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The Dreamy and Surreal Renovation of the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach Centres around De Gournay
March 10, 2022 Alia Fawaz

Once you set foot in the lobby of the Colony Hotel Palm Beach you are treated to an enchanting visual feast thanks to a remarkable collaboration between the iconic newly renovated and re-opened hotel and the artisan wallpaper brand de Gournay.

The exquisite wallpaper has the feel of a historic chinoiserie that has been modernised and adapted into a youthful and energising Floridian landscape. Flora and fauna representing the local vegetation and exotic indigenous creatures, including flamingos, alligators, panthers and the Colony’s very own monkey mascot, ‘Johnny Brown,’ embody the whimsy and humour of the beloved landmark hotel. “It gives you an amazing feeling when you walk into the hotel that you have stumbled into an enchanted everglade,” says Sarah Wetenhall, owner of the Colony Hotel.

What actually inspired the bespoke wallpaper pattern was the original mid-century mural that adorned the hotel lobby when it first opened in 1947. Sarah discovered an old postcard image of the mural ‘The Early Days’ in Palm Beach. It then became her mission to embody the spirit of the mural, yet to deliver something completely new and refreshing.

From monkeys holding martini glasses, panthers in diamond collars to flamingos in bow ties, there is no shortage of quirkiness but, according to Sarah, it is by no means confrontational. “So much love and care has been paid to every brushstroke. This is what strikes a balance between being fresh and fun whilst also being something that will stand the test of time and become an antique of the future, to be admired for generations to come.”

The wall-covering was meticulously painted by hand onto a handmade rice paper ground, which has a soft and textured quality that absorbs the paint unevenly giving a slightly aged feel. Once the paper was painted, it was sanded to give the background a more distressed feel. Then the design was lightly sketched out in pencil before it was painted in watercolour paints. At the last stage, to protect the wallpaper against wear and tear, it was glazed with an invisible coating.

Both de Gournay and the Colony Hotel are family-run businesses which allowed a lot of freedom when collaborating, not to mention a combined passion for the outcome of the special project. Hannah Cecil Gurney, the Director of de Gournay, and her team worked very closely with Wetenhall to create something entirely custom. Whilst enduring the global pandemic and on a very tight timeframe, they managed to communicate effectively and try different styles together – whether palette colours, painting styles or design layouts – to counter the issue of not being able to do site visits due to travel restrictions.

Dubbed ‘The Living Room’, the lobby space of the hotel where the wall-covering can be seen, is a chic spot where guests can dine, socialise and sip cocktails. To compliment the walls, furnishings were designed by Kemble Interiors. They feature a striking three-metre-tall pagoda rising above the fireplace, brass palm tree accent tables and palm-frond wall sconces.

The wallpaper has even made it onto the cover of de Gournay’s 2021 catalogue. Luckily for those who are interested to re-create this Colony design in their own space, it is now available for orders as part of de Gournay’s Chinoiserie Collection. While the original is depicted on the pink Edo Xuan (rice) paper, clients are free to choose their preferred colour palette and ground for their wall-covering. And if you happen to be in Palm Beach and want to take a souvenir home, framed panels of the Colony mural can be purchased from the hotel as well.

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