Monday, November 8, 2010

Where'd you run off to?

I'm sorry I disappeared for a few days, but I have a good excuse! I was lucky enough to accompany my sister to a conference at the absolutely drop-dead-gorgeous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida!

My adoration for this place is beyond words. The interiors are mind-blowing: giant aviaries, shimmering stars painted on indigo ceilings, arabesque carvings, stone columns, polished marble floors, trompe l'oeil moldings, giant painted wood beams, and every other beautifully crafted embellishment you can think of!

One side of the lobby (read: not even half of it)

The hotel was built in 1926 as a collaboration between hotelier John Bowman and Coral Gables founder George Merrick. It was the best of the best back then (and still is today), hosting opulent parties and weddings, and a myriad of Hollywood guests such as Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, and Bing Crosby. Franklin D. Roosevelt even set up a temporary White House office here when he would come to Miami for fishing trips.

Everglades Suite

It even hosted the notorious Al Capone, who - according to legend - ran a speakeasy out of the 13th floor during the days of prohibition and even killed hit man Thomas "Fats" Walsh in the suite. They dedicated the room to him, politely calling it the Everglades Suite (as opposed to the "Al Capone Suite", as it is known to most of the employees).

For some period of time, the pool was the largest in the world and was the site of many events such as synchronized swimming, alligator wrestling, and diving. A world record was even achieved in this pool, by none other than Tarzan-actor Johnny Weissmuller (who was then a swimming instructor).

I know it sounds cliche', but these pictures truly do not do the place justice. It is fabulous in every way. There is an air of extreme luxury that is imbued without pompousness or snobbery. Everyone who works there is truly willing to help you with anything!

I must give credit here to Frank at the concierge desk, who always steered me in the right direction. I had a day to myself to wander the gloriously tropical streets of Coral Gables (where the yard of each Spanish-style house is manicured yet colorful, and the streets are lined with banyan trees).

Frank suggested I walk into town to this awesome little bookstore called Books & Books, where I found endless design and art books in a modern, yet warm environment. (Let me note here that the people of Coral Gables were consistently friendly, albeit quite curious about where I was from..... possibly due to my tell-tale accent? Ha!)

I had lunch in their open-air courtyard, which was complete with huge red umbrellas, creeping bougainvillea vines (heavy with blossoms), and swaying palm trees. I'm telling you, this whole town is saturated with ambiance at every turn.

As I took in the architecture and the variety of languages being spoken around me, I realized that Coral Gables doesn't even feel like the U.S., a small, coastal European village perhaps, but not a town mere miles away from a booming Florida metropolis. I guess that is what makes the luxury and, more particularly, the fantasy of this town complete.

Design by India Hicks

So, with the memory of swaying palms and ocean breezes on my mind while I bear the freezing temps back at home, here are a few interiors that convey that tropical vibe.

To me, India Hicks is the queen of island style. In fact, she has even written the book on it: Island Life. Although her style is more British Colonial (perhaps due to the fact that her grandfather was the last Viceroy of India), it certainly conveys that exotic and luxuriant feel of the tropics.

Living room by India Hicks

Room by Schuyler Samperton

Miss Samperton has a definite flair for the exotic as well, as you can see in this fabulously bright living room. I love the pink curtains (of course), but it is their pairing with the heavy wood tables and scenic artwork that, I think, gives the room that worldly feel. (Giant bouquets of bougainvillea don't hurt either!)

Room by Schulyer Samperton

I hope you have a wonderful week ahead, and I hope we can all find inspiration to brighten the wintery gloom!

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