A Cure for the Common Condo
The symptoms: a washed-out palette and a down-and-out vibe. The Rx: a little reconstructive surgery, followed by a heavy dose of wallpaper, fabric, and paint
Picture the ubiquitous, mundane mid-rise beach condo. That’s just what decorator Phoebe Howard, the tastemaker behind Mrs. Howard and Max & Company (in Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Charlotte), encountered when she took on this Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, project.
The directives? Brown, yes; wicker, no. “That was hard,” Phoebe says, “because you naturally go to wicker and blue and white for a beach house.” But because Phoebe eschews clichés, she was up to the challenge.
To rid the condo of light-barring walls and cramped, cheerless spaces, Phoebe completely gutted it. Her first move was to push the three bedrooms to the side and back of the condo, giving each at least one window and leaving the hardworking spaces, like the kitchen and baths, for the central, windowless core.
Next, she designed a great room that stretches from the front door to the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that open to the water, bringing natural light all the way to the back of the unit.
Rather than divide this central space―dining room meets living room meets sleeping porch―with permanent partitions and doors, Phoebe placed hinged screens between each to mark transitions without breaking up the overall flow.
The light-filled floor plan “lives open,” allowing several family members to use the same space at once―some reading, some taking in the water view, some having a bite―without disturbing each other.
With the floor plan in place, Phoebe set her sights on adding architectural detail to prevent the condo’s interior from looking like the inside of a drywalled box. She installed oak floors stained dark to resemble old European hardwoods, then enlisted stepson Andrew to help design a kitchen island and bath vanities that distinguish the condo from the run-of-the-mill builder’s special.
Elegant baseboards and heavy casements and trim around the windows and doorways add polish, while other elements, such as louvered shutters and bold light fixtures, create a residence that reads more like a single-family house than a lackluster second-story condo.
For the owners’ requested palette, Phoebe took a cue from the faux wood screens and incorporated natural-tone furnishings spanning from bleached driftwood to stained teak. “It’s amazing how warm and cool brown can be,” Phoebe says of the anchoring color. “That’s perfect for a family who uses a space year-round.” Offsetting the predominantly brown hues are accessories in pale blues, orange, and russet pink.
Because Phoebe was limited by the palette, she established variety with different textures. Faux-bois and fabric wallcoverings, natural-fiber rugs, and rustic furnishings add richness and depth, echoed by organic surfaces like marble backsplashes and granite countertops.
Phoebe notes that working with a restricted palette also means the sky’s the limit when it comes to pattern. “Using one color family makes it easier to mix bold geometrics with classic stripes and feminine florals―which is good for me because I don’t like to choose just one,” she says.
Allergic to waterfront-theme houses, Phoebe suggested subtle seaside decor: an antique sailor’s valentine over a bed, a sea star that hides amid the swirled pattern of a throw pillow. The result is a home with awe-inspiring views of the nearby Atlantic Ocean and trappings that accent, rather than exploit, that relationship. Now the only question is whether to enjoy the indoors or the outdoors. Seems like just the right kind of problem to have.