Built in the late 1920s and little altered since, the estate captures the grandeur and whimsy of its era.
The historic architecture and the natural light — especially the way sunshine filters through the original stained-glass windows — are as special as they are lovely, said Merrilyn Bardes about her historic estate at 196 Banyan Road.
“I thought the house was magical when I bought it in 1998, and I still think it’s magical,” she said.
Designed by noted society architects John Volk and Gustav Maass for owner Harry Thomas, the 1929 Mediterranean-style house stands on a prime Estate Section street, and exemplifies the fanciful and elaborate homes of its era.
Just look at the report prepared before the house was granted landmark-protection status by the town in 1979. It aptly describes the house as a product of its time, a “unique example of the economic and social atmosphere during the Boom Time era of the 1920s. It was constructed after the hurricanes of 1926 and 1928, and just as the financial collapse of 1929 began. It represents one of the last ornate and expensive estates to be built in Palm Beach.”
In the ocean block at the corner of South County Road, the main part of the L-shaped house fronts Banyan Road, while the more utilitarian rooms and garage run along County Road. Along the back of the house are loggias and terraces descending to a pool, which is set amid lush tropical landscaping.
Because Bardes has downsized, her four-story, seven-bedroom, 10-bathroom, three-half-bath home with a tower, staff rooms and 13,077 square feet of living space, inside and out, has been offered for sale. Sotheby’s International Realty agents Cristina Condon and Todd Peter have set a price of $14.5 million.
Much is original
Like many architects of the era, Volk not only had a hand in the architecture but also in selecting the furnishings, according to John L. Volk, Palm Beach Architect, a book compiled by the Volk family.
Adding to the history of the house, Bardes mentions that the late H. Loy Anderson was a former owner — followed by two more owners — before she purchased it in 1998. She has left the house mostly unchanged, except for the family room.
“It was a breakfast room and bar divided by pocket doors,” she said. “I redid them to be one big family room.”
She used pecky-cypress paneling and tile flooring, which blends with the original Cuban tile used on the first floor of the home.
“The Volk book will also tell you that the materials that he used cannot be reproduced today,” she said. “You can’t find Cuban tiles anymore, and nobody can make stained glass and the cast stone like this house has.”
Some of the stone details she’s referring to include elements adorning the stucco facades: a decorative frontispiece, with an arched door and a “Juliet”-style balcony above it, and a handsome stone cornice that embellishes the roof line.
All in the details
A romantic double staircase with colorful tile risers greets visitors as they arrive from the foyer.
“The wrought-iron on the double staircase is one of my favorite things about the house,” Bardes said. “On the landing, you look through a basket of flowers made of wrought iron.”
The home was made for entertaining, she noted, and it was a breeze to decorate.
“So much of my furniture that I’ve had forever — it just walked in, found a place to live and was happy,” she said.
The master bedroom and bathroom are above the living room and loggia, and open to a broad second-floor terrace that wraps around the outside of the staircase landing.
“The master bathroom has the most beautiful pair of Art Deco sinks, with all the original brass knobs and spouts,” she said. “They are just perfect, and the tile is cobalt blue. It is magnificent. The whole tub area is beautifully tiled and the floor has terra cotta tiles, inset with tiles that have medieval hunting scenes. The ceiling is pretty — arched with rounded beams — and the windows facing Banyan have the same stained glass as downstairs.”
By the time she bought the property, the grounds needed work, and it was in this area that she worked her own breed of magic. A longtime member of the Garden Club of Palm Beach, she chose tropical plant materials and commissioned landscape architect Mario Nievera to design the hardscape.
“The house sits on almost an acre, and Volk had designed a beautiful fountain with tiles that came from Spain. But it was all long gone by the time I bought the house,” she said. “Now, there are steps that go down to the swimming pool, which is kind of surprise, since it can’t be seen from the main terrace.
“The landscaping sort of fell into place. Choosing a tree is like choosing a dress. You have to love it, and that’s kind of the way I garden.
“It’s definitely a tropical garden, with many species of palms. I have quite a few cycads, a fabulous Queen Fego palm, and a pink rain tree, Albizia Saman, that covers the terrace. I have my coveted Lady of the Night, which is a heavily scented plant, outside my kitchen door and another outside my family room door.
Other plants include a big gardenia, specimen hybrid hibiscus, an all-spice tree, bay-rum tree and bougainvillea — all of which have provided a lush backdrop for the outdoor parties and fundraisers she has hosted at the estate.
Written for the Palm Beach Daily News, May 2014