"Every room needs a touch of red,” declares interior designer Gil Walsh. “If you think about design in Asia, especially in China, there has often been red in every room. It’s an anchor color, like a neutral, but it adds a little bit of zest.” Paired with her acute design sense, such convictions are part of what enabled Walsh to transform a classic Palm Beach home’s stark white-on-white interior into the cheerful, colorful place its Pittsburgh-based owners had in mind. Being a previous acquaintance of the couple helped, as well. “We know of each other from Pittsburgh; I have a satellite office there,” Walsh shares. “I think they felt more confident having someone based in Florida, and I knew we could work quite easily together back and forth.”
Both assumptions proved true when it became clear that there was more to the project than the original goal—the simple remodel of the home’s breakfast room. “The owners were ecstatic about the house, and as we got into the design process, I realized there were issues they had not focused on yet,” says Walsh. The wife agrees: “Gil had a wonderful sense about the house, and one thing led to another. It just worked out from the start.”
With a need for further renovations apparent, architect Kermit C. White entered the picture. Leaving most of the formal exterior untouched—the covered entry, a series of pillars and a flat roof—White focused instead on the interiors. “We left the bones in place, but we reworked every finish,” says White, who collaborated with general contractor Dan Reedy on the project. “We gave the interior architecture warmth and character—a brand-new look, style and feel.”
The first thing to go was a sea of white marble. “There was marble all throughout the public spaces,” says Walsh, who was assisted on the interiors by project managers Lauryl Guse and Michelle Scott. “We all struggled to make it disappear, and after a discussion with the owners, they decided to add wood flooring to the living and garden rooms, the dining room, kitchen, and office. The new floors warmed up the house and allowed the white walls to really pop.” After that, the focus turned to furnishing the two casually elegant living areas, which needed to function for the owners on their own, as well as when their kids and grandkids came to visit. “My desire was that each room would flow to the next, and that the colors followed through as well,” explains the wife. “We wanted it to feel like an oasis.” By turning the entire house into a gathering of antique finds and custom pieces—with luxurious fabrics in fresh patterns and hues—the designers answered the call.
For the more formal living room, Walsh responded to the wife’s love of blue and white, incorporating the shades into custom-upholstered French Louis XVI-style bergères and an area rug hand-tufted of wool and bamboo. A pair of sofas flanking gilt coffee tables accommodates get-togethers of various sizes and adds texture and scale to the room. The adjacent sunny garden room was treated a bit more playfully, with foliage and animal prints for the fabrics, a bleached grass-cloth wallcovering and glamorous hints of Lucite. Each room indeed received its dash of red, with a hand-carved faux-bamboo bench in the living room and a plush coral sofa in the garden room.
Coral was the predominant color in the nearby dining room, as well, where a hand-painted Venetian plaster wall politely commands attention and serves as the perfect foil for the owners’ collection of antique plates; Walsh exercised her penchant for draperies and valances with fabrics that soften the delicately bold wall choice. The master bedroom is softer still, with pale coral and blue showing up in the bedding and upholstery, as well as in the draperies on the windows and French doors that open to the pool. There, White altered an existing pool and designed a new pool deck—an important move since the husband swims laps daily. Landscape designer Tony Grimaldi developed a plan for the plantings, hardscape and landscape lighting that would complement the architecture and new pool design. To create a focal point, existing landscaping was also cleared to expose a stunning silver palm. A walk across the pool terrace leads to a guesthouse, which the designers outfitted in eclectic fabrics and furnishings that invite fun.
Even considering the regulations that were set by the local building department and the challenges with delivering materials, everything still went smoothly. “It was well thought-out,” says Reedy, “and the design, starting with the breakfast room build-out, was great.” Walsh is glad the owners share the same sentiments. “This is why we get up and go to work,” she says, “to make sure we present something to our clients that makes them happy. When they’re happy, we know we’ve accomplished something.”