Boston designers carry on a romance with color in their Florida home
Forget ambiguous feelings in shades of gray. Designers Lee Bierly and Chris Drake know their hearts--and their hues. And the Boston-based designers are happy to celebrate a romance with color in the Palm Beach, Florida, home they enjoy as a getaway from their daily lives in New England.
"We love color," Chris says. "We're also very aware that the colors we use in Boston are not the colors that work best in Florida. Here, bolder and more complex hues hold their own in the bright Southern light."
That fact led the designers, who both have extensive fine-arts backgrounds, to put together a tropics-cheery yet perfectly sophisticated palette for the Southern colonial-style home they bought in 2005. Designed by John Volk, a sought-after architect in early-20th-century Palm Beach, the 1939 house was an unusual find in a region that offers mostly a Mediterranean aesthetic.
Using the bright Florida sunshine as their ally, Lee and Chris courted a romantic ambience by pairing neutral touches with colorful hues that are fresh, assured, and instinctively right for each room. The burst of yellow that illuminates the entry offers the intense welcome that extreme sunlight encourages. To highlight the impressive curved staircase and the black-and-white marble floor, walls are painted a warm yellow that provides a glossy reference to the lemony Florida sun.
The formal living room is more reserved than the attention-loving foyer but is by no means shy. Because their calendar is annotated with events they host in their home, Lee and Chris kept the background of the room neutral with a creamy ivory so that the guests, rather than the decor, shine. Furnishings grouped in front of the fireplace and the bow window and at the far end of the room are covered in ivory-colored fabrics but are punctuated with strong shots of red and yellow.
At the windows, sumptuous silk draperies the color of Bing cherries descend from a simple gilded pole, with sheer cotton hanging behind them to filter light. "We tend to do simple treatments, and the essence here is the dressmaker fabric," Lee says. "We treated it like an elegant evening gown that has no need for puffed sleeves or other extraneous decoration. The beautiful fabric speaks for itself." A diminutive fuchsia slipper chair along with a tufted armchair and accessories in yellow also add sun-kissed touches to the expansive room.
The north-facing dining room needed a little light boost to make it as bright and cheery as the other rooms. So the designers used silver leaf on the walls to reflect light and introduce drama. "We love the sparkle, which is so perfect because we tend to use this room at night," Chris says. Additional sheen comes from a gilded wood-and-iron chandelier, bought at a Belgian auction. Since the dining room is square, the duo selected a round table and skirted it with a patchwork cloth made from 10 coordinating fabrics. "In a dining room, there are so many legs," Lee explains. "To avoid that restless look, we skirt the table and change the cloths according to seasons."
The kitchen, in black, white, and stainless steel, was shaken up by taxi-yellow tiles in a diamond pattern on the backsplash. The jolt of color both warms the space and repeats the color found in other rooms. "A house should blend," Chris says. "That's why we repeat colors. You experience them as you move from room to room, and get a sense of coherence."
Other rooms embrace color, too, but with an approach toned down from the electric colors in the public areas. Linen in a green-and-ivory toile pattern applied to the walls drove the design of the library, where matching armchairs and an oversized ottoman are covered in a celadon and dark green houndstooth fabric.
The family room, which opens to the pool, continues the black-and-beige floor tiles of the kitchen. Walls painted soft yellow are accented by built-in bookshelves. The sofa upholstery and drapery panels are a simple white cotton, and a lounge chair is covered in a blue-and-white cabana stripe.
With most of the rooms reveling in happy hues, the design pair decided on restful neutrals for a few areas. The sitting room off the formal dining area is one example. Once a porch, the repurposed indoor-outdoor space echoes nature with earth-toned burlap that covers the walls and the pillows on the daybed.
The master bedroom is also more serene than high-spirited. Beige-and-ivory stripes on the walls offer visual interest in a room that is soft and quiet, with neutral fabrics and white-painted furniture. A Dutch Colonial-style bed is upholstered, skirted, and dressed in simple white cotton, and the headboard is accented with nailheads. Paneled white demilune chests serve as roomy bedside tables.
Chris and Lee's goal was to take a beautiful but neglected home, repair it, and respectfully reinterpret it for the 21st century in a way that honors its architecture and celebrates its sunny, color-kissed environment.
"We often have projects at ordinary apartments or houses with little or no architectural interest that we need to make grand," Chris says. "This house already had great bones, so it made up for those other projects. That's what delights us. It was a job worth doing, and it is a joy to live in."
Photography: Robert Brantley
Produced by Estelle Bond Guralnick
Design: Lee Bierly and Chris Drake, Bierly-Drake Inc., 11 Newbury St., Boston, MA 02116; 617/247-0081, bierly-drake.com
Vivid yellow accents lighten and brighten the cheerful living room.
The comfortable tufted fireside chair echoes the yellow in the portrait that hangs over the mantel.
In the entry foyer, antique stone cherubs from the 18th century balance the sculptural presence of the winding staircase.
The green-and-ivory palette of the library is grounded by a black desk with chinoiserie gilding that stands before the French doors. A favorite painting hangs above a bisque- and gilt-painted chest of drawers.
Incorporating stone architectural and garden elements--like the examples flanking the sitting-room French doors--has become a design hallmark of Lee and Chris's.
Warmed by yellow tiles on the backsplash and a black-and-beige checkerboard tile floor, the kitchen is sleek but not cold.
Behind the range, stainless steel stamped in a diamond pattern is a nod to the pattern on the floor.
In the breakfast room, a white-painted antique English bookcase serves as a china cabinet that houses a collection of Lettuce Ware.
Trellis-style chairs with raffia-covered seats complement a garden-inspired tablescape in the dining room.
In the family room, pops of color from a green lamp, bright yellow frames, and colorful book spines keep the space spirited.
Tailored stripes on the master bedroom walls are softened by celadon silk drapery panels, which add to the room's verticality.
The vibrant red used in the living room gets its second wind in the guest suite on the airy red-and-white floral trellis wall covering.
Designers Lee Bierly and Chris Drake began the renovation of their Southern antebellum-style house, built in 1939, about five years ago.
Interior designers Lee Bierly (left) and Chris Drake note that location, a spin on the definition of "neutral," and a special regard for white have a favorable effect on a house's color scheme.
Location, location, location
Colorations that work well vary from region to region. "Understated, muted colors that we find appealing in the North lack impact in a tropical environment, where the tones need to be ramped up," says Chris.
Neutrals aren't necessarily neutral
Any color that runs throughout the entire house can be thought of as a neutral, offers Chris. In this case, yellow accented with pops of other bright hues was the ribbon that tied many spaces together.
Pick a white (but not just any white)
Although it's often seen as not being a "real" color, white is actually a complex hue with many variations. Let natural sunlight guide which one you choose. In Florida's bright sun, clean and stark whites are best; Northern locales call for warm whites that further soften toned-down colors.