Designer Emily Painter Brightens Up Her 1,300-Square-Foot Rental
When interior designer Emily Painter first set foot in the Palm Beach, Florida, apartment she now calls home, the exact word that came to her mind was “frightening.” But rentals are hard to come by in this South Florida city, especially along Worth Avenue, the upscale shopping and dining district she was eyeing for her family. So Painter didn’t run away. Instead, she began dreaming.
“The walls were brown with mirrors everywhere,” says Painter, who has spent the past five years working as senior designer for Amanda Lindroth and before that was with Margaret Kirkland in Atlanta. “It was the most un-Palm Beach place imaginable. But that meant I had a blank canvas for reviving it.” Painter convinced her
husband, Austin, she could erase the drabness and resuscitate the 1,300-square-foot space. The catch was that all changes had to be cosmetic because this was a rental.
“While trying to brighten the place and make it feel like an island home, I was also wanting to visually enlarge
it and create rooms within rooms that could have many purposes,” Painter says. “I used my best tricks. I needed it to function well for a toddler by day and a dinner party by night.”
In the foyer, which shares walls with the living room, Balinese Batik wallpaper by Quadrille defines the carefree aesthetic. “It was the first design decision I made, and all others evolved from it,” says Painter. She covered the tile floor with a seagrass rug made of individual squares that can be replaced in case of spills or stains. “Accessories such as baskets can serve as bins for corralling all the stuff you need to tuck away,” Painter says.
A Living Room for Everyone
Painter didn’t sacrifice style to keep things family friendly. The armchairs, sofa, and ottoman wear performance-fabric slipcovers but have sophisticated details like blue grosgrain tape trim and jute fringe. “Texture keeps a space from feeling cold. Rattan, wicker, and seagrass say laid-back island living. And the canvas palms, well, they scream it,” says Painter. She believes oversize pieces can make a small space feel bigger, so she covered the old mirrored wall with a massive cabinet and anchored the room with a 4- by 5-foot ottoman. “It’s my son’s play zone during the day and a coffee table when people come over,” Painter says. She keeps decorative pieces on a movable wicker tray.
“You can’t come to Palm Beach without encountering rattan,” says Painter, who set up her bar station on a rolling rattan bar cart in the living room. “I’m constantly on the hunt for vintage finds like this.” She scoured all the shops in town seeking one-of-a-kind pieces that would feel authentic—and be affordable.
In the center of the living room’s cabinet, she showcased a prized painting by Kate Scialabba and surrounded it with her collection of unique shells, antique porcelain jars, and elephants.
A corner of the living room serves as an eating area, a home office, and a crafts space for their 2-year-old son, Charlie. A tulip table cozies up to a banquette from Ballard Designs. She reupholstered its cushions and layered pillows in fabrics by Quadrille, Sugar Feather, and John Robshaw. Wicker chairs lend a casual vibe, and low-cost matchstick shades add texture without blocking light. A rattan hatstand keeps beach totes and accessories organized. At dinnertime, she puts Charlie’s toys into the banquette and turns on two sconces. “It doesn’t feel like we’re eating in a playroom,” she says.
A screened porch doubles as a year-round family room. A blue and white striped rug anchors the space and white wicker lamps are the perfect whimsical addition to outdoor room.
Alfresco Entertaining Area
You can catch Painter’s signature breezy but sophisticated style in the outdoor dining room, which elevates an Ikea table and wicker seats with a vintage peacock chair. She added a montage of her favorite blue-and-white pillows. The table linens, glassware, and vases are from the Amanda Lindroth collection. Spray-painted woven lanterns by Amanda Lindroth mixed with paper lanterns create a dramatic lighting story above the table.
A Festive Table
“I love mixing patterned tablecloths, napkins, and plates,” says Painter. She often uses collected shells in lieu of traditional place cards. Her new business venture is a designer tabletop-rental company called Freshly Set. “Unlike decorating your home, which is pretty permanent, you can reimagine your table as often as you like,” she says.
Painter didn’t sacrifice personality in this tiny bedroom. Her friend Aldous Bertram hand-painted vines that reach toward the ceiling. “It was my take on a wallpaper pattern I’d seen, but I wanted my vines to look more tropical,” she says. Inexpensive woven shades hung above the top of the window frames give the illusion of a higher ceiling. Matching tables and lamps help create symmetry and calm in a tight area. Hide under-bed bins with a bed skirt (in Schumacher’s Huntington Gardens).
“I wanted it to feel like a true tropical getaway,” says Painter of the guest bedroom. She coated the walls in her favorite island coral—Salmon Peach (2013-50) by Benjamin Moore—and added a vintage rattan canopy bed that she draped with a white eyelet bed hanging. Linens from Roller Rabbit deliver subtle but colorful patterns.