Adventure often goes hand in hand with homes that have a past, especially those spanning decades and requiring more than a little nip and tuck. Sometimes, romance fades with revelations not pretty, such as what goes on behind walls and under floors. But then there also are pleasant surprises, almost like finding buried treasure— peeled-back layers revealing original visions. For interior designer Allison Paladino and the rest of the design team of this Palm Beach abode, that was part of the joy: restoring some architectural elements of a 1920 Addison Mizner home while updating the footprint and interiors for part-time residents. “It’s a beautiful traditional home,” says Paladino, who collaborated on the project with junior partner Zita Rudd.
“We wanted to honor the time period but make it livable.” With nods to Venetian Gothic style, the complex sits like a jewel on the Intracoastal Waterway in Palm Beach. Mizner had blended Moorish, Spanish and typical Mediterranean elements reminiscent of architecture that might grace the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. The stucco, tile-roofed buildings on this compound consist of a main house and guesthouse, with courtyards framed by palms, fanciful fountains and lush tropical landscaping.
Purchased years ago as a vacation home, the property underwent renovations in the early 1990s; first the main house, and then the guesthouse once it was also acquired. The guest home was gutted, and a dining room added, bringing the two-story floor plan up to a comfortable 3,750 square feet. “It involved a lot of site work,” says builder Tim Givens, “including the seawall, pilings, additions, the landscape, drainage, the driveway, and the remodeling of the old garage.” The couple loved the results so much that they ended up living in that house as their primary residence.
But as their family grew, so did their need for more space. The logical move—back to the larger main house.
The most current do-overs focused on enlarging the kitchen and opening it to freshly created casual dining and family areas, enhancing light and taking advantage of views—plus, updating the master bathroom and walk-in closet. Game changers.
The designers, builder, and architects Ken Brower, who worked on the previous renovations, and Mark Marsh, the most current architect for the main home, all were on the same page with the homeowners about their remodeling and décor goals. And Paladino, who grew up in a Mizner home, says: “We all are big fans of historic preservation. We wanted to do it the right way.” Marsh concurs. “The homeowners were trying to preserve the charm,” he says. “Basically, we were excavating a landmark structure while changing the rhythm and feel of the interiors to make them more refreshing and accommodating for current lifestyles.”
For instance, Givens recalls the wife wanting more family-friendly spaces. “That led to the kitchen renovation,” he says. “It was a series of small rooms back in the day. All of these types of houses were designed with staff kitchens kind of hidden away. But today, everybody likes to spend time in the kitchen.” The galley transformed into a generous 16-by-32-foot layout, and the family room now occupies the far south end (with a water view), where there once was a formal fabric-tented dining room. A spacious 4-by-9-foot island provides storage as well as casual seating. And between the two spaces, an oversize crotch mahogany table teamed with chairs covered in a watery blue coral patterned fabric is where the family now gathers for meals.
A light, creamy palette punctuated with blue (one of the wife’s favorite colors) amid sea glass greens is consistent throughout. Surfaces mix smooth and refined with rustic touches: silky Venetian plaster finishes join light-stained wide-plank floors and limed ceilings, indigenous woods such as pecky cypress, and elegant mahogany window and door frames. They all provide a rich backdrop for dramatic antiques mixed in with practical, comfortable upholstery. “She has very simple tastes,” Paladino says of the wife. “She didn’t want anything overdone.”
So the existing living room, last decorated in the 1990s— with upholstered walls, heavy drapes and pattern-on-pattern fabrics—needed to be dialed down. But the enormously detailed hand-painted and paneled ceiling was a keeper. “It’s spectacular,” says Paladino. “But the problem was, you didn’t know where to look. We wanted to soften it a bit.”
But all were surprised when an electrician set out to install floor outlets so the furniture could be floated. He hit water— and rotting floor joists. “It had been untouched for basically 90 years,” says Marsh. The electrician’s drill went right through the floor that spanned over the original gondola port.
So the floor structure was removed, scaffolding erected and the foundation rebuilt. “We reconstructed the framework with pressure-treated, marine-grade lumber,” says Givens, “and waterproofed and stuccoed the underside.” Then the subfloor and a wide-plank reclaimed wood floor were installed. Though the living room is more formal than the nearby family room and kitchen area, the homeowners wanted to be able to use it just as much. “We put in more tailored furniture, and chenille upholstery made it comfy,” says Paladino. “It became very livable.” Custom touches like the owners’ antique bookscases that Paladino had repurposed into a new entertainment center furthers the aged yet refreshed theme.
Upstairs, the master suite was reapportioned to now include a generous walk-in shower and bathtub, plus a walk-in closet. When structural work was being done in the master bathroom (and shoring up to meet hurricane codes), Paladino loved the airy feel of the open ceiling. So a cathedral shape was created and clad in limed pecky cypress. The visual lightness was furthered with translucent shellstone floors and creamy subway tile wainscoting, all complemented with pale blue and green accents.
Courtyards and pathways connect the main and guest houses. With an established backdrop of banyan, ficus and coconut palm trees, bougainvillea and dombeyas—thanks to a previous design by Morgan Wheelock Incorporated and installation by Armstrong Landscape Design Group—Michele Bobrowski, of Greenscape Design, layered in plantings such as anthuriums, heliconias, mona lavender and ground orchids for bursts of color. “The garden has a soothing feel and you really must take some time to meditate on all the different hues and textures,” she says. Justin Dwyer, owner of Greenscape, agrees. “It’s clean, simple, tropical and elegant,” he says. An apt description for the houses themselves.
— Elaine Markoutsas