Savannah Magazine have kindly allowed us to post a beautiful article they wrote about Callan and her home in Savannah.
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BY ALLISON HERSH. PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICHARD LEO JOHNSON.
The creator of Callanetics comes home to Savannah after many years of traveling the globe.
TOURISTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD have traveled to Savannah in search of Callan Pinckney, the developer of the Callanetics exercise craze of the 1980s. However, many Savannahians don’t realize that this former fitness guru, whose sales figures rival those of Jane Fonda and Victoria Principal, lives in the heart of Savannah’s National Historic Landmark District.
A descendent of the legendary Pinckney family that originally settled South Carolina and signed the Constitution, Callan has a rich and colorful lineage which can be traced back for several centuries. However, her down-to-earth style and indefatigable spirit give her an approachable quality that helped make her a celebrity in the fitness world.
She taught her influential low-impact, deep-muscle exercise program, which promises devotees that they can “look 10 years younger in 10 hours,” to everyone from Barbra Streisand to the Duchess of York, Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson. Although her career has, quite literally, taken her around the world, Callan’s Harris Street home in downtown Savannah serves as a showcase of traditional style and a tribute to her proud Southern roots. Her ancestors would, no doubt, be proud.
The front entrance to this 1856 town home, which has been featured on several local home tours, features a signature arch accented by thick layers of English ivy. Framing the front door are a set of rectangular leaded glass windows that Callan’s father, a local builder, rescued from a downtown Savannah home that was demolished in the 1950s.
Rumor has it that a Savannah woman once jumped to her death from a balcony on the top floor of Callan’s home during the Civil War because she feared that her two beloved sons would be killed while fighting for the Confederate Army. This Harris Street gem is no mere haunted house, however. For Callan, this four-bedroom, three-bath jewel serves as a welcome refuge, a place where she can relax and enjoy the sound of the church bells ringing nearby or entertain friends on a Saturday evening.
Inside, the décor reflects Callan’s love of French antiques and the finer things in life. She collects ornate Limoges porcelain, rare Royal Copenhagen vases, antique silk rugs and other exquisite items from around the world, creating bold, high-density arrangements that adorn the walls on display shelves. She’s stacked oil paintings up to the crown molding that defines her home’s high ceilings. Without the help of a designer, Callan amassed a formidable collection of treasures that line the walls and floors of her home.
“I started buying these things years ago,” she said. “When I bought this house, I starting shipping boxes here.”
On the parlor level, the living room features elaborate rose-colored silk curtains; a pink jacquard sofa stacked with needlepoint pillows; carved gilt mirrors; and an antique crystal chandelier. Soft, pink-tinted natural light seems to radiate throughout the room, illuminating a precious antique Savonnerie area rug, that took four years to find and several weeks to clean, as well as an eclectic collection of antique furniture.
A 1674 oil portrait by Dutch Baroque artist Sir Peter Lely hangs over the carved stone fireplace, while portraits of various Pinckneys — including British loyalists and American rebels alike — have been hung, salon style, throughout the living room and dining room, providing Callan with a sense of roots, history and community.
Her collection includes portraits of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, an acclaimed Revolutionary War general, and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, an enterprising woman who is perhaps best known for her successful experiments to make a high-quality blue dye from the indigo plant in the 1700s.
The spacious dining room with wide heart-pine flooring is anchored by an antique oval-shaped mahogany table with hand-painted Italian chairs and an intricate10-by-22-foot Oriental silk rug.
“I love big dining rooms,” she said. “When people are having dinner, it’s nice to have a lot of space.”
In the dining room, a 1961 portrait of Callan as a young woman, painted by acclaimed Savannah artist Myrtle Jones, captures the repressed sensuality and frustrated wanderlust of this well-traveled exercise guru just before she left Georgia and embarked upon an 11-year journey to experience the world. Surrounded by a rich crimson background, the young subject crosses her shapely legs while wearing a scandalously short, shoulder-baring dress. “That painting was a little risqué in those days,” she laughed. “But I love it.”
A wide, skylight-topped stairwell lined with framed Callanetics awards and mementoes of Callan’s professional success leads to the second level, where an upstairs sitting room features Oriental rugs, built-in bookcases and a wall devoted to Pinckney family genealogy.
The room connects to a dramatic master bedroom, which serves as a showcase of classic Victorian style. Using a neutral palette of cream and beige, Callan drapes antique French and Belgian lace from a canopy bed, which boasts an ivory jacquard comforter and a mountain of pillows. She accents her romantic boudoir with selections from her extensive collection of dolls and surrounds a gold gilt, oval-shaped mirror above the fireplace mantel with a symmetrically arranged collection of rare porcelain collectibles. “This is a soothing bedroom for me,” she said. “I love spending time here.”
