From Florida To Florence

One Prominent Florida Family Reimagined Their Hutchinson Island Estate As A Magnificent Italian Palazzo, One That Would Also Pay Homage To Their European Heritage

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While most Floridians look forward to fall, the residents of Hutchinson Island, an exclusive barrier strip separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Indian River near Stuart, Fla., can't help but be reminded of a devastating event. In September of 2004, Hurricane Frances and then two weeks later Hurricane Jean, delivered a knockout punch to the island with wind gusts of 100mph to 120mph. While some moved to less-threatening locales, one family decided to turn a destructive event to their advantage. The owners of this already grand mansion created in the Palm Beach style, set out to reimagine their residence as a Renaissance-inspired palazzo.

First to join the design team that completed the project was builder Paul Kleinfeld, followed by interior designer Joan Simonsen-Hickok. The planned residence and its adjoining guest house would be nearly 20,000 square feet with plenty of space for visiting family and for gala parties the couple loved to host. Interiors would be dramatic, and true to the Renaissance period in Venice — complete with groin vaulted ceilings, cerulean-skied murals, and miles of marble and gilt.

The front façade features a blend of Corinthian columns and triangular pediments, which unite to reflect Florida as much as Florence. "I saw this house as a renaissance, not only in period, but because it was a rebirth after the destruction," Simonsen-Hickok says. She incorporated the story of the house into four, 26-foot ceiling panels in the main salon — the first depicts the original house, the second the post-storm damage, the third the rebuilding and finally, the joy of a recreated home. Christine Moore, a celebrated oil painter, executed the works on canvas that were attached to the massive ceiling panels. In addition to the panels, a series of half-moon lunettes hold painted "putti," figures of chubby children gleaned from photographs of the owners' grandchildren.

In the grand salon, walls are mottled in creamy Venetian plaster, while the floors are a pietre dure of inlaid marble. To anchor the space, Simonsen-Hickok custom designed a savonnerie-style rug from Stark with symbols important to the owners and then used the steely blue of the ceiling on velvet clad sofas from Cache. The designer also introduced a variety of dramatic pieces such as a large round focal table by Lewis Mittman flanked by delicate benches, an inlaid game table surrounded by Fortuny covered chairs from Dennis & Leen, and a regal wood and gilt desk from Gregorius Pineo. "Even in a room this size," Simonsen-Hickok says, "it is possible to introduce pieces that do not overwhelm each other."

The dining room features extraordinary cabinetry crafted by Thomas Bowman of Heartwood Mint. Painted in hues of blue and gold, it showcases the owners' collection of fine china. The designer gilded the table that accommodates 22 and chose chair fabric from Osborne & Little to complement the turquoise tints in the cabinetry.

Upstairs, a 2nd-floor balcony leads to the bedroom suites. In addition to the complex vaulted ceilings, Kleinfeld added dramatic wrought iron balustrades. In each of the perimeter ceiling coffers, Simonsen-Hickok installed family crests that reflect the owners' respective Swedish and Italian heritages.

Niches, columns and mystery abound in the dramatic master bath, a space that is theatrically gorgeous from its painted bas-relief columns to the abstract glory of yellow and blue striated marble flooring, to the trompe d'oeil art on its vaulted ceiling curves.

Under daubs of Venetian plaster, the conservatory is created with walls that appear to expand. "We aged the complicated ceiling as if a cloud were high overhead," the designer says. A casual chair from Wicker Works covered in elegant crewel fabric from Scalamandré provides a tranquil space to relax amid delicate blooms and greenery.

A private cabana overlooks the sculpted pool in this magnificent palazzo, created for entertaining and quiet moments. "After a year of research and discovery, I think the couple's dreams were realized … and I am so honored to have been a part of it," the designer says.

Interior Design
Joan Simonsen-Hickok with Christina Goodman and Leslie Thompson, Simonsen-Hickok Interiors, Inc., Naples, FL

Laurence Taylor, Winter Park, FL

Paul Kleinfeld, First Florida Development & Construction, Inc., Stuart, FL

Landscape Architecture
Coastline Landscaping & Maintenance, Inc., Palm City, FL

Text by
Marina Brown