Tropical Punch: Kemble interiors

Interior designers Mimi McMakin and Cece Bowman of Kemble interiors stir things up in a dated Palm Beach apartment with a refreshing cocktail of color, texture, and local flavor

An oversize black-and-white photo of a giraffe anchors the west end of the light-filled living room. Art enthusiasts, the owner and his daughter procured many of the pieces that McMakin and Bowman of Kemble Interiors integrated into the design.

“We learned to choose our words very carefully,” says interior designer Mimi McMakin of Kemble Interiors, describing the conversations she and her design partner, Cece Bowman, had with their male client. “We exchanged ‘pretty’ for ‘handsome’ and ‘beautiful’ for ‘attractive,’ and when we’d slip up, we would scramble to find manlier words to articulate our vision.” Lucky for McMakin and Bowman, fumbling for appropriate adjectives was perhaps the only occupational hazard they experienced during the extensive remodel of their client’s Palm Beach apartment.

bright yellow floral arrangements

A trio of arrangements of open tulips and veronica

A mirror-backed bar is tucked behind 5-by-7-foot pocket doors painted with an antique jungle scene and framed in zebrawood.

When the New York businessman and single father of two purchased the 3,000-square-foot penthouse in 2019, it had been untouched for years, possibly even decades. Low ceilings, choppy rooms, and wall-to-wall carpeting made it feel smaller than its actual footprint, while heavy window treatments darkened spaces and concealed pristine vistas of the gardens, golf course, sand, and sea.

Raised beds and massive containers bursting with native plants elevate the terrace to tropical-oasis status.

Working with architect Mark Marsh of Bridges, Marsh & Associates, McMakin and Bowman set out to right the structure’s architectural wrongs by dreaming up bespoke design details that would make the most of every inch and angle. In the living room, they made an unconventional move when they opted to highlight the 9-foot ceiling rather than deflect from it. Their let’s-make-the-most-of-it mindset led to one of the apartment’s most striking attributes: the cypress-paneled ceiling with molding applied in a sprawling geometric design.

“Most people would see a low ceiling as a design flaw, but we embraced it,” says McMakin. “It gave us the opportunity to do something playful and different in an unexpected place. It’s one of the first things to get noticed, but now it gets noticed in a good way!”

A table made from camel bone, a mirror framed in porcupine quills, and a chandelier of gilded branches are among the living room’s most surprising and sophisticated appointments. The glazed green bookcases double as secret doors.

Their ingenuity didn’t stop at the top. The living room also houses a full-service bar hidden behind a set of pocket doors disguised as an antique painting and enchanting built-in bookcases that lead double lives as secret doors to the library and master suite.

“The bookcases go far beyond their obvious use of holding books and displaying decoration,” says McMakin. “They also improve the flow and offer the owner an efficient, private way to travel through the house, and they make a great conversation starter to boot. They’re like something straight out of a James Bond movie!”

home library

In lieu of traditional dark colors and rich stains in the library, the designers enlisted a light, earthy palette peppered with pickled and faux-tortoiseshell finishes.

These weren’t the only tricks the designers had up their sleeves when it came to devising smooth transitions between spaces. They used repetition of colors, patterns, materials, and textures to link interior rooms together and blur the lines between the indoors and outdoors. Throughout the main living areas, walls wrapped in raffia share their sandy color with the beaches below, just as the lightly pickled finish of the cypress millwork recalls sun-bleached driftwood.

“The week after we completed the installation, we returned to find that the owner had covered every surface with fresh greenery and flowers! At this moment, we no longer saw the apartment as a project but as a real family home.” —designer Mimi McMakin

Because they kept the palette simple, the designers allowed themselves the leeway to go bold on the upholstery and window treatments.

The climbing vines on the vanity cabinets read like a hybrid of botanical and geometric motifs. The contemporary mirror above is a modified, more youthful version of the traditional sunburst style.

Vibrant greens mirror the lush gardens and towering treetops, while electric blues echo the crystal-clear water and sky. The cool, crisp hues are woven through layers of luxe textiles, including carpets, draperies, wallcoverings, and upholstery dressed in clean-lined geometric patterns and free-form botanical prints, including palm fronds, leaves, and climbing vines.

Even the furnishings convey a tropical flair. Handcrafted from exotic elements like bone, bamboo, teak, and rattan, these tables, chairs, beds, and benches impose strength and offer contrast to the soft silk-wool carpets and plush, down-filled cushions.

palm beach-style blue-and-white bedroom by Kemble Interiors

To keep all eyes on the view, a palette of blue and white was enlisted for the oceanfront bedroom.

“Playing with texture is one of the great joys of decorating,” says McMakin. “It’s what gives a room interest and depth and makes it feel cozy. For this project, we chose textures rooted in nature that speak to the home’s sense of place. Because each one was simple, we piled them up—layer on top of layer—to create interiors that are fresh and unfussy.”

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To unify the adjoining kitchen and living room, the designers continued the use of raffia on the walls and pickled cypress for the cabinets and woodwork.
Left: Landscape architect Keith Williams of Nievera Williams transformed the terrace into a rooftop resort equipped with a small putting green, lounge chairs, and swings for reading and relaxing. Right: Tall bedposts and vertically striped wallcovering make the ceiling feel higher.
In this bedroom, matchstick blinds lower from a header of crown molding made of natural bamboo that’s been torched to mimic tortoiseshell.
Tortoiseshell-patterned wallcovering wraps the powder room from floor to ceiling, including the vanity, which is outfitted with a geometric molding for dimension.

By Margaret Zainey Roux | Photography by Carmel Brantley


Interior design, Mimi McMakin and Cece Bowman of Kemble Interiors Palm Beach, kembleinteriors.com; architecture, Mark Marsh of Bridges Marsh & Associates, bridgesmarsharchitects.com; landscape architecture, Keith Williams of Nievera Williams, nieverawilliams.com.

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