“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.
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.
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!”
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!”
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
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.
“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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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.