It’s no secret that the most fruitful designer-client relationships are built on trust. But when that bond has lasted nearly two decades and seen numerous milestones, friendship enters the equation, too. Such is the case for designer Ray Booth and the owners of this South Florida estate.
That the couple and the designer hit it off is no mere coincidence. Long before they officially started working together, the wife had ripped out several pages of images from interior design magazines for inspiration for her New York home. It was later, while browsing through Booth’s portfolio, that she realized all the spaces she loved were his. “Right away, I knew that’s who I wanted to hire,” she recalls. “We were on the same page aesthetically.”
At the time, the homeowners had just married and were on the verge of blending their families and starting a new life together. Since then, 18 years have passed, and Booth has completed four projects for them—including this new-construction house. What makes this one significant, however, is it is the first joint ground-up undertaking for the clients and Booth, who has an architecture background.
“One of the things the couple loved about Palm Beach is the lushness of the vegetation,” the designer says, noting the owners wanted the views of the Intracoastal and the tropical foliage to play an integral role in the design. With Michael Perry of MP Design & Architecture, Inc. serving as architect of record, Booth accomplished that by laying the residence along a central axis, a plan executed by general contractor Paul Wittman. “The layout was informed by their desire to walk in the front door and see either green or blue at any vista,” the designer says. To further solidify the connection to nature, he incorporated full-length retractable glass doors in many of the waterfront rooms so the clients could “throw the doors back into the walls and have the house completely open up to the beautiful landscape,” he says.
Outside, silver buttonwood and Clusia trees comingle to form a tropical oasis. “Because Florida is so flat, I saw an opportunity to layer the garden so it unfolds naturally and effortlessly,” says landscape designer Fernando Wong. He employed coconut and mahogany trees to frame the entrance, with two Macarthur palms at the front door, lending a sense of symmetry and grandeur.
For the interior architecture, Booth created a Bahamian-inspired clean slate, opting for pale gray limestone floors and wood ceilings for most of the spaces on the first level. “We wanted the ceiling to have a bleached-out, almost driftwood-like texture to further tell the story of where we are,” he explains. A neutral palette of crisp whites and creamy tans—carried through the majority of the furnishings and rugs—reinforces the structure’s tropical feel. The homeowners wanted a mix of large upholstered pieces—like the main bedroom’s shapely headboard and the living area’s boxy sofas, armchairs and ottomans—as well as antiques and artifacts that hint at their extensive travels. The global accents include a vintage Moroccan rug in the dining area, guest bedroom pillows made of Indian-inspired textiles and homages to the wife’s Italian heritage, such as a Renaissance chair in the stairwell, framed sketches from Florence on a dining area wall and the living area’s 300-year-old iron chandeliers. “With any beach project, there is an opportunity to bring in some real whimsy and character,” Booth says. “At the same time, we never want a room to be so steeped in one period that it doesn’t have a sense of timelessness.” In fact, many of the pieces have been with the couple for the duration of their relationship and their partnership with Booth. For instance, the living area coffee table dates back to the owners’ first home together in New York. “Each of our collaborations is built on what came before, and this one was the culmination of everything we’ve done,” Booth says.
To that the end, the entire project came together in record time for a heartbreaking reason: The husband had been diagnosed with cancer shortly after construction began. “Because this house was near and dear to my husband’s heart, the entire crew knew we had to get it done so he could enjoy it,” the wife says. Sadly, he lost his battle but was able to enjoy the residence for nearly a year and a half after moving in. Says Booth, “It breaks my heart, loving them as I do, but it gives me a lot of joy knowing we were able to realize a project that meant so much to them. I’m quite honored to have been invited into their pursuits of home together.”