By Carleton Varney - Special to the Palm Beach Daily News
I’ve learned over the years that you can find design inspiration everywhere. And there is no question that the ibis — a bird associated with ancient Egyptian culture and common in South Florida — deserves some design recognition.
I recall designing a fabric called “Snowy Egret” that featured a white bird similar to the ibis. And once upon a day, I designed the interiors of nightclub on East 50th Street in New York City called Ibis. It was in the space that had been home to the original Versailles Restaurant, where the late Edith Piaf got her start.
Ibis Isle is named, of course, for the familiar bird. Just across the street from Phipps Ocean Park, the small island is home to a number of Palm Beach’s friendly faces, who live in its charming mix of private homes and condominiums. Betsy Berkshire, for instance, is a historian and archivist well familiar with the residential and commercial properties of Palm Beach. She is a genius when it comes to fielding questions about the when, the where and the how of the properties here.
It was she who told me that Ibis Isle is sometimes — and still is, by some — referred to as Penner Island. With many children, the Penner family decades ago lived on the island alone with no other families. The Penner boys and girls, Betsy tells me, traveled to school in Lake Worth via a rowboat on the Lake Worth Lagoon, with their grandfather being the bridge tender. Penner Island was once a popular destination for its oyster beds, which were filled with choice morsels for the locals.
By the early 1950s, the Phipps family was eyeing the South End for development and would end up platting the Ibis Isle subdivision in 1953. Town officials, according to Betsy, worked out a deal with the Phipps family that resulted in the town getting the land across South Ocean Boulevard for what is today Phipps Ocean Park — an interesting bit of town lore, to be sure.
In addition to its single-family residences, the island has a number of low-rise condominiums developed as the French Villas. The individual villas have French names and are handsomely landscaped. There also are two low-rise towers on the island’s North End that boast apartments with the greatest views of the waterway and downtown West Palm Beach.
With their mansard roofs, the villas are all French gray with white trim — a very Christian Dior color scheme and appropriate to the Provence-style architecture.
The homes of Ibis Isle remind me that the choice of exterior colors for houses in Palm Beach is seldom a casual decision. Complementary colors work not only to connect the houses within a given neighborhood but also as visual elements that give the town its overall cohesive feel. Soft yellows or golds, pale pink sand French blue and gray are popular on the island – they look great in the bright sunlight. I find the coloring of Palm Beach homes a fine study in appropriateness.
And for the interior of those homes, I think that those of you who love the famous birds of Florida will find that decorating with fabrics, wallpapers and accessories inspired by the ibis – or other water birds — will be most rewarding.