As the autumn days get colder in New York, the city’s elite flies down (privately, of course) to the sun-drenched shoreline of Palm Beach, Florida. But even in America’s most affluent neighbourhood there are echelons of exclusivity. At the very top tier there is The Breakers. This storied former hotel, originally built by oil magnate Henry Flagler in 1896, enjoys sweeping ocean views and has played host to some of America’s most prominent families from the Vanderbilts and the Astors to the Rockefellers. It is here that the widow of one of New York designer Geoffrey Bradfield’s most beloved clients (of 35 years) chose to make one of her vacation homes. When he first saw the space, Bradfield knew he had his work cut out to transform it to fit his client’s needs. The previous owner of the fourth-floor, two-bedroom apartment had decked it out entirely in dark woods and heavy, masculine finishes – “there was so much brown,” he recalls. To make matters worse, there was a peculiar range of dropped ceilings, coved ceilings and just about any other ceiling transition that one can imagine. “We turned it around in six months, which was quite miraculous as the building codes [in Florida] are quite restrictive. It’s very monochromatic and the art collection is sensational,” Bradfield says of the apartment that he carefully edited from an expansive penthouse that the family had in the same building.
It was pretty clear that dark wood panelling was not the ideal decor for a home where every window faces the ocean, so the first task was to lighten the deep brown shell of the 3,000-square-foot apartment. There was also the exquisite collection of art and antiques (that Bradfield helped curate over the more than three decades that he’s known the family) to design for. Bradfield’s solution was decidedly neutral, light and airy. Floors are blonde, walls are beige parchment and carpets - all custom-designed by Bradfield, of course - are kept to neutral hues, as is upholstery. All doors slide back flush to the walls and the entire back wall of the formal living room space mirrors the azure views, giving the feeling of an expanse as vast as the ocean. “It’s really like floating on a cloud,” says Bradfield of his and his client’s favourite room. Here, a set of four elaborately carved Viennese chairs from 1790 and art from the likes of David Hockney and Larry Rivers combine in perfect harmony.
The dining room features an original Ruhlmann chandelier, Gustavian dining chairs (all signed and taken from the same palace) and an ornate mirrored dining table from the 1940s. But the pièce de résistance is the vibrant Frank Stella painting, which plays off the brilliant sun flooding in through the window.
In the adjacent library, exotic wood veneers set in neutral blonde hues provide the perfect backdrop to yet another vibrant painting, this time from the great Hans Hofmann. There are also two tables designed by Gilbert Poillerat, the master French Deco metal craftsman from whom Bradfield draws much of his design inspiration.
In the bedroom, Bradfield chose a feminine design ethos. Once again a mostly neutral wall treatment, this time in silk, is employed. Venetian verre églomisé side tables and rock crystal lamps conjure a delicate jewel box effect. A French art deco console with ivory inlay and a pair of brass bamboo lamps add to the pared-down elegance of the space and a set of Matisse drawings complete the delicate, feminine feel of this most private space.
After 17 successful projects for one of his most cherished clients, Bradfield’s Upper East Side office is hard at work on yet another design adventure, this time on the client’s Sherry Netherland apartment. The result, needless to say, will be carefully curated and most tastefully executed.