We Bet You've Never Seen a Town House This Gorgeous
The last thing you're likely to hear in a discussion about how to make a South Florida vacation home more livable is, "Hey, how about we get rid of the pool?" And yet it was the first item on interior decorator Ashley Whittaker's list when she walked through her clients' Gulf Stream town house. "No one could believe we were going to do it," she says. "It was a small plunge pool, but it managed to swallow up all the potential of the space. The first time I stepped through the French doors onto the back terrace, I felt like I was right on top of it."
Eliminating the pool took some convincing, but so did a lot of things Whittaker had in mind. The owners were familiar with the community because they had friends living here, but the wife had never actually seen this unit when they bought it. It's an interior town house, notes the designer, so only the front and rear walls have windows. "When she walked through it, she was petrified. It was dark, and a little spiritless. She saw a house that needed a top-to-bottom, full-scale renovation."
Whittaker, on the other hand, saw a house that needed a lot more light, a little freshening, and some cleaning up—not an all-out gut job. It would just require some ingenuity (for instance, replacing that pool on the terrace with a cool stretch of white coral stone). Here's a look at how a few brilliant, game-changing ideas flipped the switch for the 4,000-square-foot town house.
Give the Walls Top Billing
"I always start with the walls," Whittaker says. "Whether I'm adding lacquer, a glaze, wallpaper, even millwork, I think it's what makes a room feel finished." Here, she wrapped the entrance hall in a hand-painted tea paper by Gracie that layers soft shades of green and instantly brings depth to the entryway. Wainscot (painted Benjamin Moore's Chantilly Lace) adds architectural interest and a sense of formality. Whittaker found the antiqued mirror and Brighton-style rattan bench in the vintage shops along nearby Dixie Highway; the pagoda-style lantern is by Niermann Weeks.
Let Nature Be Your Guide
Whittaker opted to forgo a window shade in the kitchen, and instead hung palm-print wallpaper to amplify the tropical foliage outside the sash windows. "The pattern really brought the greenery forward and framed it, so we just let the trees serve as our window treatments," she says. She painted the cherry cabinetry white, and added blue subway tile inspired by the pops of peacock in the adjacent family and powder rooms. The counters are Carrara marble, and the hardware is polished nickel.
Light Up a Room with Lattice
Banishing the pool wasn't the only counterintuitive decision Whittaker made: She painted the walls in the dining room a custom, high-gloss brown as a means of brightening it up. The color tends to recede, but "the lacquer reflects light from the terrace," she says. "And the latticework is bright white, which is what your eye always picks up on first." Whittaker and the architectural team also installed white wainscot on the walls. "The combination is a great way to bring in the coziness of a formal dining room without making it feel dark or subdued."
Show Off Your Beach Gems
"In a tropical vacation house, you can't have too many organic treasures," says Whittaker, who used a glass-paned, 19th-century bamboo piece to showcase the owners' beach finds. To freshen up the staircase, architect Kiko Sanchez of FGS Architecture replaced the existing square, straight balusters with a more sophisticated Chippendale railing. Whittaker covered the walls in a warm grasscloth by Newcastle Fabrics, and hung a collection of antique botanical prints up the stairwell.
Invite the Top Brass
This petite marble-and-brass washstand is like a gleaming piece of jewelry in the powder room. Its slim-legged base helps create a feeling of openness in the tiny space—a cabinetry base might have crowded it—and its unlacquered brass finish reflects light. "Plus, its sparkle is a beautiful contrast to the wicker," says Whittaker. The turtle-print wallpaper is by Katie Ridder, and its color helps connect the powder room to adjacent living spaces.
Sneak In a Hideaway
In the upstairs study, which is next to the master bedroom, Whittaker wove together a selection of warmer colors and textures she'd used elsewhere in the house: Prussian blue linen, dark brown grasscloth, mossy green windowpane-checked wool, and English crewelwork. "This is a great place to sit at night and watch TV," says the designer. "It's designed for comfort." The sea turtle prints are from Wendover Art Group, and the grasscloth is by Phillip Jeffries.
Create Harmony With the Outdoors
The family room opens to the terrace by way of French doors. "Because the two spaces are so visually connected, everything in the room had to be very much in sync with the outdoors," says Whittaker. She altered the orientation of the family room by building a bookcase wall to house the television, and then positioned the sofa opposite the doors. "This turns the focus outward," says the designer, who also wove in natural textures like green and wood-toned grasscloth. Herringbone wool, which sounds unusual for a Florida home, adds another layer to the walls. "It's bright and sophisticated, and it feels sandy." she says. The Quadrille sofa and drapery fabric is an updated spin on the florals popular in the 1960s.
Play Up Prized Guest Quarters
Because it's all the way up on the top floor and has the only ocean view in the house, "I knew guests would feel a bit spoiled in a room like this," says Whittaker. In keeping with the idea of opulent accommodations, she brought in soft pinks by way of the Zoffany larkspur wallpaper, Serena & Lily quilt, and custom lamp shade. The headboard, too, has a luxurious sensibility, upholstered in a soft white matelassé fabric by Templeton. The bed is by Lee Industries.
Scale Things Down With a Four-Poster Bed
"The master bedroom is a big room, so one of the things we had to do was bring the scale down and make it feel cozier," says Whittaker. Her solution? Anchoring the room with a four-poster bed outfitted with sheer linen panels along the head of the tall frame. "It feels like a little nook," she adds. She also created a seating area with a tufted sofa and ottoman by the windows. "It's practical, but it also warms an oversize bedroom like this one—it makes it feel more inviting." The bed is by Oly, and the bedding is by Matouk.
Find Your Wild-Card Color
"I always think of a guest room as an opportunity to use a color that doesn't appear anywhere else in the house," Whittaker says. "It helps make it memorable and distinct." Here, it was a punchy citrus yellow, which she spotted in a fabric from Schumacher and then used as bed upholstery and a Roman shade. The Noguchi lantern helps make the room's high ceilings feel less cavernous. "The pendant works because it's big, but the design of it is simple and not overwhelming," says Whittaker. The wallpaper is by Meg Braff.