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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Palm Beach Style

There is perhaps no better design that personifies the endless summer more than Palm Beach style.

Palm Beach socialite Jim Kimberly, his wife and friends with his white sports car and white boats moored on Lake Worth, 1968, Slim Aarons.

Palm Beach, 1968. Photo by Slim Aaron's. #PalmBeach #ThingsToDoInPalmBeach #PalmBeachAttractions:

To understand how the Palm Beach Style first developed one must travel back in time.

The first settlers arrived in the Palm Beach Florida area, then known as Lake Worth, in 1872.  It was established as a resort area in 1893/94 by Henry Morrison Flagler, the founder of Standard Oil.  The town of Palm Beach was incorporated on April 17, 1911.

Flagler provided access to the Atlantic coast barrier island via his Florida East Coast Railway. Special trolleys took visitors almost directly to the front doors of his first luxury hotel, the Royal Poinciana Hotel.

The Georgian styled hotel was built on the inland waterway as a winter retreat and opened in 1894. Sadly, it did not survive the Great Depression and was torn down in 1935.

A second hotel, The Palm Beach Inn, was built on the beachfront property near the Royal Poinciana by Flagler in 1896. Guests often requested rooms "over by the breakers," so it was renamed The Breakers Hotel by Flagler in 1901.

The wooden hotel burned on June 9, 1903 and was rebuilt. It burned again on March 18, 1925 and was rebuilt to the structure that still remains today. The hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and remains an iconic Palm Beach landmark.

Flagler continued buying up land. In 1902 he built a 75 room, 100,000-square-foot mansion he named Whitehall. The mansion was designed in the Beaux Arts style as a wedding present for his wife, Mary Lily Kenan Flagler.

The couple used the home as a haven away from harsh winters. They entertained constantly and established the Palm Beach social season which occurs for about eight to twelve weeks between December and February.

Flagler began offering property lots to notable families of the Gilded Age such as the Astor’s and Vanderbilt's. Later came the Pulitzer’s and Kennedy’s. Palm Beach was well on its way to becoming America's first resort destination for extremely wealthy individuals.

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., the Kennedy family’s patriarch, bought the family compound in 1933. It later would become known as the “Winter White House”.

The panache of Palm Beach was enhanced further with an influx of royal visitors to include the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

As you can imagine these illustrious homes were decorated in a manner befitting their well traveled residents. The Palm Beach style reflected this and included:

Bright beach colors such as blue, turquoise, green, yellow, pink and coral were/are often combined or paired with copious amounts of white.

Classic design elements of Greek key, fretwork and chinoiserie are found in the furniture style and accessories.


Natural elements including tortoise shell, bamboo, rattan  or wicker are used for furniture and accessories.

Iconic images for the style feature the pineapple, palm fronds, shells and coral.

A sketch made by the illustrious Sir Cecil Beaton, circa 1937, shows an early glimpse of Palm Beach style.

Harrison and Mona Williams at home in Palm Beach, “against a Chinese wallpaper that’s as vivid as the tropical vegetation outside.”

A.L.T. on Cecil Beaton:

Palm Beach Style shows an influence of other styles such as Hollywood Regency, British Colonial, Modern Baroque and Asian design.

One notable influence on the style was the great Elsie de Wolfe.

She of course designed for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, among others, and created the dazzling Colony Room.

Her lasting influence can be seen in Broadway Producer Terry Allen Kramer’s Palm Beach home, La Follia, which was decorated by Pauline Pitt.

Palm Beach chic La Follia trellis room

Dorothy Draper invented the “Modern Baroque” style of which some elements can be seen in Palm Beach Style.

greenbrier hotel. entry foyer of the casino club.:

Her successor, Carlton Varney, aptly applied her signature look when recently remodeling the popular Palm Beach hotel The Colony.


A series of photographs, taken in the late 50’s and 60’s, by renowned photographer Slim Aarons introduced the rest of America to Palm Beach and its lavish lifestyle.

“Palm Beach Pastels” Slim Aarons, 1959.

'Palm Beach Pastels' Palm Beach  (Archival Pigment Print) 1

Watching a poolside fashion show at the Colony Hotel, Palm Beach, Florida.

“Leisure and Fashion” Slim Aarons, 1961.

Leisure and Fasion 1

Mr. and Mrs. Donald Lease with their Rolls Royce and two pet dogs outside their home in Palm Beach, Florida.  1968, Slim Aarons.

One of Mr. Aarons closest friends was Lilly Pulitzer. Mrs. Pulitzer had been selling oranges and juice from her husbands orange groves. Juicing the citrus made a mess of her clothes. To camouflage the stains she created a sleeveless shift dress made from colorful cotton. The dresses soon outsold the juice.

The “Lilly” dress was worn by all the local socialites. In a turn of marketing genius Lilly had her friend Slim photograph her friends, such as Wendy Vanderbilt, wearing her dresses. The images graced many a fashion magazine.

Photo by Slim Aarons January 1964.

Of course there was no better endorsement for Lilly Pulitzer than when her old school chum from Miss Porter’s School, Jaqueline Kennedy, wore a Lilly dress for a Life photo shoot.

Palm Beach was also elevated when the Kennedy family was shown vacationing at their Palm Beach compound. Talk about a Presidential Seal of Approval!

The easy and elegant style became sought after from coast to coast and beyond.

There are many wonderful modern designers who capture the Palm Beach style beautifully.

Mario Buatta

Kemble Interiors

Palm Beach Style by Kemble Interiors  in House Beautiful

Tobi Fairley

living room | Tobi Fairley Interior Design:

Add just a little touch of color to a B&W palette and it really POPS. Design by Tobi Fairley |

Meg Braff

Photo by Annie Schlechter / GMAimages

Parker Kennedy Living

Lindsey Coral Harper

Eddie Ross is a master at creating Palm Beach Style tablescapes.

mix of vintage and new . traditional and modern elements . bright and brilliant color:

Some of my favorite blogs that often feature Palm Beach Style are:

 Chinoiserie Chic

Dimples and Tangles

 The Glam Pad

The Pink Pagoda

The Peak of Chic

The Pink Clutch

Books on Palm Beach Style include:

Palm Beach Chic


In the Spirit of Palm Beach

Palm Beach Entertaining: Creating Occasions to Remember

You can see my home decorated in Palm Beach Style HERE.



Sandi said...

Like looking into a palace...a very vivid and bright palace!

Is that a young JFK on the right in the first Kennedy picture?

GSGreatEscaper said...

Yes, I think that's Joe Jr on the left and Jack on the right.

Eilis said...

I remember my mom wearing those dresses. Interesting to learn what inspired them!

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

Yes Sandi and GSGreatEscaper that is Joe jr on the left and JFK on the right.

Linda said...

Interesting read. I like a few of the items, but alas, I think this isn't my style, as I'm not big on colorful pieces, never have been. I do like the sundresses though. ;)

Linda @ Life and Linda said...

Fun posts. Love seeing all of the old photos. If I had a second, home, it would be this style.

Pat@Life At Lydias House said...

Another wonderful post! I love the Palm Beach style and my Lily dresses!

Christine said...

Well done Laura!
As I scrolled through all the pictures, reading the descriptions, I felt like I was reading a magazine!
Love all the colors, styles, who's who, and the topics.

Katie Mansfield said...

Your dear daughter's bathroom reminds me of this style. I didn't know the history of the Lily dress. That silhouette is a win for someone like me without a waist. I love all the photos you found for this article. I realize now that my 70s bedroom was inspired by Palm Beach. Thanks for sharing.

Laura said...

You did a wonderful job of outlining the history of this fabulous style.
I look forward to seeing yours on Wednesday!

Stacey said...

Laura, this is such an amazing post! I love the dress that Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing.

I know you were going to do the palm leaf print in your bathroom but changed your mind. Are you going to incorporate this look elsewhere?

Leslie Anne Tarabella said...

Such great style. If only it were like that today!

Jeanie said...

What a fabulous series of photographs -- and looking at these I can understand where the term came from -- it is a somewhat unique style. I love the color and brightness -- but what I really appreciate in this post is the history, research, images of times past. (And Lilly!)

Sarah said...

Laura, thank you for this interesting and informative post. I've never been to Palm Beach, but visited St. Augustine a few years ago. Mr. Flagler had a big influence there as well.
I love the bright happy colors of Palm Beach style and of course the bamboo furniture. ;-)

craftyles said...

What a fresh and lovely style. Your blog is fun to look at because I learn something new each time I come over. My Mom had bits of this style in her decor. It was fun and a summery look.

DD's Cottage said...

Loving the bold colors and all the inspiration!

Bonnie said...

Enjoyable post, Laura! Thanks for putting this together.
I like many of the design elements of this style.

handmade by amalia said...

I love everything about this fun post - the history, the colors, the vibe. Cool.

The Pastor's Wife said...

Stopping in from the Summer Home Tour, I just had to comment. When I saw that you had a post on Palm Beach Style, of course I had to click! We visited West Palm Beach and the island for the first time in April. I am in love! This style is new to me and although I have always liked coastal decor,Palm Beach style is so bright and fun!So refreshing to see color in blog land when neutral everything abounds. Thank you for showcasing the history and style of this decor in such a great post. I literally had the very same Palm Beach book on my summer reading list, and now I have a few more to check out too. The icing on the cake was the list of bloggers hosting this style! Can't wait to visit them. Bravo!!

bj said...

wow...this is a LOT of eye candy...I love every single picture.

Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow said...

This was such a fun and interesting read. Donald Lease's pants...oh my! :)

Gardendecorplanet said...

Love the style and all the pictures; I'm from Miami so, we are close by.