Making Decorating Memories at The Breakers in Palm Beach

Making Decorating Memories at The Breakers in Palm Beach

By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News

This year is the 126th anniversary of the founding of The Breakers. Some years ago, my staff and I served as decorators for the property.

Then as now, the resort was privately owned by the Kenan family. The Kenans are descendants, of course, of Mary Lily Kenan, widow of hotel-and-railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler, who in the 1890s began transforming Palm Beach into America’s premier winter resort.

I remember the old Beach Club, which was an indoor space that was torn down and replaced by the facility so many enjoy today.

Among the areas I decorated at the hotel was the Venetian Ballroom, the venue for so many charity galas and events. We used yards and yards of Venetian damask for draperies and wall coverings. Artist Michael Peck executed the over-door murals, and I had the ceiling painted a lovely Venetian blue with soft clouds.

One memory that stands out was when I presented the new look for the lobby and the hotel corridors — one corridor leading to the meeting rooms and the other to the beach bar. I remember being on a stage at the hotel to make the presentation. Tom Wicky, then the resort’s general manager, was not thrilled — and said so — when I unveiled my plan to carpet the lobby. At the time, it had a bare stone floor.

Of course, I was concerned because I didn’t want the clients to feel that I was doing something that they didn’t want to do. But I sincerely believed that stone floor should be carpeted.

Thinking of my time at The Breakers, I am proud to have overseen the restoration of the domed ceiling in the magnificent Circle Dining Room. When we took on the project, the ceiling had been painted over and re-frescoed. I had all the over-painting carefully removed. We restored the original ceiling in Venetian turquoise and gold, which you can still see today.

I also am proud that our firm created for the Seafood Bar its famous “fish counter” — a long aquarium filled with live fish and sea life. It's such a whimsical spot.

Working on that counter and restoring the ceiling in the Circle Dining Room remain among my happiest memories.

To The Breakers and the Keenan family, I wish a happy birthday year. I am so proud to be a part of the rich history of Palm Beach’s most famous resort.


  • Jim Thomas on

    I recently had the pleasure of reading your blog post titled “Making Decorating Memories at The Breakers in Palm Beach” on Dorothy Draper’s Home, and I wanted to express my delight in discovering this inspiring piece.

    Your blog post beautifully captures the essence of The Breakers in Palm Beach as a timeless and iconic destination for interior design enthusiasts. The way you describe the rich history, opulent architecture, and exquisite decor of The Breakers evokes a sense of grandeur and elegance.

    I particularly enjoyed the way you intertwined personal anecdotes and experiences with the design elements of The Breakers. Your storytelling approach brings the space to life and allows readers to envision themselves immersed in the beauty and splendor of the surroundings.

    The inclusion of stunning photographs throughout the article enhances the visual experience and complements your descriptive prose. It’s evident that great care was taken to capture the intricate details and unique design elements that make The Breakers so captivating.

    Furthermore, I appreciate the mention of Dorothy Draper’s significant contributions to the interior design of The Breakers. Sharing insights into her design philosophy and the lasting impact of her work at this iconic location adds depth to the narrative and further piques the interest of design enthusiasts.

    To further enhance the blog post, it would be valuable to provide readers with more specific tips or ideas on how they can incorporate elements of The Breakers’ design aesthetic into their own homes. Offering suggestions on color palettes, furniture styles, or decorative accents inspired by The Breakers would allow readers to infuse a touch of that Palm Beach elegance into their own decorating projects.

    Additionally, sharing some lesser-known facts or anecdotes about The Breakers, such as its historical significance or famous guests who have stayed there, would add an extra layer of intrigue and enrich the overall reading experience.

    Overall, “Making Decorating Memories at The Breakers in Palm Beach” is a delightful and engaging blog post that transports readers to the world of timeless beauty and design excellence. Your passion for interior design and your ability to convey the allure of The Breakers shines through in every word and image.

  • Barbara Black-Melone on

    I thank you for sharing your style, knowledge, boldness, and most of all your freedom of spirit!

  • Ingrid Butler Draper on

    I adore the red piano. Dorothy would approve.

  • Erik Wagner on

    I have admired and enjoyed the Circle DR ceiling many times. Great job.

    I had no idea that you had come up with the fish bar. It’s always talked about. Needs more fish, however. I can’t remember the lobby floor and you leave the reader in suspense. I’d probably go for original. Who won out?
  • Donna Whitmire on

    Good morning Mr Varney,
    I love how you transform a room into such a happy positive spot to relax and enjoy just being there.
    Your fabric patterns and furniture placement just make people feel good and we sure need more of that now.
    Years ago I was fortunate to buy a set of your bed sheets. After using on a daily basis the quality remains and only a little fraying on some edges thanks to my delinquent washing machine!
    I would like to request that you start making bedding again. Please consider! Once someone uses your sheets they are hooked and no others will do!
    Thanks ! Donna Whitmire

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