By Land or Sea

Grandeur March 17, 2006

Written by Sally Crawford

Interior photography by Ren Dittfield, Yacht photography by Sargent Architectural Photography

Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo

It is an achievement to make a grandly decorated house - or, for that matter, a sleekly styled yacht - into a home. Yet interior designers William R. Eubanks and David Mitchell Brown have successfully accomplished that feat in Susan and Jim Keenan’s Palm Beach residence and aboard their new yacht, the 124-foot Lady Susan, which serves as their second home.

“The Keenans have such good taste, and it’s truly a delight to work with them,” says Memphis-based Eubanks, whose namesake design firm has an office in Palm Beach. He has executed four other projects - including two previous residences in Palm Beach - for the couple over many years.

“We’ve become good friends along the way,” he adds.

Whether on land or sea, Eubanks says, Susan Keenan knows exactly what she likes - handsomely appointed interiors that are at once elegant and comfortable. And she is always actively involved in the design.

That’s certainly the case in the Keenan home on the north end, where the couple has lived for three of their 13 years in Palm Beach. Today the rooms boast traditional furnishings, Venetian and Asian influences and exotic fabrics. But the home - built in1970 and updated in 1991 - was filled only with bare-bones possibilities when the Keenans and the designers first saw it.

Eubanks and Brown envisioned elaborate architectural details and added them - crown moldings, door surrounds and even the stately fireplace in the living room.

The room can be seen from the foyer, where Chambers, a very blond Labrador retriever, greets visitors, his presence adding to the hominess of the place.

The front door is heavily scrolled with ironwork, allowing plenty of light into the marble-floored foyer.

The living room is divided into two areas, one more formal than the other. Among the furnishings in the more casual half are a large Coromandel-style screen with images of the Forbidden City and a media center with a state-of-the-art television. A sectional sofa sits in front of it, upholstered in a Nancy Coizon fabric that is beautiful but also rugged to stand up to the wear and tear of family life. Although the Keenans today are empty nesters, their home was once filled with teenagers.

“We have six grown children, and we wanted to have them ‘with us’ in this room rather than off somewhere else,” Susan explains.

A Regency bookcase from England made of rosewood and partially gilded is against another wall - so shallow that is looks almost built-in.

“It is architectural,” acknowledges Eubanks, who is most personable. The two designers have worked closely together for years - they did the main salon of this year’s American Red Cross Designers’ Show House in West Palm Beach - and Brown often finished Eubanks’ sentences when describing their work.

The living room’s walls are Venetian plaster, the gold tone matching the luxurious draperies.

The formal conversation area by the fireplace includes two of Susan’s favorite antiques - round, lacquered Chinese tables. “I have had them for years, and they have always been perfect in every house we have lived in. There’s also a breakfront that was my mother’s,” she explains.

A backgammon table expresses the couple’s enthusiasm for gaming. Serious bridge, however, takes place in the adjacent sunroom - Susan’s favorite room.

“It is light and bright and filled with the colors I love,” she says, tracing her preference for yellows and oranges to her native California. “My husband and I spend a lot of time reading in here. I also play bridge here with my girlfriends.”

Yellow glazed walls and a floral-motif carpet set off a card table of inlaid marble. Flanked by French doors hung with drapery panels, the room’s enormous picture window is left bare, truly acting like a painting, bringing the outside in and lending a contemporary edge to the room.

Nothing really matches, and that is the charm - it’s a mix, but it all works. Eubanks calls the technique “layering.” Complementing the floral draperies, cushions on the sofa and chairs appear in plaids and solid colors.

On the ceiling is a delicate Venetian chandelier in pink and green crystal - a piece that has graced several of the Keenans’ homes.

A noticeable engraved plaque sits on a table honoring Susan as a 2002 Woman of Distinction by Palm Beach Atlantic University. Family photos are everywhere in fancy frames - although not as many as usual, because quite a few are on the boat right now, placed there by Susan to make the couple feel more at home.

In a signature touch, Eubanks upholstered formal antique chairs in casual fabrics. Any other design signatures? Eubanks and Brown look at each other. “We always have a little animal in evidence,” says Eubanks, pointing out the leopard-print carpet on the main stairway and the ocelot-patterned chair coverings in the dining room.

