Set in the tropical surroundings of Palm Beach, a generously proportioned house such as this might have ordinarily been decorated in the ubiquitous Mediterranean style favoured in Florida houses: terracotta tiled floors, stone columns, rough-textured stucco, wrought iron detailing and exposed beams. But thanks to the work of the designer T Keller Donovan, the European influences are more Scandinavian and infinitely more elegant.
"There is nothing more striking than simplicity," says Donovan, explaining that in taking this understated approach he could make a more luxurious and classy statement.
Against a backdrop of white walls, which emphasise the stately grandeur of the high-ceilinged rooms, Donovan used a restrained palette of his signature shade: blue. This colour also happens to be a favourite of his clients' and works beautifully to create the right sort of ambience for a second home mainly used by its semi-retired owners for relaxing and entertaining at weekends.But while Donovan's approach to the colour scheme is unconventional for Florida, he stuck to more tried-and-tested methods for other areas of the design. "In a large house such as this, you have to think big," explains Donovan, who divides his time between Manhattan and Miami. "A lot of people are a bit wrong-footed when they buy a grand property like this, since they're not used to thinking large-scale, and most of the furnishings and accessories available generally are just too small and seem quite lost in the space. In such expansive rooms you need an awful lot of eye candy."To keep the emphasis on the grand scale and the striking blue and white scheme, Donovan ensured that all architectural detailing remained understated, using simple mouldings and sleek ceramic tiled floors throughout. He also made sure that each space was bathed in natural light. Plain curtain panels, rather than the grander swag-and-tail arrangements often found in houses of such proportions, help frame the stunning views instead of competing with them.
With such a limited colour palette, the choice of shades was key when it came to keeping the look fresh and appealing rather than monotonous. Several different blues create a delicately balanced effect and ensure that one space flows harmoniously into the next. In the reception rooms Donovan chose a glorious marine hue, while a refined French blue takes centre stage in the master bedroom, and touches of indigo reign supreme in the entrance hall.
"It's important to team these two key colours with some natural tones, perhaps the warmth of timber or bamboo," he explains. "That's what makes the blue pop and keeps the feel elegant and upmarket, rather than leaning towards that clichéd oceanside ambience." Indeed, motifs including palm fronds and sea life nod towards the area's natural elements, but not in such as way as to appear tiresomely beach-orientated to those weary of this look. Stylised tropical florals, simple gingham and bold checks are mixed with prints of seashells and crustaceans, all layered in the most carefully considered way.
"I love to design in a tropical setting because you don't have to be too serious," says Donovan. "Colour really sings out in the cheerful light of the tropics, so you can have fun by updating the classics." And update the classics he does, juxtaposing wide-slatted plantation shutters, glossy ceramic floors, roughly textured sisal rugs and wide-blade ceiling fans.
Despite his desire to be unconventional, which he achieves successfully, Donovan uses convention effectively. Elements are repeated to ensure a sense of continuity. For example, you can spot blue piped-edge detailing on the sheer window treatments throughout, while in several places symmetrical vignettes of a console table, pair of lamps and carefully hung prints add a sense of sophistication.
"The living room is almost like a great room, not only in the sense that all the downstairs areas can be accessed from it, but in that all the elements of the decor used in the other parts of the house come together within these four walls," says Donovan. "So I stuck to a more formal arrangement of furniture in order to strike a balance in what could otherwise be a space lacking in visual structure and obvious focal points."
Pairs of furnishings and accessories, such as the slipper chairs, lanterns and cigarette tables, are all emphasised. This formality, combined with the more playful touches, such as the fish patterned fabric in the family room or the grand sconce arrangement tucked away in a corridor off the living room, gives the space an appealing depth without seeming overworked, and lets its key feature - the colour blue - do all the talking.