When Melanie and Chris Hill arrived in Palm Beach to visit his grandparents in 1985, the couple anticipated an antiques shopping bonanza to help fill their shop in Tuscola, Illinois. Instead, they bought a business, Kofski Antiques, and relocated to Florida. By the late ‘80s, the Hills had taken the business to another level. They owned five warehouses and employed 60 sales staff, staging eight major estate sales a year that magnetized interior and landscape designers, as well as bargain-hunting homeowners. Waiting lines formed at 5 a.m. for the 9 o’clock opening. Carleton Varney also established his lemon-yellow Dorothy Draper showroom in the area, and it continues to showcase his legacy.
And years ago, Devonshire, the antique English garden shop, found its niche selling remarkable decorative items that co-owners Nelson Hammell and Pete Hawkins cull from worldwide travels. Today, the semi-gritty thoroughfare—dominated by metal Quonset huts, auto-body shops, rug-cleaning facilities, and countless basic service enterprises, and interspersed with a few stone statuary warehouses, ironworks, and a rattan furniture repair shop—is rapidly gentrifying. Georgia Avenue and other pockets of West Palm Beach, as well as tony Palm Beach itself, are welcoming a raft of new talent that is invigorating its already heady persona.
Among the enthusiastic group, designer Meg Braff is a vibrant newcomer to Georgia Avenue. The Tupelo, Mississippi, native, a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Parsons School of Design who is known for her “signature take on traditional glamour,” is proudly ensconced in the old Epco Inc. and Dixie Blueprinting building across the street from the Authentic Provence showroom. In a nod to Meg’s innate flair, the mint-green-and-white Regency, one-story building beckons potential clients with its rooftop urns, Bermuda-shuttered windows, and grass-inlaid walkway. “I bought it during COVID in the summer of 2020,” she says. “It was a shabby building that clearly had to be gutted. We reimagined a parking lot out back into a garden and event space, and we also purchased a small house and cottage for staff who travel from my Locust Valley location.” Explaining that the move was “an easy transition,” Meg says her lively business ranges from “great apartments to lovely houses, as well as lots of ‘away’ projects in the Caribbean and all over the U.S.”
More from Meg: “Meg Braff Lives with Style and Joy” “Southern Hospitality on the North Shore” Follow Meg Braff Designs Palm Beach on Instagram.
Next door, Danielle Rollins credits Meg for finding the low-slung building she purchased in August 2022. “She called to tell me the ‘60s building that was home to a tile company, upholsterer, piano repair shop, and cobbler was for sale, and that I had to buy it,” Danielle says. “Opening a shop was my longtime dream. After building a profitable business and writing two books, this was the next step.” The designer says that she always pictured herself in Palm Beach. “It’s an exciting, dynamic, marvelous time to be here. I love creating an environment in my shop that’s both pretty and comfortable. I carry great hostess gifts, as well as unique finds in the form of collectible furniture, tabletop, and art.”
More from Danielle: “Q&A with Danielle Rollins” “Blood Orange Old Fashioned Recipe” Follow Danielle Rollins on Instagram.
Renny & Reed
Approximately eight blocks down Georgia Avenue, the former Kofski property has morphed into a glistening white space for Renny & Reed, an event-planning business. Inside, the themed scene changes regularly with esoteric props, shimmering trees, glowing candles, and thousands of flowers. Affable Reed McIlvaine, nephew of legendary horticulturist and party planner Renny Reynolds, recounts his start in the business. “I was unhappy in the dot-com world, so someone suggested I try working for my uncle,” says Reed. “My first event was a bat mitzvah at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, then a party on The St. Regis roof, followed by a mega yacht weekend off the coast of Sardinia. No wonder I was hooked.” After trying several Manhattan locations for his business, Reed decided to make the move to West Palm Beach. Today, Renny & Reed is the largest floral and events business in town.
More from Renny & Reed: “Meet Reed McIlvaine” “Renny Reynolds’ Planned Jungle” Follow Renny & Reed on Instagram.
Just minutes away, Fernando Wong is settling into his offices in an Antique Row villa on busy South Dixie Avenue. “We are enjoying the conveniences of West Palm Beach while still maintaining offices in New York and Miami,” says the Panamanian-born architect, interior designer, and landscape architect. In 2001, Fernando lived out his dream of moving to the American South by settling in Miami. There he was hired on a team designing and installing gardens at the University of Miami, where he learned the basics of landscape architecture. “The hands-on experience was invaluable,” says Fernando. “I asked everyone, including the guy who moved plants, to give me tips.” Since then, his talent for creating stunning, naturalistic settings has landed projects with great visibility, including a series of Four Seasons Hotels and a number of residences in posh Baker’s Bay in the Bahamas.
More from Fernando: “The Lush Life with Fernando Wong” “Design Chats from ADAC In Bloom” Follow Fernando Wong on Instagram.
Off South Dixie Avenue, floral and events planner Lewis Miller, a California native and New York transplant, is visibly enthusiastic about his move to West Palm Beach thanks to his burgeoning business and his restored Florida home. Lewis achieved celebrity status for his “Flower Flashes,” colossal, outdoor floral installations that he placed in unique locations all over Manhattan. But the designer confesses that after living in the Big Apple for 20 years, he wanted a change. “I signed on for a warehouse in Palm Beach in July and then bought a three-bedroom, Spanish Mission-style house in need of restoration,” he says. “I had Old Florida and Ernest Hemingway in mind during the redo.” And while he has immersed himself in South Florida both personally and professionally, Lewis also continues to work with clients across the globe. “I travel to wherever my existing clients need me, including the Caribbean islands, to organize their galas or weddings,” he says. “We celebrate an abundant, fresh look that is not about stodgy hydrangeas. I especially love the earthy sensuousness of pairing flowers with fruit. Like a lush Flemish painting, it never looks boring.”
