Everyone needs to get away at times, which explains why the celebrated floral designer and event planner Renny Reynolds and his partner, garden writer Jack Staub, found themselves scanning southern Florida in search of a seaside spot that would be a seasonal home away from their primary residence, an 18th-century Pennsylvania farm. But just when they were about to settle down in Palm Beach, the couple’s real-estate broker, sensing some hesitation on his clients’ part, suggested they might get more for their money in nearby Point Manalapan, a flyspeck-size community on the southern tip of Hypoluxo Island. Although pricey, properties there are still a relative bargain compared to neighboring areas–and most face the glittering liquid thoroughfare known as the Intracoastal Waterway.
The house that captured their attention was a Bermuda-type structure designed in the 1960s by Henry Harding, a local architect heralded for his tasteful takes on Regency, Art Deco, and British colonial styles. Though dated in looks and neglected in condition, the low-slung one-story building occupied a generous south-facing lot on the Intracoastal; the off-the-beaten-track location of Point Manalapan was appealing too. Referring to the social whirl that gridlocks Palm Beach, Reynolds says, “We have come to appreciate being in the eye of the hurricane.” Here he and Staub can hide out in blissful solitude or pop up to P.B. and join the scene.
What set the house apart from its neighbors was its curvilinear roofline, which Reynolds thought seemed vaguely Asian. That stylistic element, coupled with the fact that he and Staub have traveled extensively in the Far East and collected art and artifacts along the way, determined a decorating strategy. “Have you ever seen so many Buddhas?” Reynolds wryly asks. “It’s not exactly Zen austere.”
To accommodate the chinoiserie-meets-jungle aesthetic that Reynolds was pursuing, more than 3,000 square feet of the concrete driveway was dug up and the expanded landscape remodeled into a parade of romantic outdoor spaces shaped by pergolas and hedges that obscure the house from the street. An inadequate canvas canopy out back was replaced by a permanent loggia that, when the sliding-glass doors are fully open, doubles the size of the living room and puts the vista center stage. “It’s all about the view and living on the water,” says Reynolds as the sound of rippling water fills the air–emanating from both the Intracoastal and a new fountain installed along one side of the house.
The indoors feels like outdoors too. Rattan sofas, chairs, and tables–including 1940s pretzel-armed pieces by Austrian-American modernist Paul T. Frankl–are supplemented with antique and modern furniture principally acquired along the Antique Row stretch of South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. The extravagant mirrors framed with layers of seashells were made by Staub. The mural of coconut palms, philodendrons, parrots, and creeping iguanas painted on the living room’s tray ceiling is an ongoing project by artist Claudia Funke, who adds bits here and there when she visits. It is an exotic accompaniment to Reynolds and Staub’s collection of paintings, drawings, and photographs by artist friends such as Jennifer Bartlett, Andy Warhol, Bruce Weber, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Ed Ruscha. “All kinds of different things playing off each other makes for an upbeat look,” insists Reynolds, a good-natured guy who can appreciate a basketball-size blowfish as much as he can a lacy metal lantern. “I love mixing serious pieces with not-so-swell things from yard sales and Pier 1.”
More mundane furnishings get a potent dose of panache from a fresh coat of paint or cushions covered in fancy fabrics. The decoration of the private spaces–especially the master and guest bedrooms–is decidedly less exuberant. The laundry room became a bedroom dressed in muted tones, and a space designed originally as staff quarters is now a delightfully private chamber with a picture-postcard view of the Intracoastal. “It has become the favorite of all the guest rooms with our visitors,” Reynolds says.
The couple’s driving philosophy was to clean up the interiors rather than engage in demolition and reconstruction. “We didn’t want to go overboard,” the floral designer explains. Walls did not come tumbling down, though the popcorn-texture ceilings were skim-coated, and some garish tile floors were removed or covered up. The 1960s kitchen cabinets were updated with new hardware and green and yellow paint, and the old-fashioned jalousies have been replaced with modern hurricaneproof windows.
Reynolds and Staub are so pleased with this island home that they want everyone they know to join in the fun. To that end they purchased the house next door and transformed it into expansive guest quarters, fulfilling the couple’s dream of a stylish cottage compound that welcomes family and friends alike. Sounds like Palm Beach has met its match.