Like Mother, Like Daughter.
Bess Halstead Lee shares the story behind Lola & Bess, the gorgeous antiques shop she runs with her mother, Martha Halstead, in pretty Charleston, South Carolina.
How did you and your mom each enter the world of antiques?
Mom is classically trained in art and music and she has always had a great passion for design and a natural eye for collecting. She has worked with some of the great interior designers of our time and has been in circles of great art collectors. It’s a natural love that she passed down to me.
After graduating from college, I worked for [interior designer] Charlotte Moss in New York, and fell even more in love with antiques there. Four years later I moved to London to get a master’s degree in fine and decorative art from the Sotheby’s Institute, and then worked at Masterpiece London, which is a fantastic art and design fair.
And how did Lola & Bess come to be?
We started about three years ago. Mom and I had been collaborating on personal and professional projects for five or six years, and we decided it was time to start a business together that would reflect our style. Lola & Bess began in London, and we moved to Charleston in January. It’s a great place for this kind of work and I still get to go back to Europe to shop for the store.
Let’s talk about shopping. Do you and your mom divide and conquer?
We do almost all of the shopping together, which is the most fun part of what we do! Most of our inventory is from Europe; we love the markets in France, Italy, and Scandinavia. Now that we’re based in the U.S., we also love to go up to New England—to the Brimfield Antique Show, for example.
We mix all kinds of time periods, focusing on Continental antiques, but our style is definitely eclectic. We love to layer items in the showroom, so it’s not a single era or single style you see represented. It feels fresh, which might surprise some people who think antiques are stuffy or staid.
Describe Lola & Bess’s collection in three words.
That’s a tough one! I’d say sophisticated, playful, and exotic. We love bringing in items that you might not expect.
Yes. We both have! It happens every once in a while. I recently found a beautiful gilt bracket, Italian from the 18th century. It’s huge; it makes such a statement. I fell in love with it and couldn’t part with it.
That brings up a good question: How do you live with antiques in your own home?
My mother’s family was always collecting and I grew up around antiques. Even as a child, I knew each piece had a special history behind it, which made our home feel kind of magical. Now as an adult, I appreciate and understand the way antiques anchor a room with richness and history. They’re a mainstay of our designs, for sure, and they’re easy to combine with more contemporary pieces so that your home feels fresh and interesting.
Ok, let’s back up: Your parents raised kids in a home filled with antiques? As the parent of little kids—including one rowdy little boy—I’m wondering: How did that go?
To be fair, I grew up with one sister, and I think we were fairly tame. My sister has all boys now, so I know your hesitance. My mom always had beautiful items and materials—silk upholstery and a formal living room—and as soon as I could understand discipline, I just appreciated those pieces for what they were. We had areas in the house that were geared for play, but it was so wonderful to learn a sense of history from a young age. That probably transitioned to what I do today.
Definitely working together. Most of the time, it doesn’t even feel like work. We have such fun when we’re on the hunt for new pieces. We love shopping together and figuring out how to fit one more thing into the trunk or container to ship home.
That leads well to my last question: Give us your best advice for buying antiques and decorative arts.
Our tagline is “live with things you love.” We try to reflect that in what we buy. We encourage our clients to buy what pulls on their heartstrings. It’s a good design gauge: If you fall in love with something, it will marry well with the things already in your home.
Discover Lola & Bess’s fabulous finds here.
Photography by: Brittany Callahan