Last week in Palm Beach, as I sat in the Breakers riveted by speakers as diverse as Joshua David of Friends of the Highline and Newsweek’s Dan Lyons, aka Fake Steve Jobs, and navigated the crowds of our networking soirees, I discovered that being an HD Summit virgin can be overwhelming—and inspiring. But in between the ballroom visits, I managed to unwind with an offsite jaunt to the nearby Flagler Museum (www.flaglermuseum.us).
I had heard rumblings about this Gilded Age relic on past visits to the Sunshine State, but sadly never before visited. The minute I entered and feasted my eyes on the Grand Hall, awash in marble and gild, I knew it should be a mandatory for anyone smitten by design.
A brief history: the Flagler is the circa 1902 former mansion of Henry Morrison Flagler, partner with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, and founder of the Florida East Coast Railway, who built the breathtaking property for his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan. Then known as Whitehall, the mansion flaunted the design handiwork of Carrère and Hastings. After Flagler and Kenan passed away, the property was bequeathed to Kenan’s niece, who sold it. It then became a swank hotel (thanks to a 300-room addition) that attracted celebs like Greta Garbo before Flagler’s granddaughter, Jean Flagler Matthews, stepped in in 1959 and restored it to its original grandeur in the form of the intimate Flagler Museum.
Originally designed to rival the mansion-dotted landscape of Newport, Rhode Island, the museum is filled with treasures: a European-inspired open-air central courtyard, a Swiss-style billiards room that today might be the backdrop to a hipster bar in Brooklyn, an elegant French Renaissance dining room adorned with green silk wallcoverings.
Upstairs, adjacent to the beautiful old bedrooms brimming with vibrant wallpaper and even ornate thermometers, is space devoted to contemporary exhibitions, and my trip was perfectly timed to peer at stunning Tiffany lamps (can’t stop thinking about the cascading Wisteria) and learn all about the important role women, known as the Tiffany Girls, played in cutting these fabled glass creations.
Next time Palm Beach is on the itinerary, step away from the pool and pina coladas long enough to wander through this well-preserved beauty.