Betty + Stephen Newton

River Oaks Abode of À Bientôt's Proprietess

Hair and makeup Carol Wagoner for

Now, Betty and Stephen Newton are not like the Tenenbaums — as in Royal — because they are functional, not dysfunctional. No one has a terminal illness or is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. But certain scenes do remind one. Betty would wear furs like Gwyneth. Stephen has a passing resemblance to Luke Wilson, minus the beard, but the prep style is in check. And the storybook home? It’s rich in books, art, collections and stories. That’s Royal Newton.

Our story opens in the Newtons’ circa-1934 home on stately Brentwood Drive in River Oaks — the exact home where Betty’s grandparents, Colonel W.B. Bates and Mary Dorsey Bates, once lived. It was Colonel Bates who commissioned architect Stayton Nunn to design the house. Betty’s father, architect Kenneth E. Bentsen, remodeled it for the Newtons in 1995.

Betty Newton owns À Bientôt, the delightful, prodigiously preppy store facing River Oaks Boulevard where one can purchase monogrammed, hot-stamped and embossed most-anything; Jack Rogers sandals; and jeweled accessories. It’s definitely a “When Your Own Initials Are Enough” moment in fashion, laughs Betty. Stephen is a headhunter for Russell Reynolds Associates with a penchant for bow ties and horn-rimmed glasses, khaki suits and TOMS. You’ll find Betty in shifts, cardigans and twin sets, with an armload of bangles from her emporium. Together, they are Houston’s quaintest couple.

Your fondest memory of growing up in this house?

Betty: Playing with my siblings and cousins in the backyard; eating in the kitchen, which was totally different; and being with my grandparents.

Three things in Houston that have not changed since you were a child.

Betty: A very difficult question! Baskin Robbins, The San Jacinto Monument and my friends.

How did you and Stephen meet?

Betty: I was living in New York. Stephen was moving back to New York after eight years in Europe. A mutual friend gave him a list of five single girls in New York. I was number three on the list. My friend wrote that the only reason that she was including me on the list was that she liked me. She advised that I was not Stephen’s type … elusive, and I traveled too much. We were engaged six months after our first date. On our anniversary, we take the letter out of the safe and reread it. He swears that he never called number four or number five!


Betty: I call him Newty. He calls me Mrs. Newton.

Favorite designers.

Betty: Giambattista Valli, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Lela Rose for dressy. Irving & Fine, Elizabeth McKay, Claridge & King, Greg Fourticq for more casual. And, of course, Zara! Greg Fourticq makes a lot of the clothes that we have at À Bientôt. We collaborate on silhouettes, and then both of us source fabric. He has divine taste and a really talented team. Needless to say, I am the best customer of G.F. for À Bientôt! At the moment, we are working on silk taffeta separates and some really fun African wax-cloth items.

Favorite jewelry designers.

Betty: There is no one favorite. I like to mix it all together, real and faux. I adore Elizabeth Gage, Seaman Schepps, Verdura, David Webb and Jean Schlumberger. We have the greatest local designers: Mariquita Masterson, Patricia Peckinpaugh and Katy Briscoe. From À Bientôt, I love Replica, Kenneth Jay Lane, Julie Vos, Angela Caputi, Susan Shaw and our own private label.

Golden rules governing how to wear accessories.

• Never wear matching jewelry — no sets!

• I am stealing this line from my very chic mother: “Big is Better.”

• I only wear bracelets on my left wrist, paired with my watch. I find two wrists too much. Of course, if Stephen chose to give me a couple of Verdura cuffs, I would break this rule!

• More can be better … less can look sad.

• Expensive does not equal elegant.

• Dress to please your children. They are the most honest critics.

• Go monochromatic. Or, let Josef Albers be your color map.

• You can’t go wrong with stripes, horn, taupe, cashmere.

• Enjoy your weight in gold and bleached white.

• Of course, solid black makes life very easy.

Style descriptor.

Betty: Ethnic prep.

Stephen: I suppose a combination of European and American — English shirts and American
suits, and always Hermès ties

Morning rituals.

Betty: Cafe au lait. News feed from Newty while blog surfing. Four miles with Terry Smith. Terry and I patrol River Oaks. (Don’t try to break into a house between 7:45 and 8:45 am on weekdays. We are vigilant! We walk very fast — no running!)

