Preppy Florida Beach House Tour
Channel South Florida's Roots
The foyer of this 1920s home is a delightful dead giveaway to its South Florida pedigree: green palm wallpaper, lacquered vintage chairs with cotton candy pink seats, a scallop shell mirror. Right down to the flock of flamingos climbing the kitchen walls, the Old Palm Beach vernacular is loud and clear.
But it took some work to feel the prep again, says New York- and Boston-based designer Mary McGee. "When I first saw the house, the inside was dark. There was a pool table in the living room, and the kitchen cabinets were black," says the designer. Her longtime client was considering buying it, and asked her to take a look. "I said, Are you sure?' But my client saw the potential, and she was right," says McGee. The house had lots of space for the family of six, and it sat on an emerald lot with majestic hedges and arched wooden doors reminiscent of a secret garden. Plus, the kids would only have to walk to the end of the street to get to the beach.
The house needed no major renovations—just repainting, refinishing, and re-Palm-Beach-ifying. For McGee, that meant weaving in hallmarks of the aesthetic (vibrant pinks and greens, Regency-style antiques, quirky curiosities) without hammering away at a theme. She also expanded the classic palette to bring in a range of color variations, from raspberry to aqua. Here's more on the designer's fresh take on Palm Beach prep, and her secrets to balancing the right amount of kitsch with all-out cool.
Landscape designer Keith Williams of Nievera Williams framed the private entry courtyard with classic coral pavers, boxwood and ficus hedges, potted lilacs, and bougainvillea. He also included gardenia. "The scent is a fantastic welcome for guests," Williams says. The wicker furniture is from Palm Beach Regency.
Layer What You Love
"This is my very favorite room. It's small, but we layered in lots of really unique pieces, so every inch helps define the look," says McGee. She lacquered the wood floors in white, which reflects natural light throughout the room and lets the palm wallpaper and pink chairs shine. Quirky elephant corbels and a vintage mirrored chest contrast pure beach elements, like a large scallop shell mirror and coral candlesticks, to keep the combination fresh.
Pick Classic Patterns for Modern Shapes
Because the living room doesn't get as much sun as the other spaces, McGee painted the walls creamy white (a 50/50 mix of Benjamin Moore Decorator's White and Linen White) and used them to highlight electric shades of pink and green. "If you're going to put a pattern against a white wall, it needs to have a saturated background so it pops," she says. The modern, linear lines of the upholstered club chairs keep the traditional bamboo fabric feeling current rather than straight-off-the-lanai.Don't Sweat Symmetry
"Nothing in the living room is centered on the fireplace," says McGee. Because the sofa had to be centered on the opposite wall, which was shorter and interrupted by a walkway, the entire seating area had to shift to line up with it. With that in mind, McGee lowered the fireplace's profile with a flat stone surround and simple beveled trim painted the same hue as the walls.
Tropical bird patterns can be quiet and calming (really!). It's just a matter of scale and shade: "The pink in the wallpaper [by Cole and Sons] is very pale, and there is a lot of white space between the birds, so it's not as busy as a smaller-scale pattern would be," says McGee. And rather than rip out the previously all-black cabinetry, she removed the cabinet fronts and lacquered them in white, and then replaced the countertops with Calacatta marble.
Give Purple A Chance
Instead of bringing neutral accents into this pink sitting room, the designer went in the opposite direction. "Introducing an out-of-bounds color like purple is what makes this room really great," McGee says. And the Madeline Weinrib ikat and tie-dye patterns on the pillows give it "a little bohemian spirit," she adds. The tufted sofa and metal leaf coffee table are vintage; the slipper chairs are from Mecox.
Theme, Then Un-Theme
The owners use this room for meals and as a spot to work, so "it couldn't be overly formal," says McGee. A white carved-wood table fitted with a glass top gives the space the casual sensibility of a garden or sunroom, as do the shell mirror and sea urchin sconces. "But including a few pieces that contradict the theme is a good way to balance out the kitsch," she says, noting the mirrored console, the Slim Aarons photograph, and the tie-dye seat fabric from her own line, made in partnership with women's craft collectives in India.
Use Aqua in A Big Way at the Beach
"Aqua is such a great hue to use when you're close to the ocean," says McGee. "And keeping the room relatively monochromatic is soothing, so it works well in a master bedroom." The headboard is upholstered in an aqua ikat, and the pattern on the draperies is a bamboo trellis print, both by China Seas. The diamond-patterned jute carpet and wicker lounger bring in contrasting tones and textures for the fabrics and wall color.
Let Character Reign
The sisters who share the twin bedroom are 13 and 21, so McGee bridged the age gap by choosing enduring accessories. For instance, the flamingo watercolor and plaster Balinese lamp are ageless nods to the tropics and inject a layer of character. "The geometric patterns on the headboards and benches are fun, but they'll also always feel sophisticated," says McGee.
Play Up Florida Evergreens
The casual family room spans the width of the house and opens to the pool via glass-paned French doors. For visual continuity between the front and back yards, McGee gave green top billing and used white to ground the room in light. "The bright white walls, white Parson's table, and white wicker side tables bounce the sunlight, so the color on the sofas and drapes feels even more modern and striking," says the designer. She covered the sofas in a velvet chenille Manuel Canovas fabric that's durable and doesn't trap crumbs—a key choice because this is where the kids congregate to watch TV and play games.
Build A Bamboo Collection
Though the loggia's bamboo furniture doesn't appear disparate, McGee culled the vintage pieces from several sources. "It makes the design look more interesting and less commercial. I just bought pieces that were similar in material and style. When I felt like I had enough, I pulled them all together in the same white Sunbrella fabric," says the designer. She also painted the ceiling white and added the scalloped tenting. "I wanted the space to be serene," she says. The pink throw pillows are from McGee's own line.
The turquoise fabric on the pillows by the pool is by Quadrille.