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For a crash course in southern charm, an invite to tastemaker Patricia Altschul’s home is the zenith. “There is definitely something to Southern hospitality. We do things spontaneously,” says Patricia, whose long-running tenure on the raucous reality show Southern Charm has made her (and her sublime home) an object of intrigue among the millennial set. Born in Virginia, Patricia has had past lives as a history professor, an art dealer, and as a fabulous fixture on the Manhattan social scene before decamping from Long Island to Charleston. Her current home, a Greek Revival in Charleston’s historic district, deftly ties all those influences together, resulting in a Charleston charmer like no other.

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Patricia Altschul, posing on her home’s piazza with two of her beloved pooches.
The palmetto-flocked exterior of Patricia’s Charleston home.

A Historic Hideaway

Built in the 1850s, Patricia’s home moonlit as a public library for 30 years before being chopped into apartments in the 1960s. One gut job beget another, and upon assuming the 9,500-square-foot home several years ago, Patricia embarked upon a year-and-a-half restoration. “Every wall had to be resurfaced, every system had to be replaced. It was really a labor of love,” she says. An assiduous spirit and a previous string of historic residences back in New York meant Patricia came well-equipped for the challenge, most notably in the form of a thicker-than-thieves friendship with the legendary designer Mario Buatta.

To bring drama and personalization to the home’s dramatic stairwell, Mario Buatta bedecked the walls with Patricia’s coveted silhouette collection.

Decorating With Friends

“I jokingly say I spent more time with Mario than I did with any of my husbands,” says Patricia, rhapsodizing on the relationship that spanned more than thirty years before Mario’s passing almost two years ago. “My taste was compatible with his in the sense that I loved pattern, I loved chintz, I loved the English country style.” Once he’d assessed the work to be done, Mario unleashed a team of experts to tackle the home in stages. The walls, which are faux marble, were among the first projects to be undertaken. “There were three people here doing the walls for, I don’t know, six months, on scaffolds,” explains Patricia. “And after the walls were done, then we had trompe l’oeil painting floors done. Then came the wallpapers and wallcoverings.”

For the drawing room, Mario lopped a Stark rug from Patricia’s previous Long Island home in two so it would fit the new room just so.
Ever the stylish tastemaker, Patricia wears a striking flamingo caftan by her label, Patricia’s Couture.

Cue the Custom

In the house’s drawing room, the duo collaborated on the soft key lime color that adorns the walls. “We tried several colors, but we finally both decided on an apple green,” says Patricia. While most designers would have been complacent with store-bought paint, Mario opted to put the Buatta touch on it. “Mario used Benjamin Moore paint exclusively, but he would mix them and then sometimes add to the mixture, so they were kind of custom,” explains Patricia, noting that the drawing room was one room that received just such a treatment.

In the morning room, Buatta elected to display some of Patricia’s coveted dog portraits. “It’s funny because my late husband was a well-known, serious art collector, and I arrived on the scene with dog paintings and a collection of porcelain pugs,” says Patricia.
“My collection developed over time,” says of her posh pug paraphernalia. “I had maybe six or seven, but most of those were given to me by Mario, and I have two 18th-century little pug boxes that were given to me by my late husband.”

Mario was famously called The Prince of Chintz, but it was so much more than just a fabric. His look was the undecorated, English country house look, and that depended on having personal collections that have a patina all their own.

Patricia Altschul
While Patricia may be partial to pastels, she isn’t against a little Kapow!-caliber color, as proven by the library’s red lacquer walls.
The seating arrangement in the library room is flanked by antique tiger chairs that once belonged to Patricia’s mother.

An A-List Antique Roster

A Revolutionary Daughter in the truest sense (Patricia’s great, great, great, great grandfather owned a home in New Jersey where George Washington encamped four times during the Revolution), the tastemaker has an unflappable affinity for antiques. “Pieces with some provenance represent tradition and a kind of continuity,” she says. “They give a home a pedigree, rather than having it look like a hotel lobby.” While Patricia has a marvelous antiques collection of her own that she’s schlepped from home to home (most notably the lights-out French Zuber wallpaper that adorns her dining room), she’s always on the lookout for new treasures. “I just today bought a pillow for myself like two hours ago on Chairish,” she says. “It’s a Cavalier King Charles tapestry velvet pillow. I was not looking for dog pillows, but I found one and it’s great.”

The dining room features an heirloom Zuber wallpaper that’s been in Patricia’s family for decades. “It’s a wood block; it isn’t run off on a press,” explains Patricia. “Each roll of wallpaper has something like fourteen hundred different colored wood blocks.”

When I do cocktail parties I have ham biscuits and we have wonderful seafood with local shrimp, so I do a shrimp tower and have little sandwiches with Pimento cheese, and deviled eggs.

Patricia Altschul
“They have a special artist who will come in and paint over the seams,” says Patricia when asked about the Zuber installation process (the paper has hopped residences four times so far). “I actually had to buy more sky because my ceilings were higher.”
Patricia loved her previous Long Island master suite so much, she had Mario replicate it in her new home. “I think you should start by having the most expensive bed that you can afford,” says Patricia. “You spend a third of your life in bed!”
Mario’s tricks of the trade continued upstairs to Patricia’s master bedroom where he opted to pad the walls and then cover them in a cheery cornflower blue Manuel Canovas fabric. He also fashioned bedside lamps out of two chinoiserie urns.

Patricia’s At-Home Panache

For those intimidated by the expert tailoring of Patricia’s home, the tastemaker has some judicious advice: “Decorating doesn’t have to be done all at once,” she says. In addition to acquainting yourself  with all of the various decorating possibilities and taking stock of what you like—“maybe you’ll see something that you never really thought of before, but you saw something and just had an immediate attraction and just loved it”—Patricia also recommends cracking out a few big gun design books. “People who like Mario’s style, I say, buy his book and copy what he does. It’s like a textbook. He called it the Buatta-piedia. Because you’ll see there’s a formula in a way that he has perfected.”

The piazza, dotted with potted clementines, is a prime spot for Patricia’s evening martini.

Southern Comfort All the Way

Among the many threads that run through Patricia’s home, it’s the congenial air that makes the most striking impact. Though Patricia’s quick to credit Mario for the conviviality —“he was great at arranging furniture so there was a sense of comfort, but also hospitality”—it’s clear that the notion is something that comes to her easily as well. Ever the Southern socialite, Patricia always maintains an open door, making it easy for friends and family to swing by and partake in the geniality on a whim. “Frequently, someone will call me up an hour before cocktail time and say, ‘What are you doing?’ and I’ll say, ‘Nothing. Come on over and have a cocktail.’”

The pool, flanked by stately stone sphinxes, offers a welcome respite from Southern summers.

“People who like Mario’s style, I say, buy his book and copy what he does. It’s like a textbook. He called it the Buatta-piedia.”

Patricia Altschul

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All photos by Laurey Glenn

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April 2, 2020

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