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Newport’s Bettie Bearden Pardee on the Joys of Home Entertaining

A Newport socialite gives The Bay an exclusive tour of her home

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“My philosophy about entertaining is that, for a very few halcyon hours, you provide guests with the opportunity to step out of their everyday world, put their cares aside, be tended to and then depart with a memory – a ‘souvenir of life’– that will bring them a sense of well-being when they reflect back upon it,” Newport’s Bettie Bearden Pardee told The Salonniere, the website dedicated exclusively to the art of party hosting, last summer. The site named the renowned tastemaker to its exclusive list of the 100 best party hosts in the United States.

It’s clear that every square foot of the home she and husband Jonathan built on Newport’s legendary Bellevue Avenue back in 1999 was carefully considered with comfort, elegance and entertaining in mind. But if you know Bettie, you wouldn’t expect anything less. She worked as a contributing editor for Bon Appétit, served as a creative producer and host of the entertaining segment for the 15-part PBS television series, The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House, and has appeared on Good Morning America and Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.

Jonathan was a Newport native while Bettie grew up in southern California, later in Atlanta, so one could expect it was a hard decision to ultimately choose where to live full time. In 1991, the couple was living at The Waves, the renowned oceanfront “cottage” built by famed architect John Russell Pope. What set this grand home apart from the rest of Pope’s commissions is that The Waves he built for himself. “We said, ‘why are we thinking about moving to Atlanta?’” The couple abandoned all thoughts of moving south and instead began the house hunt in Newport. Though at first Bettie thought waterfront property was a must, she reflected on her true passion, gardening, and imagined the possibilities when she and Jonathan laid eyes on a tree-peppered parcel perched perfectly on the city’s toniest address. “It was the only buildable lot on Bellevue Avenue,” explains Bettie, and the two quickly began planning a home that reflected their hospitable spirit and practical sensibilities.

For the Pardees, it was essential that the home fit seamlessly into Newport’s Bellevue Avenue Historic District. “We were both very aware of wanting to honor a historic neighborhood and scaling a house to that neighborhood,” explains Bettie. “I was too young to see how monumental that would become.” They also didn’t want to build a huge house where rooms were by and large unused. “I remember my mother saying in our Mediterranean-style home in Los Anegles – it was long and had a wing here or there – but it didn’t flow, and mother always said, ‘A house should flow.’”

With her mother’s wise words in mind, the Pardees designed their home, Parterre, and each of its rooms to be useful. (The word has French origins and is defined by Merriam-Webster as an “ornamental garden with paths between the beds.”) “Every room in our house was going to be lived and walked through everyday,” explains Bettie. “There wouldn’t be a room that doesn’t have a soul or life to it.”

Though the width of the home essentially extends to both ends of the property line, the smart architectural design proves that things aren’t always what they seem. “There’s the bulk of the house itself, then two outbuildings. The outbuildings give the sense of an old estate and bulk up the perception of house,” says Bettie. On the left side is a freestanding garage and on the right is a dovecote, which camouflages garden equipment. Both bookends blend seamlessly into the main living part of the home. “It’s very subtle visually, when you’re driving down Bellevue Avenue. It plays large but lives small.”

Though one of the newest homes in the historic district, guests quickly forget that fact as the design concept, furnishings and décor at Parterre are intentionally positioned to evoke 18th century living. Akin to that time period, the home was purposely designed without a formal dining room. “From the solarium to the kitchen to the library, every room on the first floor we have dined in except the guest room for any number of occasions,” she says. “I love having so many choices. It’s always like a new party.”

The point of view continues to the kitchen, which was intentionally designed to look old. “I didn’t want kitchen cabinets,” Bettie tells. But where does an accomplished hostess store all the china, serveware and cookware? In a stunning, 18th century, French fruitwood armoire gifted to the couple by Bettie’s mother. The entire kitchen was designed around the 7 1/2 foot tall piece. Apart from the kitchen island, it is the only piece of furniture in the room. “The armoire had its star turn in my first book, Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden, published just a few years after we moved into our newly-built home,” Bettie writes in her blog, Private Newport. “I love everything about it… the wonderful old hinges, key plate and lock… even the slightly bowed 18th century doors. It’s just handsome enough, but not too dressy or formal in appearance.” The blog might be considered an extension of Bettie’s latest release, Living Newport: Houses, People, Style, an insider’s look at entertaining, events and the vibrant social scene in Newport. It also includes extraordinary entertaining tips and insights, like the covetable secret storage closets built into the walls at Parterre.

Arguably, the place Bettie feels most at home may just be the gardens.
Meticulously planned with landscape designer Ginny Purviance, the four season garden is the home’s pièce de résistance. Manicured pathways, an elegant orangerie and a custom built bench that subtly features Bettie’s monogram invites guests to experience the fruits of her labor.

The Pardees have worked to ensure every guest through their doors feels welcome and at home. It’s a sentiment Bettie’s mother said was important for a house to be a home. Says Bettie, “I think that’s the most gracious thing to do for a guest.”