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Palm Beache’s iconic Colony Hotel is reimagined

When a treasured icon revered for its gracious hospitality meets interior designers who specialise in creating the world’s finest hand-painted wallpapers

By Thobeka Phanyeko  | September 11, 2021 | Category

Photographs: Carmel Brantley
Photographs: Carmel Brantley

When a treasured icon revered for its gracious hospitality meets interior designers who specialise in creating the world’s finest hand-painted wallpapers, the result can only be an exceptional collaboration. ‘I have long had a love affair with de Gournay wallpapers; the beauty and artistry have always spoken to me,’ says Colony Hotel owner Sarah Wetenhall, who was introduced to de Gournay Scion Hannah Cecil Gurney (founder Claud Cecil Gurney’s daughter) through afriend. ‘We immediately had so much in common. The colony hotel and de Gournay are both second- generation family businesses, so we share a passion for our brands’ history and vision. The creative process behind the colony paper was, therefore, personal, and the final product incorporates not only flora and fauna indigenous to Florida, but also our family’s spaniel, the colony’s mascot monkey, Johnnie Brown, and other symbols representing my children and husband,’ she says.

De Gournay is, of course, renowned for its lively chinoiserie wallpaper, and hannah shares that they wanted to create something that was a testament to both brands, celebrating the history of the colony hotel and the artistry of de Gournay. ‘Sarah and I both wanted the wallcovering to be fun and uplifting, to make people smile, but for it to also feel fitting for the grand space and the tropical location,’ she says. ‘The wallpaper has the feel of a historic chinoiserie that has been modernised and adapted into a youthful and energising Floridian landscape.’ de Gournay’s installation, a 97-panel bespoke jungle scene, brings the original mid-century mural to life while maintaining the same tropical spirit and, Hannah says, the intention was to give guests the experience of stumbling into an enchanted everglade. ‘This gives you an amazing feeling when you walk into the hotel, which at first feels quite natural until you notice the wonderful, whimsical characters and unusual objects subtly portrayed amidst the scene. The more you look, the more you discover,’ she says.

Photographs: Carmel Brantley

Not to be outdone by its collaborators, the colony hotel boasts a rich and colourful heritage of its own, Sarah reveals. Built in the late ’40s by a chicago-based industrialist family who owned the estate next door, ‘it was the mid-century destination for the international jet set, including the duke and duchess of Windsor,’ she says. The hotel’s gilded history was the guiding principle in the living room redesign. original elements, such as the black terrazzo floors, were resurrected, as were small arrangements of conversational seating.

‘The Colony Holds a special place in the hearts of Palm Beachers. It was essential to cherish the intimate and residential feel of the hotel, while also delighting and inspiring guests,’ says Sarah. This was accomplished through de Gournay’s design, which drew from the rich history of artistry and old-world technique, and by using a quintessentially Palm Beach palette of wicker, rattan and palm. ‘We ensured that the overall impact of the wallcovering design was that of a beautiful scene of Floridian wildlife. It is only in observing the wallpaper closely that one notices the tongue-in-cheek characters: monkeys holding martini glasses, panthers in diamond collars...The quirkiness is there to be admired,’ says Hannah. every single element of the design is painted in the most wonderful detail by highly skilled artists. ‘so much love and care has been paid to every brushstroke and that provides the gravitas that strikes a balance between being fresh and fun whilst also being something that will be admired for generations to come.