One of AD100 designer Jake Arnold’s most impressive recent commissions almost didn’t happen. A few years back, the Los Angeles–based decorator and co-founder of The Expert got a message on Instagram—where he has 273,000 followers—from someone who was building a house in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “I totally ignored it,” Arnold admits. “I thought ‘This person must be crazy. I’m not responding.’” And he didn’t.
Soon after, however, the messenger and the recipient met IRL. “I’m out to dinner one night in L.A., and this guy comes up to me and says, ‘I sent you a message about my house, and you didn’t write me back!’” Arnold recalls. The prospective client turned out to be a successful hotel developer who’d hired Peter Papadopoulos of the Palm Beach architecture firm Smith and Moore to build his young family a 10,000-square-foot canalside house in a gated enclave of Fort Lauderdale.
Arnold was intrigued.
“The homeowner has a passion for design,” says Arnold, who had fond memories of spending childhood winter holidays in Miami, even though he hadn’t previously worked in Florida. “He showed me the plans for the house, and it was amazing,” Arnold recalls of the white, stucco-clad, stepped-roof, five-bedroom home, which was inspired by the Bermudian architecture of Alys Beach, a New Urbanist community on the Florida panhandle. “It felt very different from anything I’d done before.”
The house’s waterfront setting, lushly planted, with palms, bougainvillea, jasmine, and sea grape, makes one “feel like [they]’re on vacation 24/7, which is exactly what the clients wanted,” Arnold adds.
That idea of complete, tropical, vacation-level relaxation, served as Arnold’s overarching inspiration for the house, whose architects had conceived of it for indoor-outdoor living and entertaining. As he worked with the owners, he began to tease out more specifics.
The couple found the formality of the traditional vernacular architecture of Palm Beach and the British Caribbean appealing, but they wanted Arnold to soften that with the cool, low-key vibe he creates in his California projects. The husband liked neutral-hued contemporary Belgian minimalism, while the wife, Arnold noted, had a personal style that was a bit more tailored, colorful, and dramatic.
Arnold took these various cues and spun them into a laid-back, just-playful-enough scheme that extends the look of a high-design beach bungalow or coastal cabana across the home’s entire square footage. The color contrasts are low, the materials are natural, and the surfaces are matte or honed. Indoor rooms blend seamlessly into alfresco areas, while the verdant surroundings of those outdoor spaces inspire the interior decor. Standout moments of texture and scale make subtly whimsical statements here and there, but no single element steals from Arnold’s soothing, understated composition.
“They didn’t want anything to feel precious,” says the designer, who used the interior architecture to help set the relaxed, barefoot-chic scene. Throughout, he clad the high ceilings in lime-washed cypress and used a similar tone for the soft, hand-applied plaster on the walls. He mitigated the formality of the rather traditional two-panel raised-profile doors with more limewashing, and added gentle ogee curves to top the wide openings that connect one open-plan room to the next. (Arches, Arnold says, would have felt “too Spanish.”)
The expansive entryway, with its softly sinuous staircase and checkerboard-pattern floor, gives way to a commodious open area which contains seating, dining, and kitchen zones. To accent the largely driftwood-toned palette, Arnold used pale but moody blues—inspired by the water views—for cabinetry, an earthy raw edge stone-slab coffee table, and the stonewashed linen slipcovers on the slouchy, underfilled sofas.
“The clients wanted it to all feel really livable and effortless,” Arnold says, “and to look good, even if it wasn’t perfectly tidy.” Elsewhere, Arnold pulled in soft greens inspired by the lush surroundings. The vines of a de Gournay paper climb the walls of the dining room, while mossy olive cushions top a wicker daybed in the primary suite. Elsewhere, a scallop-backed velvet sofa in a similar hue holds pride of place under a dramatically oversized Atelier Vime pendant in the library, and the stylized palms of a Claremont wallpaper adorn the study.
Overall, the home conveys the sense that any resident or guest could come out of the pool in a wet bathing suit and towel, go inside, and sit anywhere they liked without ever feeling out of place—“which is exactly what I would do,” Arnold notes.