It’s hard to pick a descriptor for Carolyne Roehm, but style icon might be the most fitting. Carolyne is truly a woman who has seemingly done it all. In her 40-plus year career, she’s been a fashion designer, having learned and worked alongside Oscar de la Renta for a decade before launching her own successful design house. She has served as the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, been honored by Manolo Blahnik with a shoe in her name and fêted by legendary designer Bill Blass as the “ultimate tastemaker.” She’s been a lifestyle influencer, turning her passion for timeless design from the runway to gardens and then interiors. Carolyne has authored a dozen books, with her tomes on gardens and flowers earning high praise from an international audience for their beauty and insight, as well as their gentle instruction for readers in capturing and creating beauty in everyday life.
Carolyne is a recent transplant to the South, having bought a historic home in Charleston, SC, Chisholm House. She writes in her blog, “The first time I visited Charleston I was with my dear mentor, Bill Blass. We were totally taken by the beauty of the town and the surrounding countryside. History, architectural beauty, gardens and good food are there in abundance, along with a highly talented group of artisans who focus on historic preservation.” In her third trip to the city, she found the Greek Revival Chisolm House, and she fell in love with it. Carolyne’s latest book, At Home in the Garden, will be the subject of her talk on Saturday, April 16, at the Memphis Garden Club’s Flower Show at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens, but today we’re excited to welcome her as our FACE of the South.
You’ve become a Southerner, having bought a beautiful home in Charleston, SC, Chisholm House. Tell us about the inspiration for taking on that project and where you are in the process.
The inspiration was finding somewhere to grow old gracefully and be surrounded by beauty, when I can no longer ski bumps in Aspen or face a New England winter! There’s a grace in the South, and I find Charleston just beautiful. The house is very close to complete now, but the garden is a work in progress.
Do you have a favorite room in Chisholm House?
The chinoiserie room
In your blog, you talk about taking on the gardens at Chisholm, as well. How’s that going? What’s your design focus for the gardens?
I didn’t want to repeat elements that I’ve had in Connecticut; I wanted to have Southern, warmer climate plants. I’m focusing on camellias, magnolias, Confederate Jasmine, palm trees and still hoping for gardenias.
What do you like the most about Charleston?
The 18th- and 19th-century architecture in the old part of town. It’s so wonderful to walk at night and see the flickering gaslights.
How would you describe the Southern design aesthetic?
The reverence and the respect for the past and the old … the sense of Southern hospitality is felt in the aesthetic of the homes.
Your most recent book, At Home in the Garden, is a true labor of love, as you were the writer, the stylist and the main photographer. And you really talk about the ups and downs of a gardener’s life. What would you say is the most important lesson you have learned from gardening?
Not to ignore Mother Nature, not to try and force something that isn’t natural to a place … that can be in a relationship, or a rose garden. It’s also taught me patience. To not fight what is, because with gardening you can have all the plans in the world, but in the end Mother Nature will have the final say.
Is there another book in the works?
Yes, [I] want to do one on my entire design career that will also include fashion. I’m also getting interested in doing one on Southern life and entertaining, based on my Charleston experience.
What one word describes you?
What inspires you?
Beauty, nature, great design and great art
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
Try to find a moment of beauty or peace in your life every day.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without excluding faith, family and friends?
Dogs, flowers and great music
Many thanks to Carolyne for taking the time to be featured in our FACES series. She will be speaking at the Memphis Garden Club’s Flower Show on Saturday, April 16. The Flower Show runs April 15 to 17, and you can find the schedule, ticket info and more here.
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