Although homeowner Carol Cohen has lived in a variety of high-end residences throughout New York and Florida, including the renowned Two Swans Farm in Wellington with its extensive equestrian stables, none of them has felt truly like a home until it has been “Vance-ified,” as she calls it: envisioned from top to bottom by longtime friend and collaborator Vance Burke. She initially met and worked with the Los Angeles-based designer nearly 20 years (and about five projects) ago, and “from that first project to this one, we have just clicked,” she says. “You know when somebody’s really original. That’s Vance for me.”
After her husband’s passing, Cohen was ready to downsize but not to walk away from a lifetime of collecting art and furniture or from her love of all things equestrian. So she decided to relocate with her teenage daughter, Rebecca, to the Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club in order to be near her horses. A contemporary house built in the 1990s, with its high ceilings and alluring pool, stood out to her among the Tuscan and Spanish-looking architecture, and Burke’s firm went to work to bring the interiors into the 21st century. “Carol and I have a certain kind of shorthand, having worked together for so long,” Burke says. “What’s unique about the relationship is every single time it’s a completely different look in a different location.”
While an array of larger windows and skylights were added to the house to bring in natural light, Cohen and Burke set about selecting furniture and art from her collection. Cohen had saved her belongings from the larger homes and rented a warehouse where everything could be unpacked so that she and Burke could wander through, almost like a personal museum. Although Cohen said she now leans toward contemporary design, she and Burke chose for her new home modern furnishings as well as classic pieces by French furniture designers such as Jean Royere and Felix Agostini. Also added to the mix were a selection of artworks by such masters as Alexander Calder and Claes Oldenburg, and antiquities from China, Egypt and Italy. “When we started editing down, we were able to plug in pieces that not only fit physically but also create a collection that tells a story about her past and is cohesive at the same time,” Burke says. “Yes, it’s eclectic, but there’s an evolution of her sensibility and mine.”
Despite the furniture and art’s pedigree, or perhaps in part because of it, the intent was to create a series of intimate, casual spaces for gathering, no matter the situation. “We deflated the formality,” Burke explains. “There’s no sense of trying to create something that is formal and informal. Realistically, everyone wants to feel good whether they’re wearing jeans and by themselves or having a cocktail party with many guests.” Bold textures and colors give the house a subtle sense of youthful exuberance.
The first challenge was how to configure an L-shaped living room, which Burke and co-designer Todd Peter made into a number of different seating areas. Near the kitchen and the floor-to-ceiling glass terrace doors, for instance, a quartet of burnt orange Burke-designed custom chairs wraps a custom coffee table upholstered in white cowhide that can double as extra seating. In an adjacent sitting area, a sofa reupholstered in a boldly patterned fabric sits beside a 1929 Steinway & Sons grand piano with a pair of custom-designed club chairs.
At the same time, the designers unified these seating areas, as well as the combined and open living, kitchen and dining areas, with modern elements, seen in strikingly angular chandeliers, and with textures. “We like to create a vocabulary of materials and use it throughout the house in different ways,” Burke explains. “I find it creates a sense of environment.” Distressed white-oak floors from before the redesign were retained and paired with darker kitchen cabinetry in a similar wire-brushed treatment, and the nearby fireplace was clad in chiseled limestone.
In the master bedroom, “Carol really wanted a touch of color and softness, which we achieved with a soft shade of celadon,” Peter says. “Overall it’s serene and restful.” A custom bed and an Italian glass chandelier give way to a mirrored chest of drawers and a vintage desk attributed to Fornasetti.
“I call it my little jewel,” Cohen says of the house. “I’m as happy in this home as anywhere, and in many ways happier. And people love it. You go in, and you’re transformed. That’s what Vance is able to do. The homes are really comfortable. I can’t ever imagine doing a home without him. Once you’ve been Vance-ified, there’s no turning back.”
— Brian Libby