Interior Designer Celerie Kemble Reveals Her Dominican Republic Oasis

As told to The Editors | April 15, 2021 | Home & Real Estate Feature

Palm Beach native and interior design guru Celerie Kemble releases her newest book.

With Palm Beach native and interior designer extraordinaire Celerie Kemble set to publish her new book, Island Whimsy: Designing a Paradise by the Sea (Rizzoli), we scored a look inside the tome ahead of its April debut. From the chapter “Sweet & Dark,” which examines the surprising color combinations gleaned from the tropics and transported to the Kemble-designed Playa Grande Beach Club in the Dominican Republic, here’s a snippet in her very own words.

The pool at Playa Grande Beach Club
The pool at Playa Grande Beach Club is at the center of the property. In something of a coup d’oeil, the glassy water appears to connect the jungle with the ocean.

There were a lot of salt-faded bathing suits and men’s espadrilles in lavender and lemon and coral roaming around in my 1970s Palm Beach childhood, and I’ve been inspired by those slightly off-kilter pastels ever since. The more worn-in they get, the better they look (which is good in the tropics, where the sun is always waiting to sink its teeth into them). Also, if you think of a coastal home as a natural extension of the beach and sky, it makes sense that the Creamsicle clouds and the pale, wavy green glass of the sea would want to come inside.

The exterior of the Star Bar at Playa Grande
The exterior of the Star Bar at Playa Grande

So I knew early on that the houses at Playa Grande would have whitewashed exteriors with pastel accents: ceilings the weathered blue of an old surfer’s eyes, and trims the yellow of good French butter. I knew there would be floral table cloths and posies on the sheets, headboards the shade of freshly sliced cucumbers, tiles painted to match a handful of shells. What I didn’t expect was the herd of fierce, almost primal colors that would soon insist on joining the party.

A bungalow bedroom at Playa Grande
In this bungalow bedroom, the poppy hue of the linen shams was inspired by the red torch ginger flowers that grow in the garden.

It was the jungle knocking, of course. As a rule of thumb, the dominant colors you see in the natural landscape around you will always work happily inside. And because the colors of the surrounding rainforest at Playa Grande are bold, it turned out I could get away with all kinds of surprising combinations in the houses. I found myself drawn to African wax prints in swirling Gauguin shades like fuchsia and malachite, blood red and aged Gouda. In came a lacquered raspberry bureau and lamps painted Yves Klein’s uber-pigmented blue. Up marched black lacquer cane chairs with squid-ink-and-white African batik cushions. Behind came matching batik canopies and wicker headboards the deep dusky green of forest shade.

Celerie Kemble's new book
The interior designer’s new book follows along on her journey as she decorated Playa Grande.

“YOU CAN SMELL THE OCEAN EVERYWHERE HERE. YOU CARRY IT IN YOUR HAIR.” –CELERIE KEMBLE, ON PLAYA GRANDE’S INFECTIOUS ALLURE

As I’d hoped, these beastie colors sang thrillingly together against the white and pastel backdrop, bringing the rooms to life in a way I couldn’t have expected. And once I dipped my toe into the African wax prints, the floodgates were open. I realized that a lot of the wilder textiles I’d fallen in love with and collected during my travels over the years—from Uzbek ikats and antique embroidery to Indonesian batiks to woven cape trims from Burma—would work here. Not only would they work, they’d be the special sauce. What I found is that these heartier elements—oft en dyed and woven by hand—created a language with the delicate macaron colors of Palm Beach that felt both authentic and fresh. They brought a much-needed element of drama and irony to the space, throwing a shriek and a belly laugh in to balance out all the sweetness. It was a good lesson. And in a way, it’s always the same lesson: Go with what you love. If you love it, it will work.

Kemble designed the tile in the bathroom
Kemble designed the tile in the bathroom, which she nicknamed Spinach Flower.



Photography by: By Karyn Millet/courtesy of Rizzoli