A Palm Beach Icon Just Got a Light Facelift
The Colony is part of a set of hotels worldwide where part of what you’re paying for is a sense that you’re somewhere unique.
You’ve seen it go terribly wrong. A famous face that wanted to keep up with all the hot young things go overboard with their refresh, leaving them with a face more melted than svelted. In politics, the rule has long been a refresh but not an overhaul. You need to look like the face millions are used to seeing, just less tired.
In Palm Beach, though, the perpetually wind-blown are all around, be it the Peter Pans at an early bird dinner at Carriage House or the cougars whose faces may not tell you much but whose eyes still convey their hunger. One elderly citizen of this longtime winter escape has managed to avoid such a calamity—The Colony Hotel, which recently underwent a restoration and is the latest selection for our hotel column, Room Key.
The Colony Hotel, a tower of concrete surfaced with stucco painted an Instagram-friendly shade of bubblegum pink, is just off Palm Beach’s famed shopping drag, Worth Avenue. It first opened in 1947 as part of the island’s second wave. The fortunes of the Gilded Age were mostly gone, but there was a postwar boom minting new fortunes. The mansions weren’t as grand, and many residents were content to live in an apartment, but there was still lots of money being thrown around. Celebrities like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor hung out here (and would stay in one of the Colony’s penthouses for a month at a time) and JFK came in the winter. And the Colony Hotel was right at the center of it all.
Over the decades, however, the hotel began to verge on spent, what could have been whimsical and charming was just dated. A few years back, the hotel changed hands, with Andrew and Sarah Wetenhall buying it from a set of owners that included Andrew’s father. Recently, they have been giving the hotel a light lift–enough to pull it out of its drowsy state but not so much to enrage those who love it–and we went down to check it out.
I’m sure there were those who wanted the hotel to have a total face lift–completely modern rooms, fast elevators, leafy hallway wallpaper ripped out, the pool sexed up, etc. And while I don’t dispute the showers could have used a complete update, the entire allure of this place is the back-in-time fantasy stepping into the property creates. The Colony is part of a set of hotels worldwide–the Mount Nelson in Cape Town, Sunset Tower in LA, the Greenbrier, and so on–where part of what you’re paying for is a sense that you’re somewhere unique, somewhere that somebody chic or powerful or interesting also got buzzed half a century ago.
With that in mind, the renovation has been a success. The de Gournay wallpaper murals on each landing depicting scenes from Palm Beach have been restored (and will give you, slightly buzzed, a bit of a sense of the opener of Season 2 of The White Lotus) and so too has the tower’s exterior pink (Farrow & Ball). The interiors were turned over to Kemble Interiors, which oversaw the ballroom and pool’s renovation after the change in ownership in 2016. It’s given the lobby a more airy feel, heightened in part by the blowing out of the passageway to Swifty’s bar and restaurant, which was brought down after it closed in New York City. The passageway has a lively new mural depicting monkeys playing in a leafy paradise. Gone is the jacket and tie requirement for dinner, and at the verdant restaurant veranda by the pool, you’re just as likely to see a patron in Lululemon at breakfast as you would in linen. (For those who might find it hard to appreciate the historical whimsy of the hotel, just know they didn't go full on, as the restaurant here was once done over in the 1960s in coquillage, which is seashell decoration.)
The hallways no longer have striped walls and banana leaf carpets; they’ve been swapped out for bamboo fretwork wallpaper and sea grape leafs. The bedrooms in The Colony used to be famed, for good or ill (mostly ill), for their turf green carpets. Those have been ripped out and replaced with ones with a basketweave pattern. Each room in the property used to be different, they are now all done in one of just a handful of themes, from a pink Art Deco scheme to a breezy blue cabana with striped ceilings. A capsule collection of rattan and bamboo furnishings from Society Social fill the rooms.
A little nip and tuck, if you will.