A Mediterranean Revival Redefined in Palm Beach

 

To build their latest award-winning family home (their ninth overall), longtime Palm Beach residents Leni and Peter May had an ambitious, highly detailed vision and an aggressive schedule in mind. Up for the challenge of such a short deadline, general contractor Livingston Builders, Inc. (LBI) was called to transition the project from the drawing board to reality in collaboration with Mark Ferguson of Ferguson & Shamamian Architects. The hard work paid off, and the property is the 2018 recipient of the Palm Beach Preservation Foundation’s distinguished Schuler Award, which recognizes new architecture that is designed and built in keeping with the traditional styles of Palm Beach and contributes to the historic and cultural fabric of this special town.

“The May residences are excellent examples of infill design that are respectful of the existing streetscape and architectural traditions of Palm Beach,” said Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach executive director Amanda Skier. “The Spanish style references landmarked properties from the 1920s in a contemporary fashion that incorporates a creative use of space.”

With the help of their construction representative Greg Bollard and the addition of Livingston Builders, the May family began by reassembling the dream team of designers behind their eight previous homes: Bunny Williams Interior Design, Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, and Nievera Williams Landscape Design were responsible for the interiors, buildings, and gardens, respectively. During the planning stage, the team was confident in the beauty of the family’s vision, but it was technically very complex, and it became clear to Peter May that the project called for quick obstacle resolutions. Additionally, the site is protected archaeological land, so major excavation was dug by hand and monitored by an on-site archaeologist. With a focus on its unique approach to customer service, no request is too small or too challenging for LBI, including the Mays’ greatly compressed construction schedule. Working with Ferguson and the designers, the firm devised creative approaches to problem-solving and scope allocations. Specialized in navigating the notoriously stringent recommendations of the Town of Palm Beach Planning, Zoning, and Building Departments, the team reached its building goal four days early, giving Bunny Williams unfettered access to execute the interiors, which feature a palette of airy neutrals complementary to the location.

How did they pull it off? First, the firm positioned a talented young architect, James Hall, as project manager. With Jim Remez, one of the co-founding partners of Livingston Builders as his mentor and guide, the LBI team led an unabated offensive on all tasks at hand. The Mays wanted a traditional house with state-of-the-art amenities and a building that would last generations, withstanding the assault of Florida’s hurricanes. They have owned many landmarked homes in Florida and in the Northeast, but this was their opportunity to create a new landmark for the future. The brief was to marry 21st-century construction methods and technology with the artistry of talented craftsmen, to create a home deeply cognizant of its roots and the cultural history of its setting—and to use natural, local materials, including cypress, carved coral stone, and hand-troweled sand stucco. 

Accordingly, the buildings are designed in a Mediterranean Revival style with construction materials and motifs that echo the traditions of historic Palm Beach. The property consists of three buildings on three separate lots: a newly constructed Main House overlooking the Intracoastal waterway to the west; a newly constructed pool house with an exercise room, garage, and guest suites in the center lot; and the minor renovation of an existing building to be used as a guest house to the east abutting Bradley Place.

The new buildings were erected using structural pecky cypress beams (an increasingly scarce material), which made it a challenge to source. A hallmark of historical Palm Beach landmarks, pecky cypress wood derives from a tree that has died and spent time under water. Modern builders have long abandoned the use of true lumber rafters, but real pecky beams were sourced to give the Mays’ house its remarkable authenticity. 

In an acceptance letter read by Executive Director Skier at the award presentation on April 5, Peter May wrote it best: “Having always admired the detail of the Spanish/Italian influences of so many beautiful properties in Palm Beach, our aim was to build new buildings that were true to those influences but open and light—and more intimate and contemporary—and would work for our lifestyle today.”