Delightful Liaisons

Shelter November-December 2005

Written by Jennifer Lea Reed

Photographed by Kim Sargent

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William Eubanks combines 18th century France with a fresh, updated palette for drop-dead-gorgeous results

It requires a deft touch to ensure a period-inspired interior steers clear of a museum room’s dull veneer, to recreate the most critical details of a beloved era and yet imbue the entire mood with freshness and life. In the hands of William Eubanks, this 18th century French interior in Palm Beach, Florida, suffers only from an excess of perfection in the discerning balance between then and now.

With just six months to gut a four-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot apartment and turn it into an exquisite, aristocratic two-bedroom haven for a lover and collector of 18th century French art and antiques, Eubanks certainly had his work cut out for him. But with a vast collection of period antiques - both his own and his client’s - to choose from, a palette of luscious modern fabrics that references the hand-loomed artistry of the past, access to fine craftsmen in flooring, woodwork and wall finishes, and an encyclopedic knowledge of architectural and interior detail, Eubanks’ real challenge was to pull these elements together in a way that made the old seem new again. “Because we do a lot of period design, we’ve truly made a study over the years of period detail to make sure that if we are pursuing an 18th century boiserie room, it’s correct. It’s so easy to be off, and you quickly see if the detail is not correct or the proportion is not correct,” Eubanks says. “So we try from the background up to make sure we get the essence of that. But we’re not trying to be purists in any sense of the word. If we go too far with this, it becomes staid or impersonal.”

Instead, the key was to allow historic detail, such as the boiserie paneling, Versailles marquetry flooring and soft wall glazing, to set the mood for the antique pieces; to fill in functional gaps (such as coffee tables) with new work using period-relevant elements; to bring in yards and yards of silk textiles in an up-to-date color palette, and to interject the odd bit of modernity here and there - overstuffed sofas, a pair of fully upholstered 1930s chairs - to relax the rhythm of the past.

The main salon, for example, is a rich illustration of what such effort can yield. With ocean views on three sides, this residence is firmly planted in the Gold Coast. Yet, with careful choices in color, the interior seems right at home. Buttery yellows, coral salmons, robin’s egg blues - all are colors compatible with both the geographic area and the historic arena. The layout of furnishings, with two distinct seating arrangements, allows both an intimate group of six and a party of 50 to feel equally at ease. Throughout most of the apartment, yellow glazed walls keep the palette open and maintain continuity, but with variations from room to room. Here, the walls are textured with a soft ragging effect, coupled with a strie glaze on all the crown and base molding trim. High ceilings give the correct overall proportion to the room, allowing luxurious drapery in an over-scale Italianate pattern of gold shot with salmon thread to frame the view.

On either side of the room, anchoring an 18th century Aubusson carpet, are two, mirror-imaged sofas in a soft, coral salmon fabric with golden thread running through, very nearly the reverse of the drapery. Paired with one sofa are two Louis XVI giltwood chairs, with their typical simple curves and tapering lines, reupholstered with a hand-loomed silk leopard print. “Animal prints were used in the 18th century, though they used the real thing,” Eubanks says. “Here it revives and lifts the room with that little bit of the exotic. This way the room doesn’t end up taking itself too seriously.” Paired with the other sofa are two 1930s French fully upholstered chairs, bedecked in a more contemporary floral silk. On one side, an 18th century specimen marble table of Italian marble, lapis lazuli and onyx is commandeered into a coffee table, with a bronze base fashioned by designer Robert Metzger. On the other, a George III-inspired table of ornately carved gold-painted wood and glass. From the lamps, of late 18th or early 19th century Chinese porcelain, to the couplet of tortoise shell and bronze dore perfumeries, no detail escapes scrutiny. And for those guests not facing the ocean view, a glorious Coromandel lacquer screen with a deep, dark chocolate background and splashes of the greens, melons and yellows that are integral to the rest of the room. In all, two areas of distinct visual interest that work as a harmonious whole.

Other elements throughout the apartment are equally meticulous. The dining room boasts the boiserie walls, walnut marquetry floors, an Empire chandelier, a Francois Boucher painting above a Louis XVI serving table, a trumeau panel and Louis XV chairs carved as copies of originals found in Paris. The master bedroom’s canopied bed draped in a cocoon of silk damask takes center stage with its intricate folds and swags. For this Palm Beach resident who loves the period, 18th century France is just a front-door away.