She converted a small bedroom next door into a handy dressing room, adding a bank of custom closets with beveled, mirrored panels and enclosing her formidable collection of high heels in a special cabinet with folding doors.
Because she grew up in Savannah in an age before air conditioning, she explained, she still has vivid memories of how mildew used to be such a problem when it came to storing clothing, shoes and other items.
On the home’s top floor, a carpeted exercise room features a wall of mirrors where Callan still does Callanetics regularly, as well as an Asian-themed guest room outfitted with yellow toile wallpaper, Chinese vases and rice paper screens. Natural light streams through the windows, creating a sun-kissed atmosphere that seems straight out of one of Savannah’s award-winning bed and breakfasts.
An office down the hall displays framed Callanetics posters featuring Callan’s remarkably lithe size 2 body, as well as countless awards she has received over the last two decades.
A second guest bedroom on the third floor serves as a showplace for her collection of several hundred dolls, much to the delight of her youngest visitors. Tiny fairy dolls and miniature ballerinas have been pinned into the lace curtains covering the windows, as if they are about to take flight. From the fireplace mantel, little hangers display meticulously handcrafted vintage dresses, bloomers and cloaks. Twin canopy beds outfitted with Battenberg lace coverlets have been topped with old and new dolls of every conceivable size. Ever since Callan was a child, she said, she has been attracted to dolls. “It’s ridiculous,” she giggled. “But I love them all.” Although she is just over five feet tall, Callan has a personality that could dwarf NBA basketball star Shaquille O’Neal. She reached the peak of her fame in her 40s, looking fit and trim in her signature leotards with her upswept hair, high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. Now in her 60s, her chocolate brown eyes blaze as she discusses her passion for Savannah, a city that is clearly dear to her heart. Callan — who was then known as Barbara — grew up in Ardsley Park and attended Blessed Sacrament, Savannah High School and Armstrong Junior College before deciding that she desperately needed to leave the Coastal Empire and see the world.
“I didn’t want to get married, I didn’t want to go to school, and I didn’t want to work,” she admitted. “So I decided to travel.”
In 1961, this raven-haired Savannah debutante hopped a freighter bound for Germany and hitchhiked around the world for 11 years, spending time in Africa, India and Europe. While working at an advertising agency in South Africa, her employer required that she take special elocution classes to learn proper English and to help her “overcome” her thick Southern accent.
Her adventures overseas could fill several books: she was arrested in Libya for wearing blue jeans, tracked animal migration in Central Africa, crashed her motorcycle in Laos, and changed her name to Callan after a numerologist advised her that the new name would bring her good luck.
Eventually, she said, “I ran out of countries. I just didn’t know where else to go. So I decided to move to New York City.”
Callan returned to the United States in 1972, becoming an exercise instructor in Manhattan. In an attempt to overcome a congenital back problem and her travel-worn knees, she developed a series of innovative exercises that eventually became the influential Callanetics program.
“I knew that I had something incredible,” she said. She published her first book, “Callanetics,” in 1984, organizing all her own publicity and even making personal visits to the office of the “Phil Donahue Show” until the producers finally agreed to book her appearance. Over the years, she authored nine bestselling books — many of which have been translated into dozens of languages worldwide — and starred in nine popular exercise videos. Her MCA home video “Callanetics” was No. 1 on Billboard’s “Top Videocassettes Sales Hit Chart” during the period of July 30, 1988 to July 22, 1989. She has been featured in the pages of Vogue and on top television shows such as “Oprah,” but her love of Savannah has always remained strong.
This confirmed bachelorette, who has never married and never had children, decided to return to Georgia’s First City permanently in 1993 after purchasing the 19th century home that has clearly captured her imagination. The house, she admits, was no fixer-upper or do-it-yourself project. “The house was in wonderful shape,” she said proudly. “I would never, at my age, take the time to do a place over.”
Inspired by her childhood memories of growing up along the Georgia coast, Callan decided that a home in Savannah suited her far better than a residence in the Hamptons, which was what most of her New York friends owned. She decided to be true to her Southern heritage and renew her connection with Savannah, fulfilling a dream of owning her own mansion in the city’s Historic District.
“I’ve always loved the houses downtown,” she said. “I had wonderful summers here as a child, and I loved being out on the water. I bought the house here and decided I just love Savannah. There are some wonderful people here.”
Today, this ninth-generation Southern belle spends about four months out of the year at her Sutton Place residence in New York, with the remainder of her time spent in Savannah. She has found her way back to the city she once left, more than 40 years ago, in search of adventure. After spending so many years abroad, living from hand to mouth and sleeping in foreign alleyways, she admits that she revels in the unabashedly opulent atmosphere of her town home in the heart of her beloved hometown.
“I absolutely love living here and looking at all my beautiful things,” she said with a smile. “I feel so blessed".
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