Go Behind the Scenes of Kemble Interiors’ Showstopping Colony Hotel Renovation

Mimi McMakin shares her tips for bringing the whimsical wonder home.

May 15, 2023

One of Palm Beach’s most iconic grandes dames, the Colony Hotel has spent the past several years undergoing a dazzling facelift (she’s 76, after all!) at the hands of one of the town’s illustrious lifelong residents, Mimi McMackin of Kemble Interiors. The lobby, wrapped in a custom De Gournay wallpaper, is an ode to Palm Beach whimsy; at the center of the room is a towering chinoiserie mantle. “Our dream was to have it become almost as iconic as the clock at the old Biltmore hotel in New York—we’re hoping that generations of people will have their portraits taken here,” says McMackin. Judging from its swift rise to Instagram-famous status, it seems that her dream has already come true.

We spoke to McMakin about the transformation of this “Pink Paradise”—and got a few decorating tips along the way!

In the lobby of The Colony Hotel, Mimi McMakin of Kemble Interiors embraced an updated retro vibe with a curved sofa in a Pierre Frey fabric, a Billy Baldwin slipper chair, and a custom lacquered coffee table. The rattan lamp is from her daughter Celerie Kemble’s collection for Arteriors.

Tim Lenz

Have Fun With Tradition

Colony Hotel owner Sarah Wetenhall had discovered an old picture of a mural in the lobby and started working with de Gournay to replicate it. They sent back a preliminary sketch in which the background color was beige, and I remember saying to Sarah on the phone, “Gosh, don’t you think it should be pink?” We added more whimsy, more local flora and fauna to draw people in—if they look closely, they can find Florida panthers wearing necklaces, parrots sitting on nests of Easter-colored eggs, monkeys delivering love letters. The whole mural became a homage to the color and playfulness of Palm Beach!

Make an Unforgettable Entrance

The mantle is the first thing you see when you walk in the front door, so we designed a fabulous one with little tinkling bells and had it hand-carved in India. At Kemble, if there’s a way that we can do something that we’re supposed to do, but add a very special twist, we’ll do it! Our dream was to have it become almost as iconic as the clock at the old Biltmore Hotel in New York that people would meet under. We’re hoping that families will have portraits taken in front of this mantle for generations!

  • Flamingoes in pearl necklaces frolic behind a rattan bench in Bergama Appliqué fabric by Schumacher.

    Tim Lenz
  • Kemble worked with Society Social to design the guest rooms’ furniture, including the Island Rattan Headboard (in Abelino fabric by Schumacher) and wall-mounted table.

    Tim Lenz

Incorporate the Old With the New

The hotel is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, so we wanted to bring in certain pieces that would have been used back then, like wicker peacock chairs—they’ve been around in Florida for years. We also took a few original upholstered pieces from the lobby and had them cut down and recovered them. It’s all very eclectic—there are lots of pieces blending together to create an atmosphere of comfort. We wanted it feel like a living room, not just for the hotel’s guests, but for people who live in Palm Beach.

Get Creative

This is a wonderfully old hotel, so we had to embrace certain parameters and work within them. The 85 guest rooms aren’t terribly large, but we wanted them to have every amenity. We worked with Society Social to design the furniture and came up with lots of imaginative things, like the custom Florida cane cabinets that hide the refrigerator and microwave. In some rooms, we barely had any room on either side of the bed—maybe 15 inches—but I knew we had to have bedside tables, so we used custom wall-mounted shelves instead!

  • Villa Stripe wallpaper by Miles Redd for Schumacher on the ceiling creates a faux-tented room—complete with tassels! The headboards are in Del Lungo fabric by Schumacher.

    Tim Lenz
  • Inspired by the seawall that surrounds Palm Beach, scallops are a recurring motif. Curtains in Seema Embroidery by Schumacher.

    Tim Lenz

Don’t Forget to Look Up

Every room has its own fun little details. In some of them, we covered the ceilings in raffia, and then instead of using crown moldings in the traditional way on the walls, we had scalloped trim cut from PVC and applied it flat on the ceiling to create a whimsical border. It reminds me of the scalloped seawall that goes all around Palm Beach. In other rooms, we used a heavy striped vinyl on the ceiling to create the effect of a mitered tent or awning. When it was done, we looked at each other and said, “Oh my god, we need tassels,” so we cut tassel-shaped trim and wrapped it around the room!

Customize Fabrics and Wallcoverings

We worked hand in hand with Schumacher to choose the most fabulous fabrics, some of which we resized and recolored. They were able to give us fabrics that represented the look of fine linens or tints, but were actually done in performance materials. We had already used Citrus Garden downstairs on some of the furniture in the bar—the fabric was actually designed in 1947, the same year the hotel was built—and thought it would be fabulously fun to blow it up and use it for the headboards in the guest rooms. And in the suites, we took a blue ombré wallcovering and made it go up to a certain height so that guests would feel like they’re underwater.

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