Tour a Charming Carriage House in Southampton Village
Tucked behind a well-trod Southampton thoroughfare, a late-1800s Village structure marches proudly into the 21st century.
Bernadette Watkins first laid eyes on her historic carriage house in Southampton Village a little more than a decade ago. Fortunately, she could see beyond the obvious neglect and decay and had a vision to restore the late-1800s edifice to its former glory. “My husband and I are both from old families,” Watkins says. “We are members of societies and foundations that preserve buildings and history, and that’s very important to us. We have saved and preserved this charming carriage house, and now she is in perfect shape for another 150 years.”
Southampton Village, which itself dates from the 1600s and boasts strict zoning and architectural review boards, was a good fit for Watkins and her husband, who worked with architect Diane Herold to maintain the house’s historic pedigree while updating it to a comfortable family home. The only stumbling block: a pair of horseshoes that hung above the entrance. “I told my husband that I wasn’t sure if we should buy this house,” Watkins recalls. “The horseshoes pointed down, and I wondered if it would be bad luck. So as soon as we bought the place, I said, ‘Let’s get those horseshoes right-side up!’”
A new foundation was the next order of business, followed by restoring the floors, beams, and staircase to their original luster. “The beams were all dusty and gray,” Watkins remembers, “but I saw their charm and worked with an artist to come up with a stain original to the period. We now have a rule that we can’t take our heavy luggage upstairs because it’s going to ruin the staircase—we pack and unpack downstairs.” The carriage house’s past peeled away in layers as they went, uncovering everything from a vintage Rose Cumming wallpaper to horse bones buried in the backyard, unearthed when they installed the swimming pool.
As for the decor, Watkins followed her gut instinct. “I just said to myself, ‘I’m going chintz,’” she says. “It belongs here. The beautiful, lovely floral and pastel colors will never go out of style.” Against this backdrop, beloved family heirlooms are displayed throughout. Watkins has deep roots in Savannah and ancestors dating back to the era of Robert’s Rules of Order, a manual of parliamentary procedure. She likes nothing better than hosting an elegant dinner party and decking out the table with china and silver that have been enjoyed for generations. The four-poster in the primary bedroom, dating from the late 1700s, is a tour de force. “The ancestor of mine who owned it was English, and it was buried during the Civil War to hide it from fire,” recounts Watkins, who has topped it with a bedspread typical of the period.
Deeply schooled in the worlds of design and fashion, Watkins worked as an editor at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and was an assistant editor to Elsa Klensch, the late style arbiter par excellence. “She was a dear friend,” says Watkins. “Elegant and with a wonderful presence, but her sterling quality was her politeness and kindness.” Watkins herself has founded her own etiquette school, Broadwell’s Elegant Etiquette, and even produced a short film, The Fine Art of Formal Dining. In a world that can often feel cold and uncivilized, she says, her “greatest hope is to inspire people—from young to old—to preserve and save historic houses and buildings, rather than tear down treasures like this one.
The print version of this article appears with the headline: Carriage Trade.