From Lilly Pulitzer to C.Z. Guest, women have long played a starring role in defining Palm Beach’s history, style, and worldwide reputation. In the spirit of the heyday of these notable tastemakers, Sarah Wetenhall, president and CEO of The Colony Hotel, recently threw a festive, all-female dinner party in and around the enchanting courtyard of her chic Colony apartment.
“I am blessed with a lovely group of female friends,” says Wetenhall, a former New York public relations executive for luxury brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, and Hugo Boss, and mother of Maggie, 4, Amelia, 8, and Drew, 10. “They have diverse personalities with different backgrounds and come from various parts of the country. Many are professionals who have supported me. They were my inspiration to throw a dinner party.”
Wetenhall, who divides her time among a New York City apartment, an East Hampton home, and her Palm Beach digs, shares the duties of running The Colony with her husband, Andrew, a Morgan Stanley investment banker in New York. His entrepreneur father, Robert Wetenhall, was a principal owner of the hotel from 1970 to 1990 and still lives there in a penthouse apartment.
The couple met as students at Vanderbilt University and bought The Colony in 2016. Since then, they’ve spent millions on transforming the venerable property into a
postcard-perfect paradise welcoming singles, couples, and families of all ages.
“Andrew and I manage the hotel together,” says Wetenhall. “While he’s on the front lines, we collaborate and make decisions, and I do the daily work. I am a nomad, always on the go, hardwired to be open to new experiences. During the season, I’m in Palm Beach every other week, and we try to bring the children down on weekends since they go to school in New York.”
While her days in Palm Beach are hectic, Wetenhall makes time to be active in the community and forge connections with locals. “Palm Beach is not homogeneous like people think,” she notes. “My relationship with this group of girls has an easy ebb and flow. We joke and group text, asking each other, ‘Are you here?’ If so, one of us suggests, ‘Let’s do dinner, drinks, trivia night, or a working women supportive lunch.’”
For her courtyard dinner, Wetenhall’s guests were a mix of young women dressed to kill in colorful party frocks. They initially gathered in her living room, eager to discuss their latest news and views, updates about their kids, and plans for the season. Retro music played in the background as attendees admired the historic apartment’s original flooring, pecky cypress beams, and stone fireplace with the original mantel. They sipped on a signature cocktail called The Colony—made with botanical-infused gin, elderflower liqueur, and Champagne and garnished with fresh thyme—and sampled passed canapés of Palm Beach cheese puffs, shrimp cocktail, melon with prosciutto, and smoked potato, chive crème fraîche, and caviar. But beyond the typical trappings of such get-togethers, the ladies were thankful to have a moment to step back from their busy lives and appreciate the friendships that sustain them.
“We root for each other; we don’t compete,” says Caroline Rafferty, an interior designer and founder of The Grand Tour home store at The Royal Poinciana Plaza. “We are all friends, share similar values, and our kids are best friends.”
“I love bonding with Sarah and these girls,” adds Ashley Frisbie, a former New York advertising executive who now heads the marketing team for the Frisbie Group, her family’s real estate business. “I am lucky to have met all of these women who are so driven and excited about what we can bring to Palm Beach in terms of preservation and revitalization. Plus, I love how Sarah lives in this intimate slice of paradise.”
The party revolved around a theme of “Postcards from Paradise,” inspired by lauded photographer Slim Aarons, whose vintage photos taken at the 72-year-old Colony grace the hotel’s rooms. On this night, Wetenhall used them as place cards on her courtyard dining table accessible from the living room through a set of French doors. Friend Elisabeth Munder, founder of Luxury Ink Media, Marketing, and Events, aided Wetenhall in creating the dinner’s stunning tablescape, complete with floral centerpieces from Renny & Reed consisting of king protea, snowball viburnum, and David Austin garden roses.
The place settings featured Wetenhall’s grandmother’s white moss rose–patterned china circa 1940, gold flatware from the 1960s, and dreamy green goblets from Aerin Lauder’s tabletop collection. A pink and orange tablecloth from India Amory, wicker and glass candles, and green and pink napkins rounded out the idyllic scene.
“I love to entertain,” says Wetenhall, who exudes cool glamour. “In New York, our friends gather in the kitchen of our city apartment, and for our beach bonfire in East Hampton, we enjoy the sunset and make s’mores.” Inspiration, she says, comes from experience. “I think my background in public relations helps me be a better hostess. I’ve attended good and bad parties as a guest, and I get ideas.”
Surrounded by white Moroccan lanterns, vintage wicker chairs, a gurgling fountain, and twinkle lights, the women sat down to dinner by Tom Whitaker, executive chef of The Colony. To set the experience apart, Whitaker researched hotel menus from the 1960s in order to put a retro spin on the food. “I used the old and mixed in the new to create a light, vibrant, and fresh meal,” he says.
Whitaker began with an avocado and crab dish with sunflower seeds, grapefruit, and ginger, before moving on to a “Fin and Feather” entree of roasted wreckfish and game hen with basil, pine nuts, grilled peaches, fennel, and tomato. “I’m a Midwestern girl from Missouri, so I love beef and chicken more than seafood,” notes Wetenhall. “But Tom and I collaborated on the menu and found a nice balance.”
The Colony’s pastry chef, Emma Isakoff, evoked the same retro theme in her Strawberries Romanoff, but dressed it up for modern times. “I stylized this dessert, making it fresh and vibrant for wonderful outdoor dining,” Isakoff says of the dish, which included a sour cream and tonka bean mousse with almond nougatine, Grand Marnier, and strawberry sorbet.
After dinner, as the women prepared to depart, each was gifted with a Colony tumbler. Tiffany Marks Isaacs, a former buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue and Selfridges in London who now works on projects with her husband and mother, handbag designer Lana Marks, applauded Wetenhall’s graciousness and attention to detail. “Sarah thinks of our needs before we know it,” says Marks Isaacs. “I have been to birthday parties that Sarah has hosted for her kids, but this dinner really showed her elegance and style. It was wonderful.”
As the granddaughter of legendary designer Lilly Pulitzer, guest Lilly Leas Ferreira has a special appreciation for Wetenhall—not just for the spectacular events she throws, but for her role in making the island a better place for generations to come. “Growing up here, I learned about the amazing, powerful women who shaped Palm Beach,” says Leas Ferreira, general manager of The Royal Poinciana Plaza. “Sarah is a great balance of homage to the past with a celebration of the future.” «