Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
Two years ago, Michelle and Peter Farmer were in the market for a new home when Peter suggested a 1930s, southern plantation–style house near the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach. Michelle immediately fell in love with the two-story dwelling, accented with front porches on both levels and blessed with waterfront vistas.
“The second I saw this house I knew I wanted it,” says Michelle, the daughter of a fighter pilot who grew up all over the world. “I loved the water views, the breeze running through the space, and the amazing potential for renovations to lighten and brighten.”
The Farmers own and operate Michelle Farmer Collaborate, a posh lifestyle collection of resort fashions for men, women, and kids, jewelry, accessories, lighting, and home decor. While Michelle designs, the couple also integrates other top brands and artists into their curated boutiques, with locations in Palm Beach; Bridgehampton, New York; the Dorado Beach Resort, A Ritz Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico; and soon Greenwich, Connecticut.
They visit all of their stores regularly but live in Palm Beach in the winter and Bridgehampton in the summer. “We like small town life, the people and style in Palm Beach, and the fact that we can ride our bikes to work in beautiful weather,” says Peter, a savvy numbers guy from New York who honed his talents on Wall Street. “I love that our new house is close to the store.”
After they purchased the home, the Farmers spent a year renovating it with help from Nick Bessenroth of Bessenroth Builders Inc. “I had the plans in my head,” Michelle says.
“Michelle is a designer instinctively,” Peter adds. “She can do technical drafting, spatial design, and she’s good at repurposing.”
Seeking to blend old and new, the Farmers filled the home with reclaimed materials reimagined to fit their casually chic lifestyle. Their pine wood floors, for example, came from an old Amish country barn in Pennsylvania. Michelle discovered their stair railings in a West Virginia home built in 1855. Whenever she found a piece that would work for a certain area—like an antique stool to complement her kitchen island—she bought it. The resultant look is that of a modern abode with an inviting essence, like a stylish family member who welcomes you with a knowing hug.
With the work behind them, Peter, Michelle, and their adorable English Springer Spaniels, Bear and Wiley, welcomed a small group of friends into their refurbished home for an early evening cocktail party. Peter led a tour, with stops at the outdoor porches, indoor living areas, dining room, bar, and kitchen.
“I love the wood floors, the details, and the warmth of this house,” remarked Brandie Herbst, an interior designer who attended the party with her husband, Todd, a founder of Big Time Restaurant Group in West Palm Beach. “As a couple, the Farmers live like they entertain. Michelle is not trendy, and the interior is sophisticated yet casual and lived in. Everything is warm and pleasing.”
Palm Beach resident Michelle Boren agreed, adding, “It’s homey, comfortable, relaxed, and refined. Michelle’s style is unparalleled.”
While admiring the details of this immaculate renovation, guests sipped Rock Angel Rose, Champagne, and a specialty cocktail made of peach vodka, thyme, and fresh peaches and named the “Fowler Smash” in honor of its creator Jeff Fowler, the jovial senior events manager at The Breakers in Palm Beach.
Fowler, who likes to talk food with Michelle (“We call each other from restaurants and compare the flavors,” he says), also collaborated with the hostess on various stationary hors d’oeuvres, such as lobster dip (his mother’s recipe), spinach-and-water-chestnut dip with pumpernickel, and a Tuscan cheese board.
“We love to involve our friends when entertaining,” Michelle says. “Jeff often oversees our food presentation. Since Peter and I both cook, we like to entertain every week or two with a bigger party once a month.”
Guests also munched on baked ricotta with candied cherry tomatoes, a peach tart, and colorful macaroons by Patrick Lézé. For another sweet treat, Michelle served her homemade, gluten-free blackberry ice cream with chocolate bits. These goodies were presented on an antique farm table, surrounded by colorful Wedgwood plates, an assortment of etched stemware and hand-blown glass from Michelle’s family collection, and a centerpiece of white hydrangeas, flowering kale, and curly willow.
As guests explored the house, they enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres including seared sesame-encrusted ahi tuna on cucumber with ginger cream; mini lump crab cakes with spicy mango mayonnaise; petite, oven-roasted veggie flatbreads; cubed butternut squash with feta mousse, balsamic pearls, and fresh mint; Peking duck canapés with cucumber; and shrimp ceviche served in a shot glass with a plantain chip.
During the renovations, the Farmers raised, centered, and replaced all the windows, resulting in perfectly framed panoramas. Several times during the party, the group gathered in the hallway, where the sight line to the water is at its most sublime. When not admiring this view, visitors turned their gaze to a modern white chandelier by Helen Gifford, founder of HelenBilt lighting design in New York. “I do light welding and reimagine chandeliers in a modern aesthetic, like Dada art,” said Gifford, who flew in from Sag Harbor to attend the party. “This piece reflects well in the happy energy of the house, and it works with the art.”
While the Farmers’ furniture reads vintage, the art displayed that evening was thoroughly modern. Works by Damien Hirst, Hunt Slonem, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as abstracts by Michelle’s brother Sean Brannan, came courtesy of DTR Modern Galleries in Palm Beach.
For much of the last hour of the party, guests congregated in the kitchen, which features an antique wood-block printers’ letter press cabinet from Maine that Michelle transformed into a fabulous island. She describes the space as the heart of the home, with its great vantage point of the back patio, swimming pool, and guest apartment. “Everyone ends up in the kitchen because it’s so comfortable,” she says. “People can hang here to talk about life and resolve their problems. It’s a feel good place for parties.”
Beyond the innovative island, Michelle designed the kitchen’s clean-lined white cabinets, which hold her vintage pieces. She also created a bar from a protruding beam and incorporated a light blue tile backsplash by Ken Mason. The ceiling is made of reclaimed pecky cypress that adds another vintage touch to the modern renovation.
Whether mingling in the kitchen, relaxing on the grand porch, or gathering for a poolside cocktail, everyone in attendance at this Sunday soiree was privy to a renovation done right. The Farmers successfully married old and new, vintage and contemporary, forming an array of charming nooks in which to unwind alongside friends.
“I knew this property before the renovation,” their guest Phil Nicozisis noted. “To see the transformation that has taken place is a remarkable vision. It takes more than the imagination to achieve this goal.”