. Since founding her eponymous “houses and parties” business in 2011, she’s been on the road creating dreamy days and nights for major clients around the world. When she’s home in Savannah she loves to throw a dinner party. “Everybody makes their own drink and feels very at home because it’s so small you’re forced to just pull up a chair,” she says. Much of the furniture is on casters to facilitate flexible arrangements, and invariably the leather-top Baker desk where her grandmother used to write thank-you notes with felt-tipped markers serves as a smart bar. Lamps fitted with Gardner’s signature pink bulbs and Perrotine shades keep company with the Murano glassware she commissioned for her Sugarplum Pop-up gift shop last year at the St. Regis New York. Tucked underneath are two kilim ottomans she found on the side of the highway during a road trip to Colorado from South Texas, where she’s from.
Beyond the parlor, a haute bohemian sitting room is grounded by a thistle linen sofa from Number Four Eleven, and packed to the gills with Japanese pottery, pieces by Paola Navone and Paul Arnhold, a handful of Our Lady of Guadelupe candles and a curious needlepoint stool featuring a unicorn in sparkly collar — so bad it’s good again. The balustrades she added to the staircase aren’t period appropriate (“just fun”), and a wall of mushroom prints came out of an old book. “I decided to do it on a Saturday,” Gardner recalls. “I just got a bee in my bonnet, drove to a frame store and bought what was there.” Just as well: if the frames matched, she says, it would give them “too much importance.”
In a powder room papered with pages of hotel notepads collected over 15 years, a question is posed. Did Gardner always intend to use the notepads for this one day? “Yes,” she says, not missing a beat. Is there any rhyme or reason to the way it’s laid out? “No,” she says, starting up the stairs. Does she have a favorite hotel? She stops and turns, a rare moment of deliberation. “Oh, that’s hard,” she says, “because you’ll be judged.” (When pressed, she admits a preference for the Hotel Duc de Saint Simon in Paris.)
Upstairs, the faux paneling in the bedroom by local decorative painter Sam Ward was inspired by the famous bedrooms at the Colefax & Fowler showroom on Brook Street in London. “We did a wild party there for St. Regis and Marchesa, and during the party I sat in this little room and thought, God, this is perfect,” Gardner says. Appropriately, the curtains on a wrought-iron campaign bed are a Colefax & Flower glazed chintz, and a set of Seba snake prints and a fierce Tibetan prayer rug temper the precious effect.
The tour ends back downstairs in the kitchen, redone in spare country-house style. “This house is so imperfect,” Gardner says, reflecting. “The ceiling height changes, the door heights change, it doesn’t have a direct view to the courtyard. It’s about embracing the quirk, that champagne-in-the-bathtub Holly Golightly vibe. It’s so unlike what anyone strives for, which made it fun to have people here.”
Alas, her tense is correct: Gardner has pulled up stakes and moved on from her pint-sized paradise to an International-style spread in Ardsley Park. With its louvered shutters, curved interior walls and sunken dining room, the new place promises to be absolutely fabulous. There’s even been talk of a painted ceiling: gilded frogs with women’s legs. “I’ve retired my Nancy Lancaster for a wicked Syrie Maugham,” she says. In any case, can’t wait for the party.
Year built: 1875
Year purchased: 2013
Square footage: 1,200
Number of bedrooms and bathrooms: 1 bedroom, 1.5 bath
Time to complete renovation/remodel: 2 months
Interior designer: Rebecca Gardner
Contractor/builder: Stephen Boyce
Tile/flooring: Stephen Boyce
Paint/wallpaper: Edwina Scarborough
Kitchen design: Shelley Boyce; appliances, Livingoods; fixtures, Waterworks
Lighting design: New Age Electric
Electrician: New Age Electric
HVAC: Savannah Air Factory