This house just spoke to me,” says one of the homeowners of a landmarked 1928 Mediterranean Revival-style house located one block from the ocean in Palm Beach. Despite the cracked stucco and overgrown landscaping that accompanied the lawn’s For Sale sign, the wife immediately recognized its aesthetic potential when she spotted the classic beauty. It also met the requirements that she and her husband, who also have a residence in Canada, were looking for in a second home: an open plan, a spacious living room to entertain, and most importantly, enough bedrooms to accommodate their adult children and nine grandchildren under the age of 13. “A lot of homes down here aren’t very open,” says the wife. “Plus, I thought it was so pretty.”
However, interior designer David Kleinberg knew quickly that his clients were going to take an individual approach to the traditional barrel-tile Palm Beach house designed by acclaimed architect Gustav Maass. Regarding the living room, Kleinberg says, “The wife told me, ‘I don’t want a pair of sofas on either side of the fireplace staring at each other.’ So, it was very obvious that she was willing to look at the house in a new way.” Together, working with project designer Lance Scott, architect Daniel Menard and general contractor Jeff Wildes, the team restored the home’s distinctive historical grandeur while revitalizing its interiors with a fresh, contemporary feel.
To start, Menard and Wildes took to the renovations, which were extensive–“a big financial and emotional commitment,” says Menard. “The walls had lost their structural integrity, and the foundation was almost nonexistent, so it had to be rebuilt completely.” But the house had obvious advantages over anything new. A landmarked residence, Menard explains, “offers more volume, a larger footprint and higher ceilings than what you’re able to build today.”
In addition to the structural work, they flipped the position of the staircase to open up the foyer, preserved the Cuban tile floors in the dining and living rooms, and refinished the pecky cypress ceiling panels. They also restored the original cast-stone surrounds on the facade. “We made rubber molds of anything that was in disrepair, and we recast them so we could get that mold perfect,” says Wildes referring to specific details throughout the residence.
Limestone floors give the house an old-world feel, as do the plaster walls, which were given a rough finish to hold up against the richly textured ceilings. Juxtaposing these storied details, a modern lacquered kitchen was added that acts as the heart of the home when family visits. Scott describes it as “a pristine little modern box inserted into an old house.” Landscape architect Keith Williams, who brought in date palms and bougainvillea for the entrance, planted jasmine vines opposite the kitchen windows, “providing a green vertical element that still allows light into the home,” says Williams.
Speaking of the wife’s vision for her new residence, Kleinberg says, “With a marvelous, modern-bohemian point of view, she wanted to play with the Moorish and Moroccan aspects of the house,” such as the arches and twisted columns in the living area that likely once introduced an exterior loggia, which is now enclosed. And so, something like a giant rectangular Borne settee–an idea pulled from the home of Grace Kelly and a far departure from matching sofas–anchors the gallery-like living room. Pillows covered in worn vintage silks from India and Nepal soften the formality. “It serves different purposes,” says Scott of the piece. “If the wife is hosting a cocktail party for charity, it’s a place for people to perch, but she can also toss the pillows and the kids can use it as a trampoline.” Do they? “They do–they build forts with it, they climb on it. I take the pillows off and let them play,” she says.
The wife’s developed aesthetic also made it easier for the design team to choose pieces, but, she says, “I also really like found pieces.” Kleinberg then steered her toward the late 19th-century English Aesthetic Movement, which maintained an “art-for-art’s sake” perspective–not one born out of function or utility. Several ebonized pieces, including armchairs and a two-tier table, mix well with the otherwise pale palette, folding in a sense of history along with contrasting tones and materials.
The design team carried this relaxed elegance into the dining room, where two seating areas provide a more casual feel. Contemporary leather chairs in turquoise took their color direction from the shade of some of the cabochon tiles. Throughout the residence, this kind of
interplay brings a fresh take to modern choices, while keeping respectful deference to the past.
Of course, nothing keeps the residents more in the present than having a house full of active young grandchildren visiting and playing. “I think they want to move here permanently,” jokes the wife, who puts a protective rubber mat down on the wool-and-sisal Patterson Flynn and Martin living room rug when the toys are brought out. “We use it as a playroom and really do use all the space.”