LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL

BY WENDY SWAT SNYDER | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOLGER OBENAUS

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Style. Ever-evolving, nuanced, brash, beautiful. It’s the veneer, the polish that makes us shine. It is ubiquitous and demands our attention, but is often, for many of us, elusive.

In a perfect world, we would all have a mother, brother, sister, father or favorite aunt with impeccable taste that we trusted and loved. Someone with an innate sense of beauty and balance who informs and guides our impulses. What we know all too well is that the path to perfection is full of pitfalls.

The morning I met Elizabeth Stuart Faith at her design center for a tour, a photo session was in full swing, and she was getting ready for a flight just hours away. Taking it all in stride with a laugh, she told me to call her “Muffie”—explaining it was a nickname that’s stuck since birth, when a nurse referred to the yet-unnamed babe as “Little Miss Muffet.” She guided me through what she calls her eclectic menagerie, describing with precision the rationale for bringing each piece into her showroom at Elizabeth Stuart Design (ESD).

“This collection is more traditional,” she says, pointing to several gently lit shelves of translucent glassware. “We’re going into summer, and the color is really perfect, it evokes the seaside. You don’t often see that kind of sky blue—not too teal and not too cobalt.”

An adjacent shelf contains a collection of vases and wine glasses in smoky ambers and greens with Mad Men-inspired styling. “We love the mid-century modern look—setting a very sophisticated table in a retro world.”

We move on to examine earthy pottery handcrafted by New York artisan William Reardon. “He likes to produce works of art that are also functional,” notes ESD buyer Nicholas Foster, whose taste for more ethnic wares complements Faith’s love of the traditional. With beautiful shapes and “incredible” colors, honey pots, pitchers and bowls are perfect for display and for serving as well.

Faith, the youngest of eight children, credits her parents for her sense of style. “We grew up with beautiful gardens, surrounded by color and texture,” she explains. “My father had a great eye, and was quick to spot great artwork. He regularly took us to art shows and museums. My mother was really wonderful, too. She preferred white on white—rooms that were well-appointed but not fussy.”

With an eye trained to recognize the things that speak to her heart and mind, Faith brings to bear an expertise and particular point of view informed by her life’s many pathways. The Columbia, South Carolina, native is a College of Charleston alumna and has lived in New York, Chicago, Houston, and Charlotte, North Carolina, where she worked for Alexander Julian.

“As a designer my job is to expand my client’s vision. I want to show her all the beautiful things I’ve acquired from around the world,” muses Faith. “People who come in say there’s so much to look at, and that’s kind of the point. I really love to be able to share in a tangible way all that I’ve seen.”

France, Italy, Greece—Faith’s buying sprees take her and Foster across the globe to destinations that she says, “we like to keep close to our chest.”

Faith’s good energy and expertise are matched by her passion for authenticity. Describing a longtime practice of cultural immersion, she says, “When I arrive at Charles de Gaulle, I head to Printemps to find a beautiful scarf to wear—I want to be more like the French—then we’re off to a restaurant for a much slower-paced dinner.”

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Faith’s acquisitions are spread out over a broad showroom surrounded by an oak-shaded patio in the heart of Mount Pleasant. “It’s a lifestyle store,” she explains, lifting a soft cotton robe of Turkish origin for me to touch. “I offer all the essentials that help you encompass great style. It’s not just about your home, it’s a hat you’d take to the beach, it’s jewelry. Walk through the gate and outside there’s everything you’d enjoy for the garden.”

Since Faith’s strategy is to collect everything she loves, she says that everything in her store can be mixed. “That’s the whole point. We build an inventory of wares that are interesting, unusual, functional—top-shelf and inexpensive—they’re all treasures and each one has a story,” she adds.

One story she tells is about the beautifully sculpted hearts and crosses that cover a long low bench. “I met Barbara Biel in Houston while tracking down sources 16 years ago. She says her craft is her gift back to God.” Hand-cut from stone and covered in gold leaf, no two are alike. Faith warns that each heart and cross takes on a personality, which often makes choosing one a challenge for her customers.

As we move through the store, Faith eagerly points out favorite finds, like the ardent collector she is. Hoisting an immense table-top book, she tells me they choose all the volumes by hand. “It’s not just about finding an attractive cover, it’s what’s inside that we really love—unbelievable art.”

One in particular catches my eye. Across the Ravaged Land, a riveting pictorial essay by photojournalist Nick Brandt, documents the disappearing elephants of Eastern Africa.

Display cases filled with delicate necklaces and bracelets beckon. Faith curates her jewelry carefully, choosing designers like Lena Skadegard, whose philosophy toward her craft mirrors her own. “She lets the stones make the necklace,” notes Faith, pointing out a thin strand with turquoise stones. “It’s something really cool to put on with a white linen dress—lightweight and the perfect color palette for the hot days ahead.”

Faith finishes our tour with another story, one she says she’s told a hundred times. “One of my mother’s closest friends opened Non(e)such almost 40 years ago in Columbia, S.C. She had a great eye and built a beautiful home store. I was seated next to her at dinner party, and asked her for advice for my own store. She didn’t miss a beat, she said buy what you love.”

Faith adds, “I let it speak to me—like Lena does.”

Wendy Swat Snyder is a freelance writer and public relations consultant based in Charleston. Email Wendy at wendyswatsnyder@gmail.com.