More from Lewis: “Lewis Miller’s Dahlia Arrangement How-To” “Lewis Miller’s Flower Flashes” “Lewis Miller’s Masterful Approach” “Instagram Accounts to Follow If You Love Flowers” Follow Lewis Miller Design on Instagram.
Across the bridges to Palm Beach Island, Amanda Lindroth offers a different design sensibility in her shop on South County Road. “I have been living and working in the Bahamas for 30 years, but I decided to open this little shop about eight years ago to become more visible in the U.S.,” she says. “As a result, we now have clients in Nantucket, Sea Island, and many other similar places. I also am overseeing the design of a new 100-room hotel on John’s Island on the Kiawah River in South Carolina.” And the designer’s reach will continue to expand even more as she just acquired the former C Oricco dress shop for her showroom.
More from Amanda: “Amanda Lindroth on Island Time” “The Art of Giving” Follow Lindroth Design on Instagram.
Several blocks down South County Road, on historic Phipps Plaza, pale lilac awnings announce the showroom of celebrated jeweler Mish Tworkowski. Almost like a delicious secret, the showroom is tucked in an elegant, landmarked stucco building designed by Addison Mizner. At the entrance, dozens of massive pots hold hopelessly happy plants and trees, while curtains of red bougainvillea shimmy up pale pink walls. Inside, rooms are bathed in the luscious lavender that Mish adores (Benjamin Moore’s “Heather Plum” paint), a decadent hue he feels is akin to being inside one of his gorgeous gift boxes. “I was born brimming with energy,” the jeweler says with a buoyancy that can’t be copied or learned.
After graduating from Rutgers and the University of London, where he studied art history, Mish landed a dream job at Sotheby’s in London. There he rotated among departments, including 20th-Century Art, Rock & Roll Memorabilia, Jewelry, and Rare Coins. “There are constant ‘eureka’ moments in the auction business, as well as exposure to amazing quality and workmanship,” says Mish. “My work reflects that, including my respect for an unusual variety of materials.” Unique items include everything from petrified-palm wood earrings with brown diamonds and lustrous abalone grey pearls to a dazzling, 70-strand diopside necklace.
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A block away, David Phoenix radiates satisfaction from a lofty, sunlit studio on Seaview Avenue. Outside, tall cascades of magenta bougainvillea become living columns on white stucco walls, while window boxes of neatly tended geraniums complete the inviting scene.
“I started coming to Palm Beach in 2018 for work, and I always thought I could live here happily someday,” says David. Raised in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, he left his hometown after high school and moved to California, where he landed his first job baking brownies at Disney. After a stint in the sample room at Pierre Deux, David joined Ralph Lauren’s flagship store in Beverly Hills. Along the way, Dinah Shore offered him her own brownie recipe, and Barry Diller offered him some good advice. “He told me, ‘Think big and you’ll be big,’ ” says David. That advice remains at the forefront of every business move the designer makes.
In 2020, David decided to relocate and set up shop on Palm Beach. “I feel lucky to be here,” he says. “The town still has a village feel to it; everything is close by.” In his new space, he continues to design collections for Hickory Chair Furniture Co., something he has been involved with since 2017. Interior projects range from a spacious Montana log cabin to a waterfront family residence at The Abaco Club in the Bahamas, as well as new construction in fabulous Alys Beach and several Park Avenue apartments.
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At the western end of Worth Avenue, Casa Branca reflects the je ne sais quoi persona of its owner, Alessandra Branca. The respected designer reflects panache and possesses a deep knowledge of antiquities, gleaned from her studies at Oxford University and Lake Forrest College, as well as her expansive travel and a curated upbringing in Rome. “People ask if I sell furniture, but I always explain that no, I sell design,” says Alessandra. “I like to disarm people with beautiful things, but my brand is a separate business from interior design,” she says of the shop brimming with her inspired collections of bespoke cupboards, lacquered cocktail tables, rattan étagères, and porcelain flowers that bring depth to her designs. “If you only follow a recipe, you never create something new or interesting.”
That philosophy is quietly apparent in the chic persona of her shop, as well as in the fabric and wallpaper hues of her brand. “I don’t encourage anyone to come to me with a photograph from a magazine,” Alessandra says. “Doing a house is as personal as painting a portrait. You don’t bring a photo of someone else’s work and ask to copy it. It’s like putting your client’s head on someone else’s body.”
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Ala von Auersperg
Along Worth Avenue, Ala von Auersperg enjoys living above her tiny clothing shop and its charming, flower-filled courtyard. “I am essentially a painter, but I am acutely aware of the need to design comfortable, versatile attire for women over 40,” she says. “So I do my drawings and paintings, and my partner, Larry Black, puts them on fabric. We create these beautiful pieces that are multifaceted and travel well.” Ala says her customers include women of all ages, even her own daughter.
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By Marion Laffey Fox | Photography by Carmel Brantley