Showing off tropical style


Sixteen design firms riff on island living at the Red Cross Designers’ Show House in West Palm

If you go

The Red Cross Designers’ Show House runs through Feb. 23 at 123 Santa Lucia Dr., West Palm Beach. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $30; special pricing is available for groups of 10 or more. All proceeds benefit the American Red Cross. For information, see or call 561-650-9131.

Special to The Miami Herald

The exterior of the 5,000-square-foot home with an Intracoastal view looks like it was plucked right out of a Key West neighborhood with its clapboard-like appearance, filigreed balustrades, widow’s walk and brick sidewalks.

But don’t expect the laidback and quirky interiors of the Conch Republic.

Sixteen design firms have created a modern take on tropical décor for the 37th Red Cross Designers’ Show House in West Palm Beach that is creative, sophisticated and suitable for stylish homes anywhere in South Florida. Their interpretations of island life may be totally different, but they have a few threads in common such as the use of wallpaper and an ability to mix patterns and periods of furnishings.

Wallpaper was used throughout the house, a trend that has been mushrooming the past four or five years. One of the reasons it is back in vogue is because manufacturers were able to bring back old favorites with new twists and create new offerings because of technology such as digital printing and three-dimensional effects.

A good example is in the second floor room that Lisa Erdmann of Lisa Erdmann Associates in Palm Beach envisioned as a “private place to entertain family and friends for well-crafted cocktails.” Grass cloth, a popular wall covering in the 1970s, has expanded choices with more colors, textures and textured patterns. Erdmann used Feather Bloom, a green print that resembles a flower, on the walls, and she covered the often-neglected ceiling with a tan grass cloth. All fabrics and wall coverings she used are from Schumacher.

“I like the idea of adding intrigue to the ceiling,” Erdmann says. “The grass cloth inspired me immediately with its delicately nuanced pattern. We applied a braid trim inset, accented with dark nail heads to add surprising visual interest to the space.”

Erdmann’s conversion of a closet into a bar is a great idea for a room where extra storage is not needed. A zebra-like Ripple wallpaper by former Palm Beacher Celerie Kemble makes it stand apart from the rest of the room. Above the bar are black and white photos of friends and celebs.

She also mixed fabric patterns that started with Chiang Mai Dragon, a bold print linen used for the draperies. She selected accent pillows in Kemble’s Betwixt, a geometric, and the sofa is covered in Imperial Trellis. The room features a mix of furniture styles — from 19th century antiques to a new custom hand-painted table.


Cuba may be only 90 miles from Key West, but Cuban-born Joseph Pubillones brought his homeland even closer with his interpretation of a writer’s studio.

“The whole house was an island theme because this is a Key West style home,” says the Palm Beach designer. “I wanted to evoke the island without the clichés. The room evokes a feeling as if I were in Cuba during the 1930s and 1940s.”

He used a neutral color palette reminiscent of sugar and sand with different textures and patterns. A flat weave dhurrie rug with a graphic brown pattern was played against a camelback settee in a neutral tone-on-tone stripe.

Because he is Cuban, he designed the room as a personal statement. The most obvious representation is the gallery wall displaying his collection by Cuban and Cuban-American artists. It also reflects his “green” desire for repurposing furniture by refinishing and reupholstering. Especially evocative of the period is a pair of Jay Spectre classic steamer chairs influenced by the Art Deco movement. He converted a 1930s sewing table into a desk by adding a large fiberglass top. All fabrics are from Beacon Hill.

The two end tables he designed using samples of old planks in a checkerboard design on the fronts are the best examples of his recycling efforts.

“The room is all about me,” Pubillones says. “I see it as a starched guayabera, dressy but not too dressy.”


Gary McBournie, a Boston designer with offices in Nantucket and Palm Beach, took his inspiration for the master bedroom with wallpaper and fabric made famous in the 1960s by Amos Morrill in Antiqua, West Indies. Designer Lee Morrill-Harrington discovered her father’s old black leather portfolio filled with sketches, notes and pieces of fabric he designed. McBournie worked with Morrill-Harrington and archivist Stephanie Long of Antilles Designs to update the original patterns into a more graphic look in bolder colors. McBournie also added stripes to allow for mixing patterns.

