Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Secret Island Getaway: The Gasparilla Inn, Boca Grande, Florida - A Tour with Mimi McMakin of Kemble Interiors, Inc.

The Gasparilla Inn

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of conducting a phone interview with renowned designer, Mimi McMakin, founder of Kemble Interiors, Inc.  Today, Ms. McMakin represents the Palm Beach operations of Kemble Interiors, while her daughter, Celerie Kemble, heads up the New York office.
In all honesty, I couldn’t believe Mimi McMakin would so graciously give up 30 minutes of her time to chat with a fledgling blogger such as myself. I had emailed her PR department asking for some images, and the next thing I know, I’m actually speaking with MIMI MCMAKIN, direct from her incredible “rustic chic” home in the Adirondacks, featured here in House Beautiful.
Ms. McMakin was so warm, friendly and accommodating.  She made me feel like I was as important as a reporter from House Beautiful! I love this quote from the Kemble Interiors website…
"Palm Beach is timeless, it has always been beautiful, clean, full of flowers and Southern friendliness. Our family has been here for more than 120 years." - Mimi McMakin

Yes.  Yes it is.  And nothing beats good ol’ Southern hospitality, Mimi McMakin-style.

Kemble Interiors, Inc. was founded in 1982 by Palm Beach native Mimi Maddock McMakin. McMakin has been recognized for her distinctive fusion of whimsy with respectful restoration in many a storied Mizner, Volk, and Urban designed estate or club.

Celerie Kemble claims her childhood was in many ways a design tutorial spent around construction sites, antique stores, and in the unique homes designed by her mother. A graduate of Harvard, Celerie has since spent the past 15 years cultivating a portfolio of much publicized residential and commercial interiors that are as unique and diverse as her clientele.  But more on the fabulous Celerie Kemble to come!

Mimi McMakin and her former business partner Brooke Huttig

Today we will tour one my favorite places in the entire world… a sleepy island hide-away that transports you back in time.  I am taking you to Boca Grande, FL, located on the Grand Barrier Island called Gasparilla, and best described as a step back into “Old Florida.” It is a carefully preserved part of Florida’s history and beauty, and a well-kept secret retreat for second home owners, visitors, local residents, and fishermen.

Boca Grande is a charming bit of paradise with a small-town feel of yesteryear. There are no high-rises, no fast food restaurants, no chain stores, and no traffic lights. Billboards and other exterior advertising are banned by the Conservation District.
Visitors flock to Boca Grande to savor the white sand beach, world class fishing, golf, tennis, and fine food.  But most of all, they come for the privacy and unprecedented peace and tranquility this little-known island hideaway affords.  In Boca Grande, there are no traffic jams, as golf carts are the preferred method of transportation to tool around the tiny island measuring about seven miles long, and only one mile across at its widest.
Second home owners and regular visitors have included the DuPonts, Vanderbilts, J.P. Morgan, Katherine Hepburn, George Steinbrenner, and the Bush families. And of course, Mimi McMakin, who has been renovating the Gasparilla Inn – piece by piece – for nearly a decade.

“When we embarked upon this project, we understood that they wanted an update but not a complete change,” said McMakin. This is a beloved structure, and we were guided by what was already there.”
Walking through The Gasparilla Inn’s sun-bathed, pillared entrance and into the lobby, guests experience the feeling of Florida as it was meant to be. You are instantly embraced with the tranquil civility of a time that once was — and still is — at this classic resort.
The Gasparilla Inn & Club has been a premier destination on Florida's Gulf Coast since 1913, and remains one of the largest surviving resort hotels in Florida. Constructed originally for wealthy vacationing northerners, 100 years later it is still the center of village life on Gasparilla Island.

Just three hours north of Miami, my husbands’ family spends each Fourth of July week on this magical island. The first time I visited the Gasparilla Inn, I fell in love with the d├ęcor full of pinks, greens, chintz, wicker, rattan, shells and shell encrusted chandeliers, mirrors and accents. 
The following images are from our trip last summer:

  Wallpaper by Lee Jofa

“People who visit Gasparilla Inn want to see the shells and palm fronds,” said McMakin.  “It’s very Old Florida.”
Note the shadowbox art, comprised of local shells.

It is the small details that make the biggest impact.  For example, this sitting room is beyond charming with its pink and green detail, and fabulous flamingo art…

But look closely!

“What do you do with a hearth that is not in use?” asked McMakin. “Stuff it with sea shells!”

“We used as much of the existing wicker as possible,” said McMakin.  “If we made a change, we tried to duplicate with a great eye to the past.”

The following images are courtesy of Kemble Interiors, Inc.:

Wonderful “Old Florida” details abound, such as the backgammon tables in rattan.

The dining room features bench banquettes, covered in fabulous palm frond upholstery.

When you turn the pillows down, instead of plain slats there are schools of fish!  “I love toying with imagination,” said McMakin. “Something can be functional and playful at the same time.”

The lanterns are all candle lit in the dining room with real candles, and fresh orchids hang on the columns.

These beautiful water colored walls in BZ’s restaurant are by Marcia Wendel The hand-painted murals capture the essence of the Islands’ waterway, birds and mangroves.

 The following images are courtesy of the Gasparilla Inn:

BZ’s is located on the main floor of The Inn, and is a popular gathering place to enjoy favorite beverages and tasty snacks. The adjoining outdoor terrace is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the beautiful views of the fifth green of The Gasparilla Golf Club, as well as Charlotte Harbor in the distance. Among the many signature beverages on the menu are Gaspartinis, Mojitos and Planter’s Punch.

There are 63 rooms, as well as suites within the charming main Inn.

Guests of The Gasparilla Inn & Club may choose accommodations from 17 private cottages and villas. All cottage and villa accommodations are located just steps away from the main Inn and provide the option of parlors. Some also have screened porches, lanais or fireplaces; others have kitchenettes.

The Gasparilla Inn Beach Club features a family pool with changing facilities and a sparkling white sand beachfront. A spacious, glass enclosed dining room for lunch and late afternoon food and beverage service is also available to resort guests.

The Fitness Center at The Gasparilla Inn Beach provides spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico to enhance your workout experience. The Center is fully equipped with all the latest cardiovascular and resistance training equipment. Comprehensive fitness classes are also offered including Yoga, Zumba, water aerobics and CORE training.

The Pink Elephant – affectionately known as "The Pink" – is one of Boca Grande's premier eating and drinking establishment, and it is within walking distance of the Inn. This charming and casual restaurant has served great food, signature drinks and refined service for over 60 years. 

Image courtesy of my iPhone

To conclude our tour, here are a few more pictures I have compiled since our last visit.  You will note a definite pink theme ensconcing the island! Talk about paradise!!
 A trip to Boca Grande is simply not complete without a trip to the Pink Pony for some old fashioned, homemade ice cream.

There are no chain grocery stores on the Island.  Instead, head to Hudson’s for your gourmet cheese, organic foods, fresh fish, deli meats, and fine wines. Check out the fabulous pink gas pump!
 My favorite pink golf cart, outside the Loose Caboose restaurant. 

 Yes, life is good on Gasparilla Island.  And last but not least, here is my favorite pink Jeep outside “The Palm on Park” Boca Grande’s Lilly Pulitzer Signature Store.
Beautiful sunset from Boca Grande.


  1. The best post I have ever seen on Boca Grande! Thanks for showcasing one of my fave places so beautifully! xx

  2. My family has had a home on Boca Grande for nearly 40 years - I practically grew up there! I never knew the Inn was redecorated by Kemble Interiors..thank you for sharing!

  3. I love Boca Grande and haven't been in years...thank you for taking me back with this post! And, thank you so much for participating in my link party today! xoxo

  4. This is totally a place I need to go! What a wonderful story about Mimi McMakin, too.

  5. I want to go to Boca Grande. This is my kind of vacation.

  6. Mimi McMakin and her team did a fantastic job updating the Boca Grande while still keeping the "Old Florida" vibe. I'm sure guests form years past will be happy for the new sparkle and happy that the place they remember has carried on.

  7. I adore the hand-painted murals. Lived in Pensacola, Fla so this was a vacation spot. Thank you for the tour + brings many fond memories.


Thank you for your lovely comments. They absolutely make my day!

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