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The Temple of the Sun

All it took to give this 1940s Palm Beach pool house a face-lift was a little good taste and a splash of color

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When light pours in here, it’s not a drizzle. The oceanfront cabana on the Cohen family’s Palm Beach estate is as sun-drenched as the shore steps away, a prime poolside haven for casual lunches and drinks after tennis—if it weren’t falling apart. Years and years of the sun beaming down on anything will do that.

The palatial residence is nearly a century old, built originally for New York financier Otto Kahn by architect Maurice Fatio. Later, during the estate’s days as the Graham-Eckes boarding prep school in the 1940s, a chapel was constructed on the property. It’s now used as the pool house, revitalized by owner and interior designer Lisa Cohen, along with co-designer Susanna Maggard, just in time for summer.

“The space really had a lot of potential,” Cohen remembers about the building before renovations started. “It had all the original stained-glass windows, the pecky cypress walls, and the high cathedral ceiling was beautiful.”

Even some of the old family furniture that had accumulated inside wasn’t beyond saving. “The sun had damaged a lot of the fabrics; everything was really faded,” says Cohen. “I wanted to bring it back to life.”

Lisa Cohen oversees a flower arrangement

Lisa Cohen oversees a flower arrangement

She re-upholstered the vintage sofas in bright St. Tropez–inspired prints—a theme that took over the rest of the space. Cohen and Maggard furnished the pool house with beachfront classics like coral lamps and a Chevron rug by Aerin Lauder and splashed it with Lilly Pulitzer–era colors and Roberta Roller Rabbit prints to freshen up the lively Palm Beach look and feel that had faded over the years. “It needed rejuvenation,” Cohen says. “It needed to be perked up, and we really did that.”

Against the backdrop of its church-like architecture, the design twosome added modern touches with a Lucite double-tiered table by Maison 24, Missoni-covered chairs and one particular cheeky Alex Katz portraiture of a young girl in shades that caught Cohen’s eye. “When I saw it, I thought, what a perfect image for a Florida pool house.”

Now that the renovation is complete, Cohen and her family are turning the cabana into the hottest spot on the estate once more, for everything from afternoon drinks poolside to al fresco dinners. The place lights up, just like the other piece Cohen hung here—a diamond-dust image of Jackie O by rising artist Russell Young: “During the day it scintillates and shines. It’s beautiful.”

Click through the gallery to see more photos of the renovation. 

 

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