By Lanier Laney
Two native New Yorkers, Marianne and Steve Harrison fell in love with Beaufort and the people here during their first chance trip to the area.
“We were so impressed with their civility and kindness to two Yankees especially,” Steve said.
That inspired them to buy an empty building on the corner of Craven and Newcastle streets in downtown Beaufort in 1986 and turn it into The Rhett House Inn. It’s been a AAA 4-Diamond Inn for 22 years now, longer than any other inn in the state.
Marianne met Steve when they were teenagers — she was almost 16 and he was 18 — and fell in love. They’ve been married for 50 years and have two children, John and Elizabeth, who live in Manhattan, and three granddaughters: Charlotte, 14, Georgia, 12, and Carolina, 5. “All good Southern names,” says Marianne with a smile.
Marianne is the daughter of Sanford Smith, who started and owned Anne Klein & Co. and other high fashion businesses. Marianne had her own successful fashion design business (sweaters) before buying the inn and moving to South Carolina.
Steve attended the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He became a top manager at Bloomingdales in New York and later ran Anne Klein.
Even though he was born and raised in New York City, since coming South, Steve has become a real Beaufortonian and has even participated in a nighttime alligator hunt.
The Harrison’s son, John, married Mimi Morrison, the beautiful daughter of one of the big plantation owners in Yemassee.
Daughter Elizabeth founded and is head of one of New York’s most prominent global public relations and branding companies — Harrison/Schriftman — with offices in New York, L.A. and Miami. She launched Juicy Couture as a global fashion brand and currently has W hotels as one of her many top clients. Her husband, Keith Schwebel, is a successful real estate developer and builder in New York.
Not only have Marianne and Steve given Beaufort one of the most beautiful Inns in the Southeast, (Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck, Tom Hanks and Gwyneth Paltrow have all stayed there) they have served on numerous charitable boards of local organizations. Marianne was chairman of Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA) for eight years and Steve has been on both Main Street and Historic Beaufort Foundation boards. Marianne and Steve have also always been passionate cheerleaders for downtown Beaufort.
“We lived in the Rhett House Inn for the first five years, which is literally living where you work,” lamented Marianne. “For Steve and I, it was either we get a divorce, check into a mental hospital, or build a house. So we built a house behind the inn.”
The beautiful traditional home with mahogany and marble floors was featured last year in a five-page photo spread in Southern Living Magazine. The house turns into a top luxury rental at the inn when the Harrisons are back in New York.
Marianne designed all the beautiful rooms at the inn with the help of Beaufort decorator Ann Mitchell, as well as her home here and their penthouse at the Apthorp (a famous landmark building) on New York’s Upper Westside. “I like life to be very symmetrical and very calming and I like clean. I don’t like clutter. Simplify life — life is hard enough,” she said. Marianne would know, she has beat cancer fives times, worked in a battered woman’s shelter in Manhattan, has served as a court-appointed guardian for children at risk and also, as mentioned earlier, was head of CODA.
Marianne loves to help people; she gets great joy out of it. She decided to put her years of fashion knowledge to good use by helping battered women get their lives back together by re-doing their wardrobes to build self esteem. She found out she loved doing it and turned it into a business. Now she’s had scores of private clients in New York City and Beaufort. She’s so good at it that J. Crew hired her for its flagship store on Madison Avenue to be one of the store’s chief personal shoppers there when she is in New York City. Basically, she takes a look at your wardrobe and sees what looks best on you, then helps you edit out the clunkers. She said, “Usually you probably just need a few key pieces to complete an outfit. I can show you how to get much more out of less.”
She makes people feel good about themselves, regardless of size or age. “I’m lucky, I have this knack to instantly see what looks best on a person and show them how to mix and match,” says Marianne. Most women she consults with are embarrassed to show her their closet. But Marianne reassures them: “No matter how bad your closet is, I’ve seen worse. Call me and I will change your life and take you shopping and do it painlessly.”
Kudos to Steve and Marianne Harrison — two great people who have helped make Beaufort what it is today!
By the way, if you’d like to contact Marianne’s wardrobe consulting business, call 917-836-8030.
The Rhett House Inn, which is a great place to stay for out-of-town friends and visitors, can be reached at 843-524-9030.