Adjacent to the sunroom, the dining room is truly a work of art. A Dennis & Leen chandelier hangs above an 18th-century English mahogany table surrounded by 12 Venetian chairs covered in the velvet ocelot print. Eubanks has engineered a larger-than-it-is look by drawing the eye upward, where crown moldings and medallions accent the 14-foot ceiling, and by layering, as he says, including a wall covering that gleams with hints of gold.

Among her favorite spots in the house is the office space Susan had built off the kitchen. “I spend hours at my desk, but still feel very connected to the family, as they are always in the kitchen,” she says.

The house has no grand staircase near the front entrance, but the designers didn’t neglect the simple stairwell tucked into a hallway behind the living room. The floor sports black-and-white tile, while the walls are hung with paintings of the Keenans’ prize thoroughbreds, including a race horse that won the Preakness and placed second in the Kentucky Derby.

“Jim and I were involved in the horse business. I competed in hunter jumpers, Jim and our son Barry played polo,” Susan explains.

The gallery also reflects Susan’s love of photography. Many photos were taken in Nantucket, a favorite destination on their boat.

The upstairs wing is just for the two of them, with the master bedroom, sitting room and dressing rooms clustered at one end. With lush window treatments and a wall-mounted swagged canopy over the bed, the master bedroom seems to wrap around its occupants.

Throughout the master suite, Eubanks and Brown did a rather intriguing thing with the elaborate silk draperies. They all have the same pale yellow background and are similar in style, but the designers chose subtly different patterns for the panels in the bedroom, the hallway leading from the bed chamber to the dressing room and the water closets. At first glance, the draperies look identical, but the pattern makes each a bit special.

And then there’s the Keenans’ boat, an oceangoing yacht by all standards, but in Palm Beach, yachts are referred to as boats.

Jim Keenan is a serious yachtsman, and he and Susan are thrilled with their sleek blue-and-white vessel built by Broward Marine and sporting three decks.

“Our new boat is our moving home,” says Susan. “We will spend the winter in the Bahamas and the Caribbean.”

They like the Northeast and will travel to Massachusetts and Maine this coming summer. “I think Nantucket and Bar Harbor are my two favorite spots to visit by boat,” she says.

Working closely with the Keenans on the interiors, Eubanks and Brown eschewed any designer’s flamboyance as they envisioned the Lady Susan’s intimate spaces. But the same attention to detail, fabric choice and carefully chosen decorative accessories found in the couple’s home are also evident on the yacht.

“We wanted simplicity but with enough energy for its own identity,” Eubanks says. “Not busy or fussy.”

The master suite on the main deck includes a private office, a library and a cabin with a king-size bed, along with his-and-her heads. Table lamps give an aura of brightness and warmth. Tied-back silk curtains under substantial valences match the bed skirt, which is a pale yellow-gold. Wood blinds complement the bedspread, plain except for a subtle rope-like design and a little scalloped border at the bottom. Six decorator’s pillows with a floral design sit at the top, looking inviting. The ceiling above the bed has a stylized stepped configuration that suggests a canopy.

Eubanks emphasizes the importance of proper lighting, especially on a boat with tight quarters. This is achieved with penlights at ceiling level along with layered lighting at other levels.

Four equal-sized guest staterooms on the lower level with four private baths afford comfort for all.

A glass wall separates the wheelhouse from the sky lounge that opens onto the aft deck. Muted gold carpeting complements the granite bar area and rich wood tables and chests. A handsome sectional is upholstered in a black-on-beige fabric that suggests nautical flags.

Elsewhere, the main salon accommodates the formal dining table and several seating areas. Low-key upholstered chairs and sofas in cream tones blend with the textured carpet.

And because the salon’s ceilings are low, “we did everything we could to bring verticals into the space - such as the fabric panels at the windows and table lamps - to lift the eye up,” Brown explains.

In the dining area, a painting of colorful sailboats is prominently mounted on a panel that slides away to reveal a large-screen television.

The picture adds a splash of color to the neutral-toned interior, as do the brightly patterned sofa pillows.

“We shopped all day with Susan for the fabric for those cushions,” Eubanks recalls. “When she saw it, she said, ‘This is it.’ It adds just the right punch.”