Like a meticulous collector, designer Hillary Littlejohn Scurtis takes a curatorial approach to her work. “I am very disciplined, and I don’t like random objects that have no narrative,” she says. “If something doesn’t speak to the function of the room, I take it out.”
It’s a strategy that proved crucial for her latest project, a French Provencal-inspired estate in Coral Gables that called for an interior design refresh. The client, a world traveler who grew up in Kenya, had developed a taste for the exotic. Boasting authentic French details, the home was originally created by architect Bill Taylor and residential designer Phyllis Taylor.
“The rough textured Florida keystone on the front of the house is similar in color to houses in the south of France,” Bill Taylor points out. Inside, Phyllis Taylor incorporated diverse elements acquired during a trip to Paris, including elaborate replace mantels sourced at a flea market and architectural salvage stored in warehouses. “The antique paneling in the library was a lucky Internet find,” she adds. “And features like the kitchen’s tiled barrel vault and the office’s tin ceiling were important components for the ambience of each space.”
Working with designer colleagues Patricia Duran and Susana Kempen as well as general contractor Patrick Lee, Scurtis was tasked with editing the home’s opulent look and giving it purpose. “It couldn’t be decoration for decoration’s sake,” she notes. “And the most important thing was to make this palatial home feel cozy.”
Scurtis began by looking up and down–at lighting and rugs. A Baccarat chandelier in the main living area, for instance, led to the introduction of a second one in the dining room, where the washed faux-wood paneling was an unfortunate shade of peach. “The room was impressive and intimidating, so to make it more elegant we painted the woodwork dark green–like a London supper club–and added an emerald rug featuring a massive leopard on it for a bit of fun,” Scurtis says. The piece rests beneath the owner’s sizable wood table surrounded by antique chairs.
A zebra rug, meanwhile, adds a note of playfulness to the mosaic tile flooring in the office. Sunny and airy, the space is minimally styled with new ivory-colored barrel chairs and the owner’s understated antique desk, allowing the ornate tin ceiling and French-style gold chandelier to take center stage.
A similar idea prevails in the family room, where the team stripped the dark blue ceiling beams and let the client’s rainbow-beaded chandelier come into focus. “A huge set of windows in the room looks out to a canal, so the water and chandelier became our palette guides,” Scurtis says. The trio peppered the o -white sofa with pillows in various textiles and added a rug with an indigo motif. As a final touch, framed HermeÌ€s scarves pop against the room’s new white-paneled walls.
The designers lined the family room’s bar with shagreen leather stools and placed a few more within view. “They’re repeated as counter stools in the kitchen, so there’s a connection from one space to the next,” Duran explains. There, the owner requested a display of art and objects, but Scurtis insisted they be related to culinary purposes. To compromise, she says, “We celebrated his heritage with African pottery and hung beautiful dishes on the walls.”
A nearby corridor connects to the main spaces, and to underscore its prominence, Scurtis lined a wall with mirrors as a nod to the Palace of Versailles. “The homeowner is in the hospitality industry, so he wanted his living spaces to recreate the attention to detail so prominent in his hotels,” Duran says. Along the mirrored wall, the designers placed a black settee to enjoy views of a courtyard it faces–one of the nontraditional ways they considered the client’s love for entertaining. “That hallway is so wide, I thought: What if you had a moment when you break away from the cocktail party where you could sit and enjoy the view?” Scurtis says. “You could have a cocktail party in the courtyard and move to the kitchen for dinner, where the food and prep provide entertainment and theater.”
But when it’s time for relaxation, the master suite is an ideal respite. In a clever move, Scurtis relocated a bed from a guest room–a better t for this space–and paired it with an ivory-colored sofa. To balance the tone of the traditional wallcovering, the team sourced a contemporary rug featuring abstract lines. And in the master bathroom, they added practical elements like a cozy chair and a blue cotton dhurrie rug near the freestanding tub.
By the project’s end, the combined taste of homeowner and designer helped transform the house, ushering it into the future. “His opulent aesthetic and my edited approach work well together,” Scurtis says. “Ultimately, it became a dance we did very well.”