Rhode Islanders Sally and Bob Gilbane have longstanding ties to Palm Beach. Having resided for many years in an Edward Durell Stone apartment building, they decided in 2014 that they were ready for a home with more space to enjoy time with their growing family. The waterfront home they selected had tremendous potential, with its bedroom suites, charming garden, and large dock, but they quickly realized the interior would need more than just a “coat of paint” to give them the coastal home they desired. The Gilbanes wanted a comfortable beach house, and the decision was made to demolish the existing interiors and start anew. They called upon their daughter, Sara Gilbane, of Sara Gilbane Interiors, but an architect and builder would also be needed to realize their dream of a family home in paradise.
As a design aficionado, Bob would rather study plans and drawings than sleep. As CEO of the Gilbane Development Company, he keenly understood the need to bring together the perfect builder-architect team to work with Sara. Local experience was a must, including an architect with an impeccable track record with town hall. This combination came together after an initial meeting attended by Jim Remez, of Livingston Builders, Inc., and Gerard Beekman, of Gramatan Corporation. Livingston Builders, co-founded by Mr. Remez, is a bespoke construction company with more than 20 years of experience in Palm Beach; Gramatan Corporation, an architecture studio, is its younger sister company.
From the outset, meetings were always attended by the Gilbanes, their daughter Sara, Jim Remez of Livingston Builders, and Gerard Beekman. The agendas were detailed and comprehensive for maximum efficiency, covering all aspects of the project, from administrative considerations to architectural developments and fabric palettes and samples. The Livingston Builders team established a fast-track schedule where the puzzle of the construction timeline was carefully sequenced, including a strategy to build large parts of the project off-site, which significantly shortened installation time.
Of prime importance was that the house should be true to its fabulous setting adjacent to the legendary Everglades Club, but also be a private, serene, and happy place. Formal architectural elements built out of locally sourced organic materials would keep the home cozy and elegant without being too serious, and the furnishings would create a play of high and low, with antiques from mixed periods and casual fabrics in warm colors.
The Gilbanes allowed Gerard to propose creative aesthetic plan solutions for the home’s floor plan and bold aesthetic nautical detailing. The floor plans were completely overhauled, resulting in the creation of a symmetrical layout consistent with the H-shaped massing of the building. The tropical theme of the interior was introduced by cast-metal entry gates bearing a coral motif, which continues into the entry loggia with Dominican coral stone and a limed pecky cypress ceiling. A “pill-shaped” living room was carved out of a warren of bathrooms and closets, requiring the entire roof’s structure to be reconfigured. Curving walls soften the formality of this room, and Sara’s upholstered sofas and armchairs are oriented to enjoy the magnificent views of the lagoon. Doric and Ionic elements mixed with “croisette” casings could have been stuffy, but here are infused with the casual charm that characterizes Palm Beach living.
The kitchen was transformed, opening onto a generous family room. After working closely with the millwork team, Gerard choose a rift-cut oak with tight vertical grain for this room, as the wood is still tactile with a limed and waxed surface. Durable man-made stone was selected for the perimeter counters while the island—where everyone congregates—is a veined natural quartzite.
Sara personalized the rooms with details such as the giant branching blue coral painted murals in the entry. The dining room is another space enlivened by tropical painted murals under a tented ceiling. In this special project, she explored different wallpaper options of new patterns composed of shells and tropical paisleys. To keep the new house feeling familial and comfortable, Sara and her team mixed in vintage furniture with custom pieces. And the result is a livable space inflected with a dose of whimsy.
Bob needed a quiet haven in order to study his own development projects. He asked Gerard to design a study for him that would harken back to the sea—a teak captain’s lair. The finished yacht-like room—with its porthole doors—now feels much larger, with plenty of room from the 11-foot leather-top desk. To keep with the nautical theme and insulate it from noises throughout the rest of the house, the ceiling was upholstered in white leather, while the floor was finished in teak and holly cabin sole.
All projects are delightful fantasies until the reality of budgets and schedule are factored in; however, Livingston Builders’ unusual open-book accounting system became an important guiding tool for the Gilbanes as the house progressed. Binders of detailed spreadsheets helped to establish real costs and fabrication timelines, allowing them to maintain control of the project.
In the end, it was a happy marriage. The Gilbanes’ residence in Palm Beach is the realization of Bob and Sally’s vision of an ideal home, designed and built to enhance their family’s lifestyle of relaxed sophistication.