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Palm Beach chic: Interview with designer Mimi McMakin of Kemble Interiors

1 Apr 2014 9:25 AM
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Along with the haute couture and upscale architecture that can regularly be seen throughout Palm Beach, the locale is also known for its stylish interior design trends. The affluent town, which is nestled along the western coast of Florida, has become a beacon of sophistication in recent years, largely due to the presence of high-end design firms that have transformed the appearance of numerous estates in the immediate area. 

Of these businesses, the most well known and sought after is undoubtedly Kemble Interiors. Having previously received critical acclaim in such publications as House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, Town & Country, The New York Times and W Magazine, the company's founder - Mimi McMakin - is always in high demand. A Sunshine State native, she was born in Palm Beach, and gradually grew into a regional authority in interior design, thanks to her vibrant style and chic sensibility.

We were lucky enough to recently sit down with McMakin and discuss her unique approach to beautifying some of The Island's finest homes, as well as luxury real estate across the country. 

Sotheby's International Realty: You boast quite an impressive resume - how did you first become involved with interior design? Is it something that you always thought you would be doing?

Mimi McMakin: My design thoughts of Palm Beach began with my mother, who spent most of her time dragging me around from house to house, puttering and changing things. I went off to college and majored in design, and worked for a Boston-based firm in New York. I thought 'My gosh, this is so easy I can do this myself.' So I started my own company in New York, then I moved back to Florida [in 1974]. 

It wasn't incidentally so easy, but I joined a company called Smith Knudson and worked with them for I think three or four years. I then worked with the famous Polly Jessup, which was the most amazing design tutorial. She's very well-known ... So I had a very good, hands-on experience. And then in about 1985, I gathered up all my courage and opened up, again, Kemble Interiors. We've now grown to over 35 people, with offices in New York, Palm Beach and London.

SIR: In terms of design, do you consider Palm Beach to be different from any other areas in Florida? Do some things set it apart in terms of interior design schemes?

MM: It's probably the prettiest part of the state that's been taken care of and manicured and flowered, and it's really well-thought-out. I think there are a few similar places. I think Hope Sound and Delray/Gulf Stream and Palm Beach have a similar design aesthetic, in that the thought of being there is as though you're on a vacation all the time.

People come here because they have been able to finally afford it. And therefore, they're going to love every minute of what's here. It's a vacation. They want their houses to look like a vacation. An escape from a color palette of, let's say beige, taupe and brown, that you may find in the east. Here, our palette is white linen. It's the same palette as what you wear during the day. We do glazed walls in hibiscus pink or tangerine coral or ocean blue. It's all colorful, fresh and clean. 

SIR: That actually anticipates one of our other questions, which was if there are any specific colors that are frequently used to represent Palm Beach?

MM: Oh yes. I think if ever there were a color that would be the basis of the color here, I would say it's white linen. But we mix it with numerous local flower colors. Happy colors. And if they're not necessarily on the furniture, they're on the floor. We use hand-painted tiles on the floor, which are easy to take care of, of course. But it's a fabulous palette in lieu of an Oriental rug. 

SIR: Aside from hues found in native flora, does your firm typically incorporate any other local materials into area design projects?

MM: Very much so. We use coquina, which is coral. Very little of the coral that we use, though, is mined here. We use coral for floors, we use it for the tops of coffee tables, the coping around a swimming pool, outside on a terrace. We also use cypress a great deal, which you find in Florida in the swamps.

SIR: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, Mimi. Before we depart, is there anything your clients typically request that you think is representative of Palm Beach, in particular?

 MM: Most people want there to be a very seamless transition between the indoors and the outdoors. We've been in a few houses here where people have actually gone to the trouble of having the doors leading to the outside descend into the basement. So you really feel as though you are living in the gardens. The gardens here are extraordinary. I think you definitely need an area outside where you can entertain, where you can go read a book and where you can enjoy the land you have spent a fortune to purchase.