Palm Beach Style
In the midst of a staggering industrial boom, a high school dropout from a dusty nowhere in Ohio was freshly minted by a moon bound conglomerate known as Standard Oil. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Henry Morrison Flagler raised to prominence as a feared and respected monopolist by his bootstraps, building on a succession of profitable companies to become one of the richest men in the world. Now rubbing shoulders in luxuriant rooms with the likes of other American tycoons and nearing old age, Henry sought to expand his burgeoning railway empire southward.
Henry’s search for land brought him to the previously unrecognized Palm Beach, where he was intrigued and delighted by the balmy climate. He immediately recognized the potential for a beachfront playground and knew just the right patricians to tell about it. Before long, Development was under way and great men of all stripes had flocked to its sandy shores. As a nascent relaxation colony developed, a new subculture was birthed. Go-to-hell clothing in conservative cuts became the official uniform of sand stomping executives and vice presidents. Palm beach itself can be likened to a jacket made from a neon batik; the Island was and is clearly a place for relaxing over cocktails on a veranda, a place of loosened behavior and affectation, but still squarely placed within the larger traditional realm.
Palm Beach has since developed a curious mystique as the sleepy island populated by power brokers and Princesses, but take a peek behind the brocade curtain and one will find a genteel and eclectic mix of old world furniture of Alder, Ash, and Maple alongside an atypical assortment of furniture and embellishment; lucite, wicker, rattan, chrome and high brass. Soft pastels and harsh neons coexist side by side and modern art mingles with British Colonial furniture in a style somewhere between Verailles and Greenwich Village. Where chimneypieces exist, they are used as a host for vases and arrangements rather than charring walnut, except on rare occasion. One is just as likely to be greeted in the entry by figured rosewood and carved palm fronds as one would be zebra skin and Italian tole.
Whimsy and fantasy are dogmatic elements of design in Palm Beach, and romanticism is the thematic principle. Somewhere between stiff upper lips and Bohemian recklessness, Palm Beach Island has become an arbiter of taste for those that prefer a life of leisure by the sea, and the only thing more interesting than the interiors are the people.