Text: Sherry Moeller
Photos: Carmel Brantley
Although interior designer Susan Carlson loved living in the bucolic countryside of Bedford, New York, for the last 15 years, she also had a soft spot for Palm Beach, Florida. Her parents moved there in the 1990s, and she and her husband, Gus, purchased a second home in Palm Beach in 2013. So when they decided to move into their 1950s beach town bungalow full time in 2022, it already felt like home, especially since they had just completed a full-scale renovation that turned it into a charming oasis.
“I wanted to create a jewel box, so I paid close attention to design details and custom finishes,” says Carlson when envisioning the renovation that spanned more than a year. “These features, usually found in grander homes, turned what is an otherwise modest space into something elegant.” Special touches, including beautiful hardware, monogrammed linens, unique vanities, dramatic wallpaper, and French refined limestone flooring as smooth as soft sand, evoke the welcoming feeling Carlson wanted in her new primary residence.
“It takes a lot of thought to get everything you want in a relatively small space, so I examined every square inch from the point of view of functionality,” adds the designer, who engaged her entire family in the process. Her husband, who’s an avid sailor and outdoorsman, had some input on the exterior selections, curb appeal, and inside-outside connection, while her two college-age daughters consulted on their bedrooms. Gravitating toward blue, beige, and white as the foundation for the home’s design, Carlson created a soothing palette with pops of greens and pinks. “I wanted it to be less themed, less coastal, and more formal than you might expect,” Carlson says.
Working with architect Pat Seagraves, they began by taking down a back wall and fireplace that blocked the view from the foyer into the living room and beyond. This allowed them to center the front door, which corrected the asymmetrical facade, and add a foyer, something missing in the original design. These changes also provided a clear line of sight from the front door to the backyard.
By raising the ceilings in as many rooms as possible, the interiors felt larger and more open, while also giving definition to the new cement tile roofline along the exterior. Dual-purpose pieces, such as dog crates built into the entertainment center in the family room and a mirrored cabinet across from the kitchen, not only make a design statement but also serve triple duty as a bar, television cabinet, and storage space. “Making sure there was space for the family’s necessities, such as linens, shoes, and sentimental items like books and memorabilia, were all part of the overall plan,” Carlson says.
While shopping for antiques in Lake Park, Florida, Carlson spotted a whimsical vintage table that she thought at first would go outside. But once painted and topped with marble, it was the perfect counterpoint to the palm motif wallpaper in the foyer. “It doesn’t take itself too seriously,” she adds. “I love the hunt and will look anywhere—from high-end showrooms to vintage stores to discount retailers—for interesting pieces that can give a space a unique signature. Incorporating old and new items with different price points and periods gives a house soul.”
Though aesthetically opposite, from neutral and calm in Bedford to colorful and bright in Palm Beach, the commonality between Carlson’s previous and current residences is that she always wants a home to feel like you can go in any room, sit down, and be comfortable. “A home that’s pretty, elegant, and not too precious is my end goal,” she adds.