His choice for the dominant look in the room was his Banana Bird pattern in Sunset Orange accented with Tangy Stripe fabric. This is a great example of how a room can feature a lot of print without being overwhelming. He used Banana Bird in wallpaper, as upholstery and on window shades. The trick to making it work is his use of white furniture, including nightstands and an étagère from his Gary McBournie Home Collection. He also used solid green and white bedding and sheer white panels on the four-poster bed to break up the pattern.

The fireplace was given a tropical accent with panels made out of bamboo by Bamboo and Rattan in West Palm Beach.


Jennifer Garrigues and Diana El-Daher of Jennifer Garrigues in Palm Beach worked together to create a living room of textures with comfortable seating.

“They (design chairmen Bill Kopp and Stephen Mooney) told us they wanted us to design something with a Key West look,” Garrigues says. “We took them literally and asked ourselves what we would want in a Key West home. We used two big slipcovered sofas that are appropriate as well as practical. Then we asked ourselves, ‘Why don’t we get a little edgy?’ ”

The edgiest element is a large pierced metal ball from India that reflects patterns on the ceiling when the light is turned on. A large media cabinet is made of sheesham, also called Indian Rosewood. Sheesham is considered “green” because it is a fast-growing hardwood that comes from government managed plantations. This piece, with its ridges, is reminiscent of an old-fashioned washboard.

The screens, used as window treatments, are one of the best ideas to steal from the show house. The white custom-made screens were created in an X pattern. The finishing touch was stapling sheer white fabric to the back so that they provide privacy and filter light while providing architectural elements to the room.


Allison Paladino of Allison Paladino Interior designs in Jupiter, who has designed a furniture collection for E.J. Victor and framed images for Trowbridge, made the best of an awkward space in the second floor hallway by promoting her two lines.

“Anytime I’m presented with a second floor hall large enough to display furniture, I like to treat it as a second foyer,” she says. “And, like any great foyer, there should be a feeling of intimacy and surprise, and a place to visually rest before continuing into the home.”

But whatever furniture is chosen has to be the right scale so it doesn’t overwhelm the space or make it difficult to pass. That’s why she designed a bench covered in Merlin Morpho by Rogers & Goffigton just for the show house area at the top of the stairs. Above it are four copies from her Karma grouping for Trowbridge that are played against a wall painted in a blue paint with a hint of green from Benjamin Moore’s Historic Colors Collection (HC 149).

In the narrow hallway, Paladino featured the Sooz Console with Greek key detail she designed for A.J. Victor. It is flanked by her Billy Screens, which will be introduced at the High Point Market this spring. The screens have raised panels molded in a composite material and hand carved. Her round Billy Mirror above the console features the same design. Under the console is a Boreal Bench in burnt silver from Ironies covered in Cowton & Tout’s Oceana Aqua. Two Pendolino Sconces from Porta Romana are on either side of the mirror.


When Melissa Guerra first saw the 10-by-15-foot kitchen space, it was empty except for the flooring. The finished room features top-of-the-line Electrolux Icon appliances, custom cabinetry from Signature Cabinets and glass tiles from Crossville.

Guerra’s design offers some ideas to steal:

The Shaker-style cabinets added a more rustic look because the specialty finish was brushed to remove some shine.

Two 30-inch gas ranges were put together instead of using one large range.

She hung an old paddle above the cabinets and lit it from above instead of cluttering the space above the cabinets with baskets or pottery.

Instead of the ubiquitous high-top counter with bar stools, she created a built-in breakfast table with Chinese Chippendale chairs.

The most significant change was the use of concrete countertops with a slightly speckled finish rather than using granite, which she says is declining in use. Concrete can be created with custom edges and are about $80 a square foot installed.

“You can use a dye and pigment to get a large range of colors,” she says. “There is not a single seam and you can do built-ins on the countertop like this cutting board. The [fabricator] is local so there is not a large carbon footprint.”

The show house sponsors are American Red Cross Palm Beaches-Treasure Coast Region and Traditional Home Magazine.

Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub can be reached at

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