The Rhett House Inn offers a fashionable coastal getaway
In river-wrapped Beaufort, South Carolina, you just feel like walking around awhile. It’s here in the shade-dappled Lowcountry, where the only sound might be a horse carriage as it clip-clops past, that two influential players in the New York fashion scene decided to make a career change—a major one.
“Our whole life had been fashion,” says Marianne Harrison, whose father was a founding partner of Anne Klein. In her own career, she created a successful knitwear business, and her husband, Steve Harrison, worked for Anne Klein. Then in 1986, after both of their children were in college, friends cajoled the Harrisons to South Carolina for a visit. Charmed, the couple made what they knew was a hasty decision to buy a five-bedroom inn that had been on the market for over a year. Just in case things turned sour, Harrison says, they kept their New York apartment.
More than 25 years later, the couple is pleased with their impulse buy in Beaufort. Over the years, the Harrisons have grown the Rhett House Inn to 17 guest rooms, which are split between the original manse and an 1840s-era former freedmen’s grocery just across the street. Commandeered by Union soldiers for use as a recovery hospital during the Civil War siege of Beaufort, the circa-1820 Greek Revival mansion is best-known today for its elegant grounds and white, two-story piazza, just a block from the tidal Beaufort River. The house and grounds are rich with character and architectural details, including the four original Adams-style carved fireplace mantels, one with hand carvings of sea life. Marianne, who sidelines as a personal shopper for women in New York and in South Carolina, says she naturally took charge of decorating the inn from the start. She says two of the most asked-about features of the inn are the soft, Euro bedding, and the iconic black-and-white prints—works that happen to be by her brother, master photographer Rodney Smith.
To stay at the Rhett House Inn is to loll about on the long, white-columned piazza, relax in the adjacent Drawing Room, or stop by the kitchen for baked-right-there cakes or cookies after a dinner out. Innkeeper Steve Harrison says his favorites made by the inn’s baker are the pecan pie and the Devil’s Food chocolate cake.
Guests may also wonder about whom they might meet—or have just missed. The Rhett House Inn has a reputation as a hideaway for the famous—everyone from Robert Redford to Dennis Quaid and Gwyneth Paltrow has stayed there—and proof of the visits is displayed in snapshots in the parlor downstairs. Famously, Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte were also guests, during the filming of the movie adaptation of Pat Conroy’s novel, The Prince of Tides.
The Harrisons welcome questions about its storied past. Marianne says they’re just as happy to share memories of the star visitors, as to arrange for a walking tour in the National Landmark Historic District that’s all around the inn—along with plenty of enticing tree-lined stretches.