After completing a show house space in South Florida a few years ago, designer Jonathan Savage found himself spending more time in the area thanks to a steady demand of projects. “More people are moving here now than ever,” he observes, “so it’s an exciting time.”
Soon enough, Savage and his partner, Bradley Wensel, became two of those very people. The couple purchased an Ibis Isle condo in a 1969 building by modernist Eugene Lawrence that immediately attracted the designer. Despite this, Bradley adds with a laugh, “We drove to probably 40 apartments all over Palm Beach—of course, to end up back at the first one.”
Their unit boasts an unheard-of 100 feet of outdoor living space across wraparound balconies, ideal for soaking up the picturesque Intracoastal Waterway vistas. Importantly, the residence also offered Savage the chance to convey his take on Palm Beach style: a moody, masculine version informed by monochromatic tones, clean lines and the prioritization of art. “I wanted to create an environment that could be soothing and calm,” he explains. “We’re calling it ‘the new Palm Beach.’”
Instantly, upon stepping into the foyer, Savage’s distinctive lens is apparent. Walls of hand-applied Venetian plaster on linen ground a mural of local flora and fauna, including the craning Ibis birds for which this idyllic location is named. “We started with a play on neutrals,” Savage says, noting the warm creams, grays and beiges. “Our palette is what makes it feel modern and special.”
Top goals were bringing the vintage apartment up to contemporary standards, carving out functional storage and reorienting the rooms toward those great views. “We wanted to sit on our sofa and watch the boats go by,” the designer shares. To get the most out of the renovation, the couple looked no further than the son of the building’s original visionary, architect David Lawrence.
Right after closing, the designer walked the apartment with a Sharpie, delineating his vision for the layout directly on the walls and concrete floors. “My thought was, ‘If Eugene were alive today, maybe this is what he’d do,’ ” Savage muses. In the end, David says, the final floor plan didn’t change much from these intuitive markings. “Jonathan has very good instincts,” he says. “I’ve learned every trick in the book when it comes to renovating these old apartments, and his ideas were spot-on.”
The primary bathroom, for example, remained largely Savage’s purview, from its walk-in shower to its non-negotiable double vanities. For the kitchen, the couple teamed with designer Matthew Quinn to create a culinary playground with an overflow pantry. Savage specified the faux-onyx flooring here but liaised with Lawrence on the matte-white coffered ceilings in the living and dining areas. “We complemented the ceiling pattern on our interior doors with black lacquer as a design motif that we ran throughout the house,” Savage notes.
The ceilings also integrate an unexpected upgrade: recessed lighting in clean, pure tones. “It’s 2700 kelvins—the same color as the Florida sun,” the designer reveals. The feature proved beneficial for the couple’s surplus of art, much of which traveled from their Nashville home base.
Take the Donald Judd painting in the primary bedroom. Teamed with a series of framed Ken Greenleaf collages, the piece serves as the springboard for the space’s design, which includes a circular-patterned ceiling brandished in an unexpectedly stark black paint. “It makes the art jump out at you,” Savage explains. Meanwhile, an abstract work by George Williamson hangs prominently in the living area, where the designer complemented sculptural furnishings with angular pieces, such as an oversize daybed that offers views of the Intracoastal on one side and the pool on the other. “It’s a sort of tête-a-tête approach,” he notes, “and perfect for the room.” Materials like performance fabrics, leather and woven mesh draperies play within the spectrum of neutral tones. “I wanted texture over color,” Savage explains, acknowledging his deviation from the expected green and pink.
Still, that’s not to say he entirely eschewed blushing hues. Echoing the strategy of the primary bedroom, the guest space received a dose of bold mauve on its upholstery and ceiling, evoking a warm retreat for frequent visitors. “When you have a place in Florida, you become quite popular,” jokes the designer, whose own time spent here is gradually climbing. After all, when it comes to lingering in Palm Beach, Savage understands the desire.