Palm Beach State of Mind

By staff March 1, 2005

Whoever said that small and opulent don't mix, that chic has to be shabby, and that bankers are boring never met Alice and Robert Brittingham.

Like the couple themselves, the 1,700-square-foot West of the Trail cottage they recently rehabbed is confident, inventive, adventurous and unexpectedly playful. Framed by palms, bougainvilleas, hibiscus and a courtyard wall planted with yellow allamanda, their home has the glamorous elegance-if not the size-of a Palm Beach villa.

When the Brittinghams, both career bankers, decided in 1999 to trade cold Delaware winters for balmy Florida they chose Sarasota because of its small-town charms and cosmopolitan feel. The couple rented until they found their dream home. "I had my heart set on what I call a Palm Beach-style house," says Alice. "Bobby and I used to drive by a charming Spanish cottage but it wasn't on the market. Then two years ago it came up for sale. We called the agent and bought it on the spot."

Although the Brittinghams were committed to preserving the original architecture, they made a few changes to give it the stylish look Alice dreamed of, starting with the front door. "When we removed it we discovered that the period archway had been covered up," she explains. "So we had a new cypress door made to fit the original opening leading to the front porch. Then we added hardware from Mexico to match the heft of the wood." At some point in the home's history, the front porch had been enclosed. They replaced the two interior windows and the door between both rooms with three identical arches.

Working with Kurt Lucas of JKL Design Group, Alice used brilliant colors, sumptuous fabrics and unique details to give each room a new level of sophistication. "I knew exactly what I wanted. I had created my own design bible, with pictures from magazines and books to back it up. But I have to give Kurt a lot of credit in helping pull the look together," she says.

Alice subtly antiqued the sunroom, living room and dining room walls to give the impression that the surfaces had been exposed to the elements. "The texture look is achieved by applying layers of joint compound, then adding color to simulate a sun-bleached look," she explains. "When we lived up North I was into country antiques, but since we moved here I've acquired a taste for European pieces." She found much of the cottage's furniture in West Palm Beach shops and along Dixie Highway, an almost mile-long stretch of antique shops. "We have also found some lovely accessories in Naples," she says. Throughout, antiques, refurbished castoffs, baroque cherubs, stone and wood columns, urns, plinths and other architectural elements jostle for attention.

In the sunroom, comfort is the underlying focus, with relaxed furnishings set against saffron-hued walls, large arched windows and a golden travertine floor. In the living room, vibrant fabrics with similar degrees of intensity spice up traditional French and Italian furniture and offset the weathered walls. An 18th-century gold velvet sofa takes center stage, while a curvy black and white striped divan plays a supporting role. "My husband is very accommodating," says Alice. "The only thing he wanted was a recliner, but I just couldn't see one of those bulky chairs in here, so I came up this chaise." The stylish compromise provides all the comfort Bobby needs to relax or watch his favorite shows on a flat-screen TV cleverly incorporated over the mantel of the Mexican carved stone fireplace.

Although the dining room table has an Italian pedigree, the chairs have a more humble background. Alice gave the pieces a compatible look by rubbing the table with several coats of eggshell paint and dressing up the chairs in black and white Ralph Lauren Couture fabric and chartreuse Scalamandre velvet. A gilded ceiling medallion ties in with the room's crown moldings and enhances a resplendent chandelier. Lavish drapes with silk trimmings custom-made by The Workroom of Interior Design add drama.

The kitchen required complete gutting. Alice added black and white marble tiles designed to mimic an area rug, complete with a swag-like border and corner tassels. A hand-formed copper sink with rustic hardware, worktop inlaid with ceramic tiles finished with a layer of copper and a French pastry table add character.

To brighten their bedroom the couple replaced a small window with a pair of French doors opening onto the courtyard and swimming pool. The room's muted, understated hues emphasize texture rather than color, creating a visually serene space. Subtle but seductive champagne silk drapes, pearl-gray walls featuring a stenciled clamshell motif set in a frame-like border designed and executed by Fauxreal and an elegant bed lend the right grace notes to the master bedroom. Eliminating the hallway closet freed space for a dressing room just the right size for an antique vanity, hat boxes and Alice's prized dressmaker form, which is garbed in vintage Chanel. In the adjacent master bath she painted the walls deep chocolate, added a stencil design, then finished them with a coat of glossy glaze in the same cocoa hue.

She dressed the guest suite in gold and sensuous crimson, a Benjamin Moore paint aptly named Be My Valentine. Artist Sabra Libertori painted cherubs on the bedroom's coffered ceiling, giving the small room visual depth and dimension. The luxurious guest bathroom has a copper slipper tub resting on a red oxide marble floor. Gold silk drapes and an antique chest fitted with a sink complete the voluptuous look.

With the completed house, Alice's Palm Beach dream has come to life, proving that style owes little to geography and a lot to personality.

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