When Michael Miller and his husband, William McKinley, decided to renovate the Palm Beach condominium they bought in 2014, they knew the oceanfront setting would set the tone.
After all, the view and easy-breezy walk to the Palm Beach sand inspired them to purchase the ’70s era unit, despite it needing a total makeover. But they were leery about winding up with a disappointing, nautical cliche. “We wanted a beach house feeling that wasn’t formal, but was still contemporary and chic,” Miller explains. They didn’t let a lack of design and renovation experience stop them from tackling the job themselves. “We took it down to the studs, ripped it all out 100 percent, installing new walls and everything,” Miller says.
The final design for their three bedroom, three bath home, located in the southernmost building of the 2500 South Ocean Development, plays off the shoreline, with nary an anchor or striped flag in sight. The couple altered the layout to better suit their lifestyle, adding a large island in the kitchen with touches of quartz and zebra wood that’s perfect for entertaining. “We opened it up completely. Now the kitchen flows into dining room, which flows into living room. If you’re in the kitchen, you can still be part of the entertainment,” Miller says.
Inspired by the combination of water, sand and light, they chose numerous reflective surfaces that change depending on your viewpoint. These include frosted barn doors that also serve as floor-to-ceiling partitions, adding practicality and an updated rusticity; white quartz counter and vanity tops; sea-glass back splashes and black marble in the kitchen and bathrooms that seem to capture the moods and hues of the Atlantic.
Because the couple relied on a contractor only to oversee the physical labor of the construction, as well as the new plumbing and electrical systems, they could ensure the materials would prove practical for beach-style living. With the sand and water just beyond the lanai, they picked materials — such as Italian porcelain floors that resemble wood instead of the real thing — that would hold up to the elements,
“We knew we’d be walking from the beach to the apartment a lot, so we’d be coming in with sand,” Miller says. “The Italian porcelain was hard to get, and took a long time, but was worth it in the end, because the sand cleans right up, and nine out of 10 people tell me that they love our ‘wood’ floor.'”
As the renovation progressed, these hands-on owners learned the importance of having plenty of indirect light — their orchids and other plants thrive — but not too much. With the ocean located slightly to the northeast, their cooling costs are manageable. Likewise, the plants, about which the pair are “crazy,” wound up creating so much privacy that the push-button, high-gloss white shades are hardly necessary.
In the end, the couple proved so effective in their roles that Miller has found something of a second vocation as a designer. They’re moving to a new piece of Palm Beach real estate to accommodate a growing family—they’re expecting a grandchild—and to continue to expand McKinley’s exotic plant collections. Clearly, no matter where their move takes them, designing with setting in mind will be their goal.
Photos by Shelby Soblick.