Holly Holden, founder and principal of Holly Holden & Company, Ltd., has specialized in classic, old-school interior design for over 25 years. From charming chintz to Chippendale chairs, and horses to headbands, Holly shares the “secret” nuances of inherited manners, preppy patina, and gracious gentility in her weekly e-newsletter, “Mummy’s Monday Manners”, along with her two books and Emmy nominated television series. In honor of our new collaboration, we had the pleasure of speaking with Holly to discuss her work, her correspondence style, and of course, manners.
Holly’s classic style and our 142-year-old tradition of gracious living are a match made in heaven. We are so excited to bring you this collaboration with this signature Holly Holden Fox and Crown correspondence card set!
1. What attracted you to interior design and made you want to pursue it as a career?
At a young age, I was always attracted to classical design. Perhaps because my father was quintessentially British with an impeccable sense of classic style, or because Mummy entertained elegantly and effortlessly in the houses she decorated or the fact that we lived in various parts of the world and toured classically designed houses and gardens. Truth be told, I never thought about interior design as a career! I majored in political science and business.
When my husband and I purchased our first house, built in 1860 in historic Old Wethersfield, Connecticut, I began renovating it and soon after, sold it for twice the price that we had paid for it. Friends started asking me to help them with their projects and it was then that I realized I had a talent for it. A few years later, I designed a little dressing room closet at a notable show-house, where Mario Buatta was the honorary designer. The press picked up on my tiny room, then a national magazine featured our third historic house, a Georgian, built in 1750, and my business took off! I absolutely adore designing and creating pretty interiors that are timeless, tailored, and inviting.
2. Is there a favorite color palette you love working with? Anything you predict will be trending in 2021?
As a child living in Washington, D.C., my parents and I frequently visited The National Gallery of Art. It was there that I literally “fell in love” with Renoir’s color palette. When my parents gave me a few dollars to purchase a little memento in the gift store, I repeatedly bought sweet little framed reproductions of Renoir and Degas… and they actually still hang in my laundry room, where I smile each time that I see them. I adore the colors in each one! The Impressionist colors of soft pinks, gentle blues and greens, and touches of yellows, are the colors I gravitate toward. They are soothing, not jarring, and remind me of nature. Look at a bright blue sky with puffy clouds, along with spring green leaves and pink flowers, and you have nature’s beautiful vision of the perfect color palette!
When deciding colors with clients, I have found that they are usually attracted to the colors in their wardrobe, the ones that make them feel their best. Perhaps, that is why my signature color is pink; it makes me feel happy and joyful!
I actually do not pay attention to trends in colors or design. The colors I am attracted to are the ones that have been used successfully in classically designed buildings for centuries. When a person is in a quandary of what color to use, my response is always, “When in doubt, just choose yellow!” It has been used forever and brings a sunny warmth to any room!
3. Which type of room is your favorite to design?
If I am designing an entire house, I typically commence the project with the living room. The living room is traditionally the “show room,” featuring the best art and decorative accessories. Often, it has a feminine atmosphere/aesthetic, as ladies would quite often “withdraw” from the dinner table in England, to the “drawing” room, while the gentlemen remained in the dining room after dinner to partake in political banter and port.
To begin my design of any room, and especially the living room, I focus on one piece and use that as my guide. For example, the colors in the rug, the pattern on a favorite fabric design, the hues in a porcelain collection, or the colors in a cherished piece of art, will become the starting point. Then, I create the template for the colors in the overall design of the room. My clients know that I am very traditional, so choosing one of the above items is usually an aspect that everyone is amenable to. The colors chosen for the living room are customarily repeated or woven into the adjoining rooms, tantamount to a thread that holds everything together.
If I had to choose one room as a favorite to design, it would be the living room, and that is the exact reason why I was inspired to write my first book, The Pretty and Proper Living Room, as a guide for my eldest daughter, Alexandra. When she was a bride, she asked me to give her advice for designing her first “big girl house,” which I finally answered for her… in almost 400 pages and over a 1000 detailed photographs!
4. Please tell us about your favorite design project – maybe a super fun client or a spectacular space.
Well, my most favorite design project has been Fox Hall, our 1803 Federal brick house in Farmington, Connecticut. Architecturally, it is beyond splendid, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We had the gardens documented for the Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens. It is one of the only documented houses in America with two Palladian windows on the same wall. They grace the staircase that ascends three floors up, in the front hall, to the ballroom. Designing the interiors has been so rewarding. We adore entertaining (pre-covid!) and I wish I had a crystal ball to see all of the dinner parties, holiday celebrations, and conversations that have taken place in our dining room over the past 217 years! It has been a labor of absolute love to decorate and maintain this historic house.
A spectacular space? Well, I am so honored to have worked for such gracious clients all over the world. They have all remained my dear, dear friends. One very notable 5th Avenue, NYC lady called and asked if I would assist her with designing her New Hampshire house. I was in the midst of a book launch and creating a television series for PBS, so I had to decline. My “no” was not an option for her… she asked if she could just send me a photograph of the house. She did. Well, it certainly was not the “On Golden Pond” lake house in New Hampshire that I had envisioned! It was similar to the White House in size and style, gracefully overlooking the ocean. I said to her, “Well, now…how can I possibly say no to that historic treasure?!” I then proceeded to work with her on it!
5. On the other hand – please tell us about a particularly challenging engagement.
There are always challenges in any project… that’s life! Once I was hired to replace a designer by a husband who said that his wife was not enjoying what should be a wonderful experience for her, building their dream house in Chappaqua, New York, with her designer. He shared that the final straw, beyond her difficult personality, was when she told him that the exquisite, French limestone slated for the kitchen, was on a ship which sank at sea… everyone was fine, and it was not the fault of the designer, but the limestone was now at the bottom of the ocean! These are exceptionally kind and generous clients, but when I received a call from a supplier, after the first month of working with them, that the carpet we had purchased had just sunk at sea, I shuddered at the thought of having to tell them about another ship sinking. What are the chances of that?! Fortunately, they laughed about it and have remained my precious friends, and we have continued to work together on their brilliant houses for over 25 years now.
6. Tell us about your own correspondence! Do you have separate papers for business and personal? Please describe each.
Oh goodness, yes, I do have separate papers for business and personal! Can you guess what my color of choice is?! Yes, pink ink for my business logo, on white laid paper, and either pink, black or gold for my engraved personal papers. I adore the quality of Dempsey Carroll. The engraving is exceptionally detailed and exemplary. The fine detail on my fox and crown logo are brilliantly engraved…I am so excited for its debut!
Discovering the traditional loose piece of tissue paper between each engraved card, to prevent the ink from smudging when being delivered, on my new Holly Holden line of notecards, relays to me a time when grace and gentility reigned!
Mummy was an advocate for fine stationery, especially for engraved pieces, and she was a stickler for promptly responding to invitations and writing thank you notes! I took it for granted that she would use a fountain pen and engraved writing paper to excuse me from school for an appointment or for sick days. She adored blue paper and used traditional blue ink in her fountain pen. But, I think my true appreciation for writing paper came from the variety of formal wedding R.s.v.p. responses from my guests. Back then, preprinted response cards were not an option, and I continued the same tradition for our daughters’ weddings too! It was such fun to see the handwritten responses, because one’s choice of stationery speaks louder than words. What individuals choose represents them in their own unique way, from the paper stock and color, to the unique fonts and colors, insignias, crests, titles and monograms, to the pen ink color. These are some of the nuances that make each piece one of a kind, just like the personality who sends it.
7. What are your correspondence rituals? Do you write a little bit or somewhat often? Maybe you catch up on correspondence on a certain day of the week?
First thing in the morning, I love to make a pot of Countess Grey loose tea from Fortnum & Mason, and if I have personal correspondence to do, I sit down at our dining room table to write. I purposely do not write personal notes in my office. I savour the moments of early morning as “my time” to enjoy corresponding with dear friends and loved ones while sitting in a beautifully quiet room.
8. Speaking of rituals – do you have a favorite pen? A favorite place to write? How do you store your papers?
My two Mont Blanc fountain pens are my favorite! One has a fine nib and the other is a medium nib. My handwriting is rather loopy, so the fine nib looks neater than the medium nib! I like to use cartridges when I write in pink ink because they conveniently pop into my purse so that I always have a spare one with me wherever I travel. When writing a sympathy note, I use a bottle of Mont Blanc black ink. For inscribing my books, or when I am signing books after giving a talk, I use blotting paper to absorb the excess ink so it doesn’t smear onto the preceding page once the book is closed!
There is a large, upper cabinet in our Butler’s Pantry where I stack all of my boxes of paper. Each box is labeled on the side of the box, so I can easily pull out the one I want, after I first climb up on a step stool to reach them!
9. What is your #1 piece of advice for lovely living that most people might not know about
There are so many aspects of lovely living that I cannot narrow it down to a #1 piece of advice! In reference to writing paper and correspondence, I can share some secrets that are not necessarily found in etiquette books, but passed down from generation, by word of mouth, which I share in my weekly E-newsletter, Mummy’s Monday Manners. Five of the newsletters are devoted just to the thank you note! Handwriting is alive and well, and not a lost art, especially for those who understand the social and business significance of a hand-written note.