Tropical Attitude

Who says you can’t live like you’re on vacation? Designer Zoë Gowen dressed this Crestline home in spirited island style to make every day feel like a getaway

Dining room
“It all started with the wallpaper. My clients loved this one (Meg Braff’s Bamboo Garden in Aqua). It’s colorful, but airy enough to be really livable,” says Zoë, who paired the paper with some funky, 70s dining chairs painted white. She rounded out the rest of the room with simple classics from favorite local sources like a custom walnut-and-white steel dining table from Manufacture Good and the colorful flatweave from Paige Albright Orientals.
Photography by Laurey Glenn

Timing is everything. That’s particularly key to understanding the vibrant atmosphere behind the aqua front doors of Laura and Carson Penkava’s house in Crestline. After seeing decorator Zoë Gowen’s own cottage published in Birmingham Home & Garden, the couple gave her a call in March of 2021. “It was a really drab time for everyone,” says Zoë. The pandemic felt endless, and Laura was itching to get away somewhere warm and sunny. “I could not do neutral grays anymore,” says Laura. Plus, the soon-to-be family of five was bursting at the seams in their Homewood cottage. It was more than time for a change. When the couple found their new home, a recently done design-build by Davis Construction in the flats of Crestline, they decided to bring in the sunshine. “I couldn’t get to Palm Beach, so Zoë brought it to me,” Laura says.

Place setting
ABOVE: When entertaining, Laura and Carson put a lot of effort into setting a beautiful table, but not much else. “We are at the point where everyone is busy with kids, but we still like to get together with friends and eat takeout,” says Laura. For this setting, they went all out with a pair of pink Flower Candles from El Shoppo and a newly made runner from instagram shop @shopthevintagecloth. “There’s no better complement to the room,” says Zoë.

“The Penkavas closed on the house in April, and July was our deadline to have the house shipshape for baby Wilson’s arrival,” recalls Zoë. All of the bones were in place: the finishes, the cabinetry, the layout. The only thing it lacked was personalization.

Living room
“I kept the furnishings pretty simple because I like to leave room for people to really live,” says Zoë, who filled it with a pair of extra-long white sofas, a vintage Ming coffee table found at Chelsea Antiques, and some side tables. The personality layers in via a Persian revival rug from Paige Albright Orientals. “The yellows connect with the same colors on the porch,” Zoë says.Pillows were sourced from Quadrille and Casa Branca.

“This is the perfect home for our phase of life. The open floorplan flows exactly right. There’s a huge kitchen island and an equally huge back porch. There’s always someone for my kids to play with, and this house understands Crestline’s open-door policy.”

— Laura Penkava

Furniture lead times were gridlocked by the pandemic, so the Penkavas and Zoë elected to get as creative as possible to expedite the decorating. “We prioritized what was worth the wait and what we could work around,” says Zoë. There was no avoiding a new set of comfortable living room seating. An order for all-white sofas and chairs went in immediately. “Carson didn’t believe me that stain-proof fabric really works,” says Zoë. “He asked to borrow my swatches and performed ‘stain experiments’ on them. They really have held up.” Carson affirms the fact three years later.

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The rest of the decorating plan unraveled around two judiciously chosen Meg Braff Designs wallpapers for the foyer and dining room. Bold paint choices in adjoining rooms accent both wallcoverings. The decorator also upscaled the lighting throughout the house to complement the youthful new look.

Zoë’s fail-proof porch formula never disappoints: comfortable wicker seating, a plush rug like this one from English Village Lane, Peter Dunham’s Fig Leaf fabric, and plenty of shade. “No one will sit for long in the full sun,” she says. “If your outdoor area isn’t covered, get a large umbrella.”

Next, the Penkavas invested in a mix of rugs to ground different rooms with some splurges from Paige Albright Orientals, chic natural weaves from Rush House, and saturated runners from English Village Lane. “Laura and Carson have a great eye and appreciation for rugs,” Zoë says. “It was really fun to help them piece together a varied collection.”

After that, the rest of the plan fell into place with antiques, family pieces, original art such as the photograph of the zebra in the dining room (an image captured on the couple’s honeymoon in Africa), and a smattering of cool vintage finds, Zoë also sprinkled in a few just-do-it, wild ideas such as the $99 dining room light fixture from “I decided that you only live once, so why not try it?” says Laura. “While we may have been a bit dubious at first, we ended up loving everything.”

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