Stephen: When I’m in town, coffee latte at home and try to get through the Houston Chronicle, The Wall Street Journal and, in the evening, The New York Times. Also, try to get over to Define for REV class at least four times a week, at 6 am.

Film that most closely mirrors your life.

Betty: I’m probably too boring for a movie. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? reminds me of my sister. We are very close.

Stephen: A film that mirrors my life would be the opposite of Le Divorce. Rather than being divorced from a French woman, I have been happily married to a Houstonian for 25 years.

Where is Thanksgiving?

Betty: Usually New York … sometimes Houston or Simsbury, Connecticut. Christmas is always Houston or South Texas.

Your typical day.

Betty:  Nothing is ever typical. I used to eat frozen yogurt for lunch every single day until Swirll closed.

The perfect dinner is where?

Betty:  2128 Brentwood Drive with family — fried chicken and Sancerre!

Stephen: The perfect dinner is at anyone’s home; there is simply nothing better than conversation around a dinner table, four to five couples.

You will soon be moving from this house to a town home. What will you miss?

Betty: My cutting garden and Brentwood. We love our neighbors.

Stephen: Memories of our daughters growing up here. All their birthday parties and sleepovers … knowing that when Colonel Bates lived in this house, so much of modern Houston was being created.

Betty, what 10 things will you do in the month of November?

• Start Christmas Shopping (River Oaks Bookstore and Buffalo Hardware).

• Decorate a tree for Trees of Hope.

Go to New York and maybe Santa Fe.

• Go to the Theta Antiques Show.

• Celebrate Thanksgiving in Connecticut.

• Redo all of our pots outside.

• Plant Paperwhites.

• Think about cleaning the attic.

• Think about sending Christmas cards.

• Think about not sending Christmas cards.

Title of your memoir?

Betty: Betty Noir.

Stephen: My life is not important enough for a memoir.

You just got back from Africa. Favorite part?

Betty: The culture, the animals and the colors.

Stephen: Absolutely falling in love with the perfection of nature; seeing how the animals can cohabitate so much more peacefully that we can; three extraordinary camps.

Did you shop for À Bientôt in deepest Africa?

Betty: I shop wherever I go. Of course, this drives SDN crazy!

Name the places you have lived.

Betty: I lived in New York 13 years and Paris for almost five years.

Stephen: I grew up in Los Angeles, Paris, and Washington D.C., each for seven years. Went on to work eight years in Paris and three years in London and five years in NY, and back to Paris, before venturing to Houston.

What were your jobs in New York and Paris?

Betty: After I graduated from Parsons, I worked as a designer for a variety of fashion houses. I spent the longest time at Liz Claiborne, where I was a knit designer. For a decade, I lived in Asia for three months out of the year. When we moved to Paris, I worked as a spy for a California designer. I shopped everyday. That was the job of
a lifetime!

Favorite piece of art in your home?

Betty: The Motherwell that Stephen gave me for our 20th anniversary. And, of course, everything that our daughters Elizabeth and Camille have given me.

Stephen: Like children, it is unfit to pick a favorite. We enjoy how it all works together.

Something we’d be surprised to know about you.

Betty: I am a hoarder. (Stephen came up with that one!)

Stephen: I’m an Eagle Scout.

Favorite store in Houston.

Betty: Without a doubt, my favorite store in Houston (where there are so many fabulous ones) is Buffalo Hardware. I can spend hours in there and drop by at least once a week. I never walk out without a brown bag full of things.

Favorite hotel in the world:

In unison: La Sirenuse in Positano.

When do you switch to khaki or seersucker?

Stephen: I’m never out of khaki, but love a seersucker jacket in the summer — something I would never have worn in Paris!

You collect?

Stephen: My father started me on the toy-soldier figures, which he would bring back to me from his trips to London when I was growing up in Europe. My other favorite as a child was toy cars. I have simply graduated to a larger version.

Next holiday?

Stephen: Next trip is to Paris, always our favorite.

What’s new at À Bientôt?

• Personalization is huge for us. We do most of it in house. We monogram, hot-stamp and emboss on our products. Engraving will probably be next.

• We’re stepping back into more European accessory lines. With the dollar gaining strength, we’re heading back to France and Italy.

• Our shirt business is astounding. We cannot keep Claridge + King in stock. And, despite the heat, we keep running out of our cashmere lines.

À Bientôt Bébé is young and fun and full of surprises. We always try to appeal to the customer … “Would a three-year-old buy this?”