What’s old is new again in Palm Beach. The Colony Hotel is celebrating its 75th year as the posh barrier island’s “pink paradise” with a refreshed look and reimagined amenities, inviting a new generation of guests to experience a South Florida icon.
The grand reintroduction of The Colony is the brainchild of president and CEO Sarah Wetenhall, who purchased the hotel in 2016 from a previous generation of ownership that included her father-in-law. Her own history with the 89-room boutique property—she’s been a regular visitor since 1998—combined with her experience in PR and marketing for top fashion houses make her uniquely suited to the job. But ultimately, she says, overseeing such a special place is a labor of love.
“This hotel has its own living, breathing spirit, and part of it is the charm and character of Palm Beach itself, which is infused into the property,” she says. “Then there are the decades and generations of people’s memories that seem to ooze from the walls.”
Today, those walls are a showcase of one of Wetenhall’s boldest design moves for the hotel—a newly created range of custom paints from British paint makers Farrow & Ball.
“Farrow & Ball is one of our brand partners, and we worked together to create a bespoke palette of colors for the interior guest room walls, and, more importantly, for the exterior of the building,” Wetenhall explains. “Being this close to the ocean and 75 years old, the building itself was due for a bit of a facelift, and in doing that, we wanted to create the perfect pink.”
They came up with Colony Pink, which is now the official color of The Colony Hotel. And for guests who can’t get enough of it, it’s available for purchase, along with many of the hotel’s other stylish features.
Take the guest rooms, for example. Palm Beach local Mimi McMakin’s Kemble Interiors led a renovation that features three different design schemes and furniture from Society Social. “Society Social is a female-led, family-owned, multigenerational furniture manufacturer that we partnered with to create a capsule collection of furniture that is used primarily to anchor our guest room renovation,” she says. “Society Social also sells the pieces themselves on their website and in their retail store.”
Hanging on the walls are prints from local artists and photographers such as Nick Mele and Chris Leidy. They too are available for purchase, along with the Dyson hair dryers and hair straighteners in the bathrooms. There’s even a Colony fragrance on the way.
“Our shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion are all a special unique Colony fragrance that will be available for purchase in 2024,” Wetenhall says.
Other brand partnerships include Swifty’s restaurant, from New York chef and restaurateur Robert Caravaggio; and Naturopathica, which will offer facials, massages, and body treatments. The hotel even hosts residences with some of the country’s top fitness instructors, such as Isaac Boots and Tracy Anderson.
Upgrading a property that opened in 1947 presented unique challenges that called for creative solutions that Wetenhall was quick to embrace. The Colony’s renovated guest rooms are cozy compared with the supersized rooms of many modern hotels, but what they lack in square footage they more than make up for in personality.
“We don’t have gigantic windows or balconies because of the nature and age of our building, so we made sure there was something pleasing to the eye in every room, in particular, on the ceiling,” she says. “Some of the ceilings are painted in awning stripes, like a canopy, and some are wallpapered with carved-out scallop treatment around the edges.”
For the lobby renovation, Wetenhall hit the archives to come up with a plan that raised the luxury level while keeping the look authentic.
“I looked backwards before I looked forward and worked with the Historical Society of Palm Beach County and the Palm Beach Preservation Foundation to pull archival photography of the building,” she says. “I pulled any pictures I could, and I talked to my father-in-law, who had been on-property every year since 1969.”
The hotel’s 10 residential villas are still being updated one by one (design giants Aerin Lauder and Mark Sikes have both collaborated) but the overall renovation, which went into high gear during the covid shutdown, is mostly complete. That leaves Wetenhall to focus on providing “the consummate Palm Beach experience” to guests.
“Palm Beach is anchored by generations of tradition, and a lot of the island’s social life takes place within private clubs, so visitors can find it tricky to navigate,” she explains. “If they come and stay at the hotel, there’s a sense of lowering the hedges and making Palm Beach life accessible.”
Photos by Nick Mele