Real estate “artist”—and best-selling author—Frank McKinney has rehabbed more than 40 luxury oceanfront homes in Palm Beach under a strict rule for himself: Don’t fall in love with any one property.
However, McKinney couldn’t resist the charms of Ocean Apple, a historic estate in Delray Beach that he purchased and began renovating over two decades ago. Who could blame him? The six-bedroom, six-bathroom manse is the work of John Volk, an architect best known for his graceful designs for the likes of Vanderbilt, DuPont, Ford, and Pulitzer in Palm Beach.
Commissioned by cartoonist Fontaine Talbot Fox, Jr., who drew the popular, early 20th-century Toonerville Folks strip, Ocean Apple includes many details from its 1930 origins—such as Florida cypress walls, beamed ceilings and Dade County pine floors, balanced by thoughtful modern updates.
With a cartoonist as a client, Volk drew inspiration from one of Fox’s books, The Toonerville Trolley and Other Cartoons, by including a peaked master bedroom that is meant to be replica of the book’s trolley car. For the renovation, McKinney, who shares Ocean Apple with his wife, Nilsa, and their college-age daughter, tried to honor every authentic feature while adding touches more attuned to contemporary life.
By “stripping and warming” the house’s interior, McKinney ended up with a cozy cottage that brings the outside in via classic French doors in the Florida room. The same indoor/outdoor vibe occurs in the second-story master “trolley” bedroom suite, which leads to a tropical hardwood balcony with sweeping ocean views.
Outside, the property boasts 4,000 square-feet of original decking made from Abaco, a Brazilian hardwood that’s stood the test of salt air. The decks frame and connect the modern pool, sunken spa and exercise sauna, all of which enhance the South Florida lifestyle. Around them, McKinney has preserved the lush landscape of rubber, palm, sea grape and gumbo limbo trees, some of which date back more than 150 years. The cooling shade, which can only be achieved from these mature plantings, cuts down on the need for air conditioning and also ensures plenty of privacy.
Wanting to make the home even more livable while respecting its good bones, McKinney adjoined one of the two guest cottages on the property to the main house—creating an outdoor terrace that leads to a dining room with a wet bar and a newly renovated, open-format kitchen a professional chef would crave. Blue quartz counter-tops echo the Atlantic that swells and recedes only 100 feet of ocean frontage away. (The other two-bedroom, two-bathroom guest house remains intact.)
The most intriguing addition to the property adds just the right touch of whimsy. In 2002, McKinney built a treehouse that serves as a combination office and loft bedroom, with 12 windows for panoramic views, hardwood floors and cedar walls. Well-appointed with a full bathroom, air-conditioning, a TV and a crafted bamboo desk, the treehouse connects to the master bedroom by a suspension bridge.
This space has proven to be his muse—the author of six books says he didn’t even start writing until he completed the treehouse. It “pulls creativity” out of him, which is certainly fitting, given that the home’s first owner was a cartoonist. For the next owner of Ocean Apple, a new chapter in creative living awaits.
Photography by Alex Markow.