This New Palm Beach House Is Bursting With Old Florida Charm
It isn’t every day that an empty lot comes on the market in the historic town, so when it did, these homeowners jumped—and built an island escape with all the character of Old Florida.
Pigeon plum trees and bougainvillea flank the French doors leading to the master bedroom. The pavers are crafted of coquina, a durable stone that stays cool under the hot Florida sun, and the powder-coated steel loungers are from the Celerie Kemble collection.
“A rare lot had come on the market on the quiet, north end of Palm Beach,” says interior designer Ashley Sharpe. The property had views of the bustling inlet and its parade of beautiful boats, and a New York couple with three grown children quickly snapped it up. “They wanted an escape from the city, a getaway where their entire family could come together,” notes Sharpe, formerly of Kemble Interiors, the firm that helmed the design of the couple’s warm-weather escape
The homeowners’ first ideas seem difficult to envision now: a white, streamlined house that would look and feel relaxed. “We delivered on the relaxed part, but we challenged them on the white palette,” recalls Sharpe, who partnered with architect Roger Janssen of Dailey Janssen Architects on the project. “This is Palm Beach, after all. You can’t have a monotone house here.” Plus, she believed color was a key component of that comfortable vibe her clients were after, so she encouraged them to think about the rooms as extensions of South Florida’s vibrant landscape.
It worked, and the result is a vibrant retreat imbued with a strong sense of history. “I drew inspiration from the surrounding Palm Beach landscape, and from working on projects such as The Breakers, the Bath and Tennis Club, and so many homes both new and historic,” she says, citing her collaborations with Mimi McMakin, founder of Kemble Interiors. McMakin “knows the design language here like no other,” says Sharpe, who has since started her own firm in New York. Here’s more on how Sharpe gave the new home a sense of authenticity and belonging in one of the country’s most historic island neighborhoods.
The homeowners didn’t want a formal living room, so Sharpe instead designed a cozy family room off the kitchen. “Everything in here started with the fabric on the sofa, which screamed ‘Palm Beach’ to me with its Chinese Chippendale motif and vibrant colors,” she says. To emphasize informality, she layered in lots of varied textures, from the club chair fringe to the woven jute shades. “When everything looks like a treat to touch, it makes the whole room feel more approachable,” she explains. Even the walls are burlap and accented with textured gray stitching.
“Nothing relaxes a space or gives it a sense of history more than layers upon layers of texture.” —designer Ashley Sharpe
Grand entry stairs are practically de rigueur in Old Palm Beach, but Sharpe updated the architectural standard in the entry with glazed aquamarine walls. “The hue is very similar to the color of the ocean here,” says Sharpe, who added a vertical, hand-painted acanthus leaf pattern, which helps elongate the space. A sunshine yellow sofa is a reminder of fair skies outdoors, and the side table delivers another quintessential local design detail: rattan. The flooring is travertine in a cut-star pattern, and the seating fabric is by China Seas.
In the kitchen, Sharpe crafted a colorful green backsplash with cement tiles hand-painted in the Dominican Republic. “Everywhere you go on the island, you’re likely to find hand-painted tiles, so these really pull in a great sense of place,” she says. The mahogany butcher block, bleached to match the overhead beams, is paired with stools upholstered in a durable ticking stripe by Perennials. Clear globe pendants by The Urban Electric Co. temper the pretty pattern mix.
“We couldn’t have had a sleek white kitchen in this house. It would’ve felt so out of place.” —Ashley Sharpe
Sharpe aimed for simplicity in the dining room, where a paneled, vaulted ceiling and views of the tropical landscape bring built-in beauty. She emphasized the organic elements with a loose garden theme that echoes the verdant greenery: chairs upholstered in chartreuse velvet, a subtle leaf print framing the windows, and a trellis-patterned rug. “When the sun crosses the room, the light is really lovely, and it makes the silk in the rug shimmer,” she says. The chandelier’s draped wooden beading is another nod to the tropical environment. The walnut pedestal table is by Baker.
Though guests enter through the more formal foyer, the homeowners typically use the back door off the laundry room. “I didn’t want them to walk into a drab old utility room every time they entered the house,” says Sharpe, who lined the walls and floors with more hand-painted tiles and dressed up the cabinetry doors with diagonal slats. “These details disguise work zones and envelop the corridor in color and a happy sense of arrival.”
Though this guest room is dressed in shades of chartreuse and honeydew—classic Palm Beach hues—the palette really needed a surprise pop of color, says Sharpe. So she dressed the bench in a magenta Lulu DK fabric to enliven the space with a deeper tone. “One unexpected hit of color like this can make a room feel vivacious and happy,” she says. The sunburst rattan bed and nightstand with polished bamboo detailing relax the space with familiar Florida materials.
“I wanted each of the guest rooms to have a playful, get-away-from-it-all vibe,” notes Sharpe, who used fanciful shades of coral to draw guests into full escape mode. The pickled cypress bed by Century is upholstered in a sea-blue ombré fabric that “has a watery effect—to me, it’s almost like a snapshot of the ocean,” says the designer. The armchair is upholstered in a peacock linen by Lisa Fine Textiles.
A large-scale floral by Raoul Textiles that Sharpe used on the windows was the starting point for this guest room’s dynamic pattern mix, which ranges from red medallion and copper-toned graphic prints to a vibrant tree pattern. Natural grasscloth wallpaper by Phillip Jeffries and Matouk white bedding banded with green help balance out the lively fabric blend.
To dial up the serenity in the master bedroom (while still maintaining a visual connection to the rest of the house), Sharpe again looked to the environment to maintain a sense of harmony. “This bedroom opens onto the pool, so there’s this lovely view of blue water and lush greenery that I wanted to reflect inside,” she says. The muted turquoise drapery and navy raffia wallpaper play against one another like varying shades of the ocean, with a faux sea urchin mirror adding another pretty salute to the sea. The mahogany pencil-post bed is by Rose Tarlow; the bench is by Oly.
For the spacious loggia, which overlooks the pool, Sharpe chose finishes to create a seamless transition between indoors and outdoors. The painted cypress decking and pickled beams run from the family room through the doors to the loggia. The pale Jerusalem stone floor features a green tile inlay, mimicking grass inlays typical of Palm Beach. “I had a magazine clipping of something similar that I’d been holding onto for years, and finally got to use this trick,” Sharpe says. The bases of the table are hand-carved teak, designed by Sharpe, and the chairs are custom designed in off-white and black by Glac Seat.
Landscape designer Jorge Sanchez (SMI Landscape Architecture) designed a broad cypress pergola along the privacy wall. Climbing vines like blue trumpet and bleeding heart mingle with soaring banana trees for an evergreen canopy above the poolside lounge, which Sharpe outfitted with weather-resistant synthetic rattan furniture.