From the outside, this Mediterranean-style mansion — with its terracotta-tiled roofs, limestone columns and ornate wrought-iron gates — upholds the enduring traditions of the classic Palm Beach palazzo. But the interiors, by Francis Nicdao and Stephanie Sarkies-Schabot, of the New York–based design studio Pembrooke & Ives, tell a decidedly different and thoroughly 21st-century story.
“The Palm Beach that people think they know has an older mystique,” Nicdao says. “Now, it’s becoming more about younger families opening themselves up to a lifestyle that’s luxurious but not stuffy. It’s less serious and more casual.”
The three-level, 18,500-square-foot home — built in the past decade and recently decorated by Pembrooke & Ives for a fun-loving longtime New York client — proves his point. Driven by the homeowner’s exceptional and exuberant tastes in contemporary art and decor, and her brief to create a comfortably elegant yet playful winter retreat for her extended family, the designers fashioned six luxuriously appointed guest suites influenced by Art Deco and Old Hollywood glamour, as well as multiple stylish spaces for both formal and casual entertaining, dining, lounging and working.
A rainbow of colorful art enlivens every room. To showcase the owner’s stellar collection of works by, among others, Robert Rauschenberg, Alex Katz, Yayoi Kusama and DAMIEN HIRST, the designers transformed the grand marble-floored entry hall and enormous living room into a gallery-like setting with high-gloss white walls.
“The idea was to create subdued, calm spaces where the artwork is what pops,” Sarkies-Schabot explains, adding that, throughout the house, the homeowner’s collection keeps company with equally of-the-moment furnishings and decor. In addition to custom upholstery and case goods, the designers and client gravitated to important limited-edition art-furniture pieces like Fredrikson Stallard’s Crush coffee tables, one-of-kind lighting by Jeff Zimmerman and designs by such international luminaries as Patrick Naggar, Philippe Hiquily, Hervé Van der Straeten and the Campana Brothers.
In a front entry defined by its dramatic sweeping staircase, a library table from the Italian architect Vincenzo De Cotiis provides an angular counterpoint to a biomorphic chair by Markus Haase, a large-scale circular spin-art canvas by Hirst and the curvaceous female form of a monumental Manolo Valdes bronze. “We call her La Reina,” Nicdao says, drawing a complimentary comparison to the client. “The idea is that she’s the queen of the house who welcomes you when you come in.”
With 28-foot-high coffered ceilings, the 1,600-square-foot living room was, perhaps, more cavernous than cozy. The designers corrected the space’s scale and detailing issues by grandly reframing its doors with stone casings and faux-finished pediments.
Punctuated by these newly neoclassical doorways, the side walls of the living room offered opportunities to create art and design vignettes: a Hirst hanging above a postmodernist bench; a Kusama paired with a sleek Hiquily console and Roberto Rida lamp. “Part of not taking things too seriously is that we don’t need to present art by itself all the time,” Nicdao says. “So, yes, we will put a lamp in front of a Kusama and will not be apologetic about it, because it looks better that way.”
The design team also added square columns to create the sense of a hallway between the living room and a long run of windows with waterfront views. And they illuminated the space with four-foot-tall custom bronze sconces with onyx lenses by Niamh Barry from Maison Gerard.
“The sconces had to be huge,” Sarkies-Schabot says with a laugh. “How else do you keep up with the scale of the room and make it feel habitable?”
To bring intimacy and utility to the sprawling space, she created two mirror-image seating areas with large custom sofas and pairs of lounge chairs and coffee and side tables. “The owner loves having gathering points for entertaining,” Sarkies-Schabot says, “and she’s quite a symmetry enthusiast.” Reinforcing the sense of place and luxurious serenity, the designer employed a sophisticated spin on a beach-house palette: cream, seafoam blue and sandy browns, with the gleam of polished wood tables and the glamorous accents of bronze and brass furniture.
Seating 28, the formal dining room evokes the mid-century spirit of Dorothy Draper and Hollywood Regency interiors with a vibrant hand-painted floral wallpaper, an Aria buffet by Paul Mathieu and the owner’s antique dining tables with armchairs by James Magni. “It’s a more modern take on classic Palm Beach dining spaces,” Sarkies-Schabot explains. “The client said, ‘Give me something new — nothing old or boring.’ So, we had Jeff Zimmerman create a 17-foot-long Galaxy Cluster chandelier that looks like a cloud of light illuminating a tropical garden.”
Elaborate ceiling fixtures, a Pembrooke & Ives signature, are focal points throughout. In the country-house-style breakfast room, the artist Chris Wolston’s leafy, multihued Tropical chandelier perfectly complements a painting from photorealist Roberto Bernardi’s “Candyland” series, hung amid a suite of Vik Muniz works.
On the top floor, the designers enlarged the primary suite, adding an entryway worthy of a high-end fashion boutique. Its two glass doors provide a view of an Ugo Rondinone “Sun” canvas hung above a seemingly levitating Van der Straeten Murale Borderline console in a rosy gold finish. Feeling that the existing bathroom was a little narrow, Nicdao had its walls and tub clad in marble, “to make it look like it was carved out of one monolithic stone.” He then added sparkle with massive mirrors and a Simone Crestani chandelier with stylized glass seashells, from Bernd Goeckler Antiques.
The designers tore down a wall of an adjoining bedroom to add a sitting room-cum-study to the primary suite. The custom hand-painted and silk-embroidered de Gournay floral wallpaper there provides a delicately beautiful backdrop for a handsome 1930s saber-legged Art Deco desk by Sanyas et Popot, sourced through Maison Gerard.
“We love Art Deco. It translates quite well in a city of skyscrapers like New York and even in Palm Beach, where you can go nautical with it or do something simpler,” Nicdao says.
For a guest bedroom ethereally sheathed in an ivory-hued Fromental silk wallpaper with applied Lalique crystal swallows and dahlias, the designers placed a Streamline Moderne–style armchair and ottoman and minimalist steel dressers — two with mirror-polished finishes flanking the bed and one whose drawer fronts are pavéed with selenite — on a silvery blue geometric-pattern rug. “It’s important that spaces have both comfort and a visual tension between shapes, colors and textures,” Sarkies-Schabot says. “That’s what keeps things from being matchy-matchy or boring.”
That visual tension is present outdoors as well as in. At one end of the minimalist swimming pool, contemporary white metal stools line up at an outdoor kitchen counter clad in Moroccan patterned tile that sits under a Riviera-style blue-and-white striped awning. At the other end is an enormous Nana statue by sculptor and feminist Niki de Saint Phalle depicting a full-figured female standing atop a brightly colored dolphin. “She really represents what this house is all about,” Sarkies-Schabot says. “A lighthearted spirit of fun.”