In the construction world, six months is barely the blink of an eye. But that was the timeline interior designer Ellen Kavanaugh and designer Madison Way faced for the renovation of a Palm Beach, Florida, vacation home for eager clients. The end result—a tasteful nod to British Colonial style tempered with local cosmopolitan flair—demonstrates that these two perform well under pressure. “It helped that we got to partner with a team we know well and trust,” Kavanaugh says, pointing to residential designer Michael Perry and general contractor Chip Valle, who happens to be her husband. (“That has its efficiencies,” she laughs.)
It also helped that the Texas clients, whom Perry and Valle had worked with previously, had a clear vision for their Florida getaway. “The husband is a businessman and a quick decision maker,” Kavanaugh says. “Once we had a great design scheme in place, it was all feasible.”
The owners desired a British West Indies vibe with an abundance of dark wood and island glamour—none of which the 2008 abode offered. However, Perry says, “The house is on a great lot—just two blocks from the ocean and less than one from the Intracoastal—and has a good footprint and bones.”
To ramp up the structure’s style, he added flourishes to the stucco exterior, including light blue shutters, roof outlookers and a new entryway. There, Kavanaugh set the tone with a jazzy palm-frond wallpaper, mahogany front door and marble checkerboard flooring—classic West Indies elements, she notes.
From there, Kavanaugh and Perry worked the interiors from the top down. The house had few millwork details, other than drywall ceilings and crown molding, so they injected British Colonial style from above by adding ceiling beams in spaces such as the living and family areas—with one variation. “The clients were very specific in wanting dark floors, beams and moldings,” the interior designer says. “We had to convince them a fresher twist would make the spaces feel light and breathable.” For a more modern take, they kept the beams light colored, painted the inside of the living area’s mahogany-framed bookcases pale green and introduced a palm-leaf wallcovering on the living area ceiling.
These unconventional touches proved on target for the overall look, especially given the existing contemporary furnishings the owners wanted to incorporate, including a sofa, a dining table, a chandelier and artwork. “After seeing these pieces, we realized a more transitional, eclectic feel was the right call,” Way says. Case in point: the owners’ 6-by-7-foot Hunt Slonem butterfly painting, which could fit only on one living area wall. Because of its size, the pastel hues command attention, “so we took our color cues for the room from that,” the designer says.
Departing from the traditional West Indies palette of dark red and blue, Kavanaugh and Way incorporated lavender with light blues in the fabric selection, including patterned armchairs, tasseled pillows and wispy, ocean-inspired draperies. “We love the interesting mix of tones—they are kind of unexpected,” says Kavanaugh, who added hand-carved planters, chairs and a teak console to underscore Caribbean flavor. “The living area became the core of our palette, tying in all the colors of the house.”
Blue tones continue in the kitchen, where the team took down the wall separating the space from the family room to create an expansive gathering area. For clients who love to entertain, they installed two kitchen islands: a utilitarian one topped with marble, and a dry one crowned with mahogany “for a warm, inviting surface where people sit and hang out,” Kavanaugh says.
With the kitchen and family area combined, she persuaded the owners that the backsplash had to be a showpiece in the large space. Her idea: a cobalt punch of Moroccan fish-scale tiles. “We wanted an updated take on old-school Portuguese tile and stumbled upon these—the clients loved them,” the interior designer says. The feature served as a jumping-off point for the design of the family area, where Kavanaugh and Way layered blue and white patterns, like striped pillows and a barrel chair with a tribal print.
The space connects to the pool and back terraces, reworked by landscape designer Keith Williams, who also created a new entryway courtyard where a driveway had been. “Our goal was to freshen up the gardens, make them more organized and less dense, create more functional spaces that relate to the interior and bring more light inside the house,” says Williams, who introduced structure with clusia hedges and added gardenias and jasmine for fragrance. “The interior design is clean and fresh, so that’s how we wanted the landscape to feel.”
Despite the tight schedule, the project came together seamlessly. At wrap-up, the husband—in true businessman fashion—did a performance review with each team member, Kavanaugh recounts. “He sat me down and said, ‘Ellen we’ve worked with many designers, but you were the first to really understand what my wife and I like and want,’ ” she recalls. “We got their aesthetic right off the bat. It just clicked.”