One of Palm Beach’s oldest structures, the Duck’s Nest undergoes a renovation worthy of its storied past.
A pool and expansive lawn separate the clients’ main house and the Duck’s Nest, which serves as the guest house.
Can you picture it? It’s the early 1890s in Palm Beach. You look outside your window and there it is: a home floating on a barge that has come all the way from New York. That’s how the Duck’s Nest, circa 1891, made its grand debut. “It was basically a kit of parts and was put together on-site [by Henry Maddock],” says Meghan Ford Taylor of Seabreeze Building and Leeds Custom Design, who was tasked with the architectural restoration and millwork, respectively. Apart from renovations in the 1940s, ’50s and ’70s, the home has remained virtually untouched. Until now.
The bar recalls the clients’ favorite watering hole in London, Chiltern Firehouse.
Having worked with Taylor on their primary residence, which sits on the same parcel of land, the clients enlisted the architect for the full-scale renovation of the Duck’s Nest. “The most important part of this project was to make everything look like it had been there for 100 years,” she says. “We took a lot of cues from the exterior.” Victorian-style moldings were replicated throughout. The north tower of the structure was expanded, and the internal stairs were moved to a more convenient position. The ceilings were vaulted to regain the original ceiling heights. Character was reinfused into the interior decor. And the structure was reinforced with a new foundation and concrete footers. “There wasn’t one area that we didn’t completely reinforce,” Taylor adds. “When people walk through it, they love it, but they have no idea exactly how much was done and removed.”
Meghan Ford Taylor
Naturally, the renovation was fully underway when the pandemic hit last year, which made for an interesting construction process. “It was right in the middle of the pandemic,” Taylor recalls. “There wasn’t really an influx of people; it was the same group. It was like our little family on the job site. When everyone was quarantined and everything was shut down, construction was still happening in Palm Beach.” Among that pseudo family were Leeds team members Joseph Tralongo, general manager; Piotr Piatek, master carpenter; and Brayden McCann, the “go-to guy for anything you need fabricated”; as well as molders, sanders and the clients just across the lawn. “It was crucial to have the same guys there every day.”
The home has three bedrooms, one of which was part of the north tower’s expansion.
And, as it turns out, made for a smoother decision-making process. With all parties seated at the proverbial table, construction, budget and design choices were made on the spot. "The exterior had a lot of charm, but the interior didn't reflect any of the charm and whimsical nature of the exterior. So that was our main goal: to really make the house and the interiors reflect the charm of the exterior," Taylor says.
The Duck’s Nest’s loggia
Says Taylor, “The exterior had a lot of charm, but the interior didn’t reflect any of the charm and whimsical nature of the exterior. So that was our main goal: to really make the house and the interiors reflect the charm of the exterior.” Enter interior designer Phoebe Howard, who worked in tandem with Taylor through the renovation. “For the interiors, the clients asked me for something suited to the historic, slightly funky feeling of the house,” Howard explains. “The directive was to make it ‘perfectly imperfect.’ Nothing was to feel formal, off-limits or too precious. We wanted it to be fun, colorful and filled with vintage items sourced during the construction process. It was designed to be used as a guest house/party house, so we were able to push the normal boundaries.”
The retro-inspired kitchen in robin’s-egg blue
Many vintage pieces were sourced from local spots along South Dixie Highway, like Bamboo & Rattan, Palm Beach Home Style, Todd Hase and Iconic Snob Galeries. As for standout design moments, “There are so many!” Howard says. “The bar [inspired by Chiltern Firehouse, the clients’ favorite bar in London] located centrally in the house just draws you in and sets the tone for a good time. The kitchen with its bright blue cabinetry, check ceiling and tile walls and counters continues the retro vibe. And, of course, the spacious loggia with the patterned concrete tile floors creates yet another spot to lounge and entertain guests. Each space has its own personality, yet they all flow and feel cohesive together.”
Twenty-two of the windows and doors, including much of the stained glass, are original.
Photography by: Sargent; Brantley Photography; Christina Cernik Photography