The whiter-than-white architecture of this modern Palm Beach home, with its Deco-inflected forms and ocean liner-style railings, implies an interior kitted out with sleek finishes and cool midcentury modern furnishings. The front door perpetuates this notion with a perfectly ordered grid of neat square windows, but cross the threshold and you’re unexpectedly confronted by a rustic-chic console made from a tree root and a mirror framed in layers of albino sea urchin shells.
This organic vignette, says designer Rod Mickley, “introduces you to the rest of the house. It tells you there’s going to be some eccentric stuff in here, so just sit back and relax.” Mickley’s clients are a savvy Connecticut couple with eight children, who purchased this house, originally designed by architect John Colamarino, as a second home. Mickley remembers the wife telling him, “It’s a big white house. Let’s make it a fun big white house.” More specifically, the owner explains, she wanted to “strip it down so we were left with a sky’s-the- limit white box, and then layer back in ethnic style, some Palm Beach touches, and art that would give it warmth.”
“The house was in pretty good condition,” says builder Kirk Lopez, who carried out the remodel. It’s a good thing, too. The wife was eight months pregnant and the timeline was, to say the least, abbreviated. The fairly simple alterations included sanding down yellowed maple floors and then bleaching and whitewashing them; reoutfitting the living room fireplace with a modern Thassos marble mantel; and installing whitewashed horizontal wood slats in the dining room and living room, a beach shack- style intervention that relieved the monotony of planed white walls.
The palette was drawn from the art and furnishings. “Blue is a general theme throughout,” Mickley says. But that hardly describes the riot of color, texture and styles he assembled. Mickley owns a design gallery in Vero Beach, and his working method paralleled the one he uses to curate his shop. “I’d bring tons of pieces on installation day and move them around to see what worked—I would carry in 20 lamps and leave 10,” he says. “The Danish chair in the living room wasn’t part of the plan; I just brought it in to test the natural texture and liked how it looked.”
Texture was everything. “The organic materials,” he explains of the wood, sea grass, rope, wicker, and raffia, “clearly say beach.” But mixing these textures with color was just as vital to the home’s worldly ethos. A mulithued beaded African chair, for instance, determined the palette of the living room and opened up the possibilities of using bright red, royal blue and emerald green. The family room’s Colombian woven pendants over the casual dining table unlocked a universe of coral, aqua and orange.
“I have a great love of African furnishings, artworks and such,” concedes Mickley. An explanation, of sorts, for the living room’s beaded chair and African daybed-turned-coffee table. But there are other cultures represented here (the Colombian pendants, ikat fabrics). The cumulative effect feels like an exotic bazaar of ethnic riches. A bright, fresh Palm Beach feeling is represented by John Dickinson-esque plaster furnishings (mirrors in the dining room, the family room’s dining table base) and quintessentially Palm Beach hedges visible through the windows that, says Mickley, “are a work of art in themselves.”
There were children to consider, of course. Many textiles are indoor-outdoor fabrications that can take a beating. But, lest things get too kid-friendly casual, Mickley incorporated works from the couple’s art collection—Julian Opie, Mel Bochner and Sam Messenger, to name a few. “They’re a lively bunch,” Mickley says about his clients. “And the house reflects that.”
—Jorge S. Arango