As she embarks on her third decade in business, interior designer Lisa E. Erdmann follows an every-other-year schedule to decide when she will decorate a room in the American Red Cross Designers’ Show House, an annual fundraiser that benefits the charity’s Palm Beach Treasure Coast chapter. On alternate years, she focuses on a different organization, from creating a table setting for a benefit at the Norton Museum to helping the Center for Family Services renovate its West Palm Beach offices.
But this year, she’s returning her time and design talents to the 39th annual Red Cross Show House at a historic lakefront home in Lake Worth, which hosts a preview party Wednesday before opening to the public the next day for a month of tours.
“My parents raised me to always know it was our responsibility to give back if we had the means to do so,” Erdmann says. “So picking a charity is important in my makeup, and working with the Red Cross is a pleasure. It’s so well received that it helps expose our design talent, and it benefits them, too.”
Giving back is not the only way of thinking Erdmann learned from her family.
Her livelihood centers around homes and design, and she comes from a land-development family with a name certainly familiar to Palm Beachers. Her grandfather, E. Llwyd Ecclestone Sr. — an early proponent of building luxury homes clustered around golf courses — developed the South Florida luxury communities Lost Tree Village and John’s Island. Her father, Palm Beacher E. Llwyd Ecclestone, developed PGA National and Old Port Cove. Her brother, E. Llwyd Ecclestone III, meanwhile, has just finished work on a pair of houses he developed on speculation on the North End.
Erdmann graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont and attended Parsons School of Design while working in the design industry in New York City. Having also studied at Florida Institute of Technology, she founded Lisa Erdmann & Associates in 1994. It’s based at her family’s development offices in West Palm Beach but has also long maintained a Palm Beach address.
For this year’s show house, Erdmann is cooking up something special for the living room of the 1925 Mediterranean-style house known locally as the “Birthday Cake Castle,” although its formal name is La Florentia.
The 7,000 square foot house, recently bought by Scott Levine, was originally built by Sherman Childs. It received its Birthday Cake Castle nickname when former owner Upton Close gave the home to his wife, Margaret Fretter Nye, as a birthday present in 1954. With slender candle-like pillars, plaster swirls that resemble icing and graceful curves, it even has a birthday-cake stained-glass window in the stairwell.
Its grandly scaled rooms, casual spaces, and nooks and crannies of various shapes and sizes will be the basic ingredients for 20 designers, who will adorn them to create their own slices of decorating magic.
The living room’s existing architectural features were the starting points for Erdmann and her design team, Rhonda Grammer and Eden Tepper.
“It’s a gorgeous room, very big, with an original Adam fireplace, trefoil windows and original hardwood floor. It was a blank slate,” Erdmann says. “Since it’s an old house and has such wonderful character, we treated it like it was on the island of Palm Beach with a more formal living room.”
Erdmann often uses antiques as part as part of their design strategy, but in the Birthday Cake Castle they played an even more important role.
“This is the correct way the room should be presented. The home is Mediterranean, and the interior needs to be consistent with the exterior,” she explains.
Furniture pieces in the main seating area are grouped around the fireplace, a logical place to gather with family and friends. A second seating vignette, placed near an adjoining wall, consists of two wing chairs and a table, where the home’s residents might settle in for tea, or to play chess or backgammon.
Erdmann chose comfortable upholstered furniture, adