By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News
The former Biltmore Hotel — today the Palm Beach Biltmore condominium — has long been an iconic part of life on the island.
I recall when it was owned by H.R. Weissberg, who also owned New York City’s Gramercy Park Hotel. He once called me to ask about working on a property he was then acquiring in Puerto Rico, but sadly that day never came. But the Biltmore — which was built in the 1920s and went through number of changes in name and ownership before hitting hard times by the early 1980s — has become one of the most desired residential addresses in Palm Beach.
So many of the Biltmore’s apartments are showplaces, decorated by wonderful Palm Beach professionals.
My friends and clients, the late Broadway theater owner and impresario James Nederlander and his late wife, Charlene, lived on many streets during their years in Palm Beach, with their last home together on North County Road, a couple of miles north of the Biltmore.
Charlene’s daughter, Kristina Gustafson, is a real estate agent who has a place in The Biltmore. Kristina — unfortunately for me — adores the color white for decorating schemes. Maybe she lived in too many houses that I had decorated for her mother, which were always drenched in sparkling colors with an eclectic mix of furniture. Charlene loved color nearly as much as I do.
Her mother was a great fan of shopping consignment stores and would often send me to check out one of her finds.
One of the projects I did for Charlene, on Seminole Avenue, was a guesthouse, where about 80% of the furnishings were bought on consignment. The items came from shops in Palm Beach, West Palm Beach and Jupiter. Palm Beach County’s consignment stores are filled with wonderful things.
Kristina also has a home in Wellington, which she has decorated with plenty of white, although she has used some of her mother’s accents in the furnishings.
When adult children or other relatives are faced with the loss of a loved one, a question frequently arises: What are we to do with the furniture from the estate? In many cases, the collection ends up at auction or on consignment, except for a few select pieces.
And that makes sense. The children often have their own decorating tastes. I certainly understand the need for new. For many people, grandmother’s French-style armchair with damask upholstery can’t compete with a modern chair by Eero Saarinen, one with a seat upholstered in bright blue, orange, yellow or green.
And so be it.
But here's some advice if you’re dealing with the estate of a loved one: A good designer — and as I said, Palm Beach has many — may be able to advise you on how you might incorporate a piece of furniture into your home by giving it a new finish or renewing the upholstery.
There are so many styles that can work surprisingly well together. You can mix Asian designs, for instance, with practically anything — even Danish modern, for a bold and unexpected look.
In the same way, I look for good “bones” on pieces when I’m at an estate auction or browsing a consignment store. Ignore the existing fabric or paint color, if it’s not to your taste. That table, chair or sideboard may be something wonderful in disguise!
And that was something Charlene Nederlander understood perfectly.