magazine | Jun 9, 2023 |
The Colony’s redesign inspires a wave of new releases

The season’s sprightliest styles celebrate the vintage glamour of old Palm Beach.

The finest resort destinations do more than provide visitors with a change of scenery—they provide a refreshed state of mind. Case in point: The Colony Palm Beach, that legendary pink-hued hotel on the corner of South County Road and Hammon Avenue, which for the past 75 years has given guests—including Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, John Lennon and Judy Garland—a slice of South Florida paradise. “It is a social destination and an iconic landmark,” says Marie Penny, director of archives at the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach. “The hotel is integral to the area.”

When The Colony first opened in 1947, it was lauded for its distinct architecture, live music and fashionable interiors. “It was designed by Simonson & Holley during the city’s post–World War II construction boom,” says Rose Guerrero, director of research at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. “The hotel’s British Colonial–style architecture marks a shift from the Mediterranean Revival style that defined the region throughout the 1920s and ’30s.” 

The original lobby displayed a combination of art deco–inspired elements (think: glossy black terrazzo floors with brass insets and metallic wall treatments) and traditional coastal accents, including wicker furnishings, floral upholstery and a painted mural depicting an oceanside scene. “The design was very ‘Old Florida,’” says Sarah Wetenhall, the owner, president and CEO of the hotel. “It was elevated yet unique to Palm Beach.” 

The Colony’s redesign inspires a wave of new releases
The historic pink-hued Colony Palm Beach is a charming retreat laden with design inspiration Lesley Unruh

Since its inception, the hotel has undergone seven major renovations, including the addition of central air conditioning in the 1970s and a 2014 refresh by Carleton Varney. After Wetenhall purchased the hotel—once owned by her father-in-law, Robert C. Wetenhall—in 2016, she decided to implement a sweeping restoration of the lobby, restaurant and event spaces, pool area, guest rooms and suites. “We are a land-marked hotel, so it was crucial that our structure and essence remained intact,” she says. “Our goal was to create rooms that met five-star standards while staying authentic to the original design.” With that brief in mind, the new owner went in search of the ideal decorator to champion the hotel’s latest incarnation.

That’s where Mimi Maddock McMakin comes in. The founder of Kemble Interiors, she has spent a lifetime in Palm Beach and famously helped cultivate the modern local aesthetic. “It’s so hard to define the style in design terms, but it’s easy to describe how it feels: colorful, friendly and whimsical,” she says. “It’s a blend of fine items mixed with fun ones; beauty that doesn’t skimp on comfort; and one-of-a-kind accents that, despite their fragility, are meant to be used and enjoyed.” 

Last year, McMakin and and her team of six designers got to work at The Colony, employing a medley of old-world accents and fantastical features, including hand-painted de Gournay murals adorned with monkeys, flamingos and cougars alongside lush tropical patterned upholstery, vintage bamboo peacock chairs and wave-inspired scalloped edges. In the lobby, affectionately dubbed the Living Room, you’ll find the original terrazzo floors paired with a blush-pink wingback banquette with an undulating backrest, and brass palm leaf wall sconces by Currey & Company. The new poolside setup, which surrounds the hotel’s famed Florida-shaped pool, boasts a bevy of Chippendale-style chaise longues by Brown Jordan shaded by pea green–trimmed double-scalloped umbrellas. Guest rooms get the star treatment too—the color-themed suites, painted in a medley of Farrow & Ball hues that draw from the island’s vistas, feature pieces from an exclusive line of woven wicker and rattan furnishings designed by Society Social in collaboration with the hotel that nods to the hotel’s history and sensibility. 

The final scheme is every bit as imaginative as it is elegant, teeming with playful prints, natural materials and dreamy motifs that are sophisticated yet unfussy. “There’s a timelessness to the hotel that provides a sense of familiarity,” says Wetenhall. “Its heritage is presented in a way that’s relevant to today’s travelers, but above all else, feels like an escape.”

Homepage image: A hand-painted de Gournay mural in the lobby greets guests with an enchanting array of monkeys, flamingos and cougars | Carmel Brantley

This article originally appeared in Spring 2023 issue of Business of Home. Subscribe or become a BOH Insider for more.

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