Twenty years ago, a designer, an architect and a builder joined forces to give life to a stunning Palm Beach, Florida, estate reminiscent of an Italian Renaissance villa. When the property changed hands nearly two decades later, the new owners, impressed by its fine craftsmanship and understated style, commissioned the same team to refurbish the abode, a vacation retreat in an area they love. “They walk, ride their bikes and use this marvelous town, rather than just nest in it,” says Mimi McMakin, the home’s original designer who returned for the revamp. “They enjoy being here.”
This time, McMakin enlisted the help of her colleagues Cece Bowman and Leslie Gaudio to transform the interiors. And while Harold Smith previously served as lead architect on the residence, architects Peter Papadopoulos and Taylor Smith from his firm helmed the current renovation with original builder Gene Parker. “It was wonderful to construct the home for the previous owner and then come back years later to do a major renovation with a new interior design style,” Parker says.
The erstwhile owners favored strictly classic decor to showcase their fine silver and antique furniture collections, McMakin recalls. The new owners preferred refreshed spaces that would be airy, sophisticated and soothing. “What attracted this couple to this house was how well it was built,” the designer says. “They could appreciate very traditional appointments but also see they could make it more contemporary.”
The home called for a tranquil atmosphere, which influenced the design team’s decision to employ an elegant, island-inspired palette dominated by blue, beige, red and cream. “The directive we had was to make the house serene but with an eye to the fact it’s in the tropics,” McMakin explains. Hence, furnishings in texture-rich materials such as bamboo, glass, marble, rattan and woven cane are juxtaposed with subtly printed wall fabric in nearly every room. “In one of the bedrooms, the pattern on the wall is cane applied over upholstery, which gives it a cross-hatched look,” Bowman notes.
Willing to experiment with the design, the clients were interested in supporting local craftsmen–and several opportunities arose. “The owners fell in love with the wallpaper that was going to be put on the ceiling in the master bedroom, but the scale was incorrect,” McMakin says. “We hired a fabulous artist who created that paper by hand.” That same artist also produced the foyer’s trompe l’oeil paintings of tall, feathery green fronds in stately white and gold chinoiserie planters. And the master bathroom received its own custom touch via artistically etched glass shower doors that replicate the space’s pineapple-print wallpaper.
To take full advantage of the locale, the owners wanted an enhanced indoor-outdoor link. Papadopoulos and Smith installed a cantilevered balcony off the master bedroom, overlooking the rear yard, and reconfigured the family room to allow for the addition of large windows. “We were keen to bring in more natural light.” Smith says. “It was nice to improve that connection.” Other sight lines in the room were made possible thanks to a clever technical rearrangement. “We put the mechanical equipment, generator and air conditioning in one location at the back of the property, thereby allowing every window and door to open to a garden, a courtyard or the pool,” Papadopoulos says.
Yet the verdant grounds, conceived by landscape designer Keith Williams, are best appreciated on the loggia, an airy space showcasing a cypress wood ceiling and eye-catching tropical details. “It has applied molding in a fabulous pattern, lattice that’s been applied by hand on all the walls and wonderful cutouts, shapes and arches,” McMakin says. Williams devised additional new gathering spots near the rebuilt swimming pool, including a rear pergola, exterior seating and an outdoor shower. “We took over unused landscape space on the west side of the house to create great gardens with a fountain and a sitting area,” he explains.
After two decades, the home’s interiors may have evolved stylistically, but as four timeless pineapple lanterns at the entry clearly signify, a welcoming spirit still remains. “They’re a well-known symbol of hospitality,” McMakin notes. “It’s an indication this is a house owned by very nice people, and you’d be fortunate to be invited inside.”