The Pretty and Proper Living Room

If you don’t know designer Holly Holden, you should. I interviewed her about her new design book, The Pretty and Proper Living Room, and her current PBS television show, You Are Cordially Invited. She is the queen of classic interiors. If you want to know the history behind different porcelains, if you need to know the proper height to hang a painting, and if you need to know the traditional elements of any living room, Holly knows the deep-rooted history behind every decor element. I think you will enjoy all the interview questions below!

To purchase her new book, The Pretty and Proper Living Room: Click Here

To get more information about her new PBS  TV show airing through June, You Are Cordially Invited: Click Here Purchase a DVD of the show: here

Where are you from/live currently?

I live in the village of Farmington, outside of Hartford, Connecticut. When my family and I first moved here, I immediately knew that I had found home! It reminded me so much of my childhood, growing up in Virginia. The people, local businesses, farmland, Miss Porter’s School (where my two daughters attended) and inspiring Hillstead Museum (featuring Degas artwork) make it such a unique place to live. My husband Stuart and I have resided in our Federal brick house, Fox Hall (c. 1803), for over 20 years. I am so fortunate to be a part of this historic New England community, lovingly referred to as “Charmington!”



In her book, Holly highlights Faux Pas deep-rooted in tradition when it comes to design and entertaining.

What inspired you to write The Pretty and Proper Living Room?

My daughter Alexandra had recently married, and asked me for advice in designing her first “big girl house.” She wanted a home that wasformal, elegant, and above all, timeless. I started writing down a few tips on a notepad, and that turned into writing more ideas down daily, until the notepad was filled. I realized, I have enough information to write a book Once I organized all of my notes and hired an editor, the living room seemed like the natural starting point, as it is the center of entertaining in a formal house. I hope that this book will guide everyone to create a room (living or otherwise!) that is both pretty and proper.


Tell me about your new PBS show, You Are Cordially Invited. What do you hope people take away after watching it?

My television series, You Are Cordially Invited, is a project very near and dear to my heart. I want to extend an invitation to viewers to join me, as my personal guest, inside masterpiece homes and notable English estates. In the first episode, I travel across the pond to Highclere Castle (the real Downton Abbey) and am joined by Lady Carnarvon. Together we explore the grounds on horseback and enjoy afternoon tea, while discussing how the castle is used for entertaining. In episode two I visit Blenheim Palace and I am given a tour of the private quarters, which have never before been televised, with the renowned interior designer, Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill. My hope is that viewers will see these castles and palaces and realize that the expert design advice given can be applied to castles, cottages, and everything in between!

Holly Holden touring Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey for her new PBS show.

How would you describe your personal design aesthetic?

I love soft, pastel colors (pink, yellow, blue and green), and like to think that they reflect my personality. Fittingly, Renoir, in my opinion, is the master of my favorite colors and he happens to be the artist I admire and am attracted to the most. I also adore British sporting art and find myself drawn to the colors of the sky above the horses- always soft blues!

Holly Holden

Holly in her pretty and proper living room. Photo by  Dean Greenblatt

I love how her book highlights different porcelain collections, and gives you the history behind them all!

What are your design pet peeves?

My biggest pet peeve is artwork that is hung too high! Art should be hung at eye level, for a person that is 5’5” to 5’9” tall. Tables void of mementos are also a big no-no, and are so bland to me. It is the accessories and art that tells the story of your interests and family background! They add a depth and richness that contributes to a room’s personality, whether a whimsical needlepoint pillow or a silver frame filled with family memories. I am also peeved by seating that is too far apart! My rule of thumb is that if you cannot reach out and touch the person seated near you, your seating should be moved in. It’s this subtle cue in a room that contributes to the comfort of your guests.


Holly’s beautifully adorned living room. She goes in depth about all her beautiful collections. Photo by  Dean Greenblatt

Best advice you ever received about designing?

What’s best for one room might not be best for another, so here are three bits of advice that have served me well: My mother always told me to buy once, for a lifetime. If you buy items, furniture in particular, that speak to you, you can easily build on that foundation. Decide if you are attracted to straight lines of design or curvy! I’m a curvy girl and feel that curvy furniture reflects a warmth and openness that appeals to me. Curves contribute to an inviting atmosphere, whereas straight lines tend to reflect people that are a bit more reserved and quiet. Also, add a touch of black somewhere or on something in a room, such as a piece of black lacquer Chinoiserie, like a chest, table or chair. A little touch of black always grounds a room. When creating the custom blue trim color in my living room at Fox Hall, my mother chose a blue that she liked, and then asked my artist to add a few drops of black paint to the blue paint. Voila! The paint suddenly went from a historic baby blue, to a sophisticated gray blue which added to the formality of the room.

All the names you need to know for your legs of furniture.

What current trends are you embracing, if any?

I like the modern looking Monet style rugs that Stark Carpets has created, as an alternative choice to an Oriental rug. The soft pastel colors create an inviting atmosphere, and give a fresh, lighthearted feel to a room. They work especially well in less formal interiors or a home in Palm Beach! I also think the ceramic, gourd shaped lamps that Christopher Spitzmiller creates are fabulous. The 14k gold plated base of the lamps add a modern touch and can be used to replace an Oriental vase lamp.

Did you know there were so many types of finials? Holly does, and she can tell you all about them!

Who or what inspires you?

I am always inspired by classic design- anything Georgian as well as present day English country houses, castles and palaces! Designers that continue to inspire me because of their authenticity (past and present) include Nancy Lancaster, Sister Parish, Sibyl Colefax, Mark Hampton, Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill and Leta Austin.

Holly’s lovely nightstand she photographed. Notice the gorgeous roses, the classic silver frames, and her chic herend frog.

What is on your nightstand?

There is a white marble lamp from the 1950’s, which sheds just the right amount of light for me to read by, and it reminds me of a pillar of strength. It inspires me to love, to be strong and to persevere. I always try to have a little vase of flowers by my husband’s bedside, and if there are enough flowers, I will make a little vase for my bedside too. A small green Herend frog is prominent on my nightstand, given to me by my son years ago as a birthday gift. He knows that I adore horses, dogs and foxes, so when he surprised me with a frog, I was overjoyed and knew immediately that he had a special meaning! When I have a dream or goal in my mind, I pick up the frog, hold him for a moment, and am reminded that a fairytale frog can turn into a Prince with a simple kiss, meaning, to me, that any dream can come true if you believe it can. And my most favorite and cherished items on my nightstand are the photographs of my husband, and the family that we have created together. To view their photographs brings such pride and joy to my heart, as they inspire me more than anything in the world!

Fox Hall via Pinterest

Image of Fox Hall via Pinterest

Potted Boxwood-

are plentiful at Fox Hall! Over the past 20 years, my husband and I have acquired over 2,400 English boxwood, many of which were transported from Virginia! Our gardens have been documented in the Smithsonian archives of gardens, and by my garden club, the Garden Club of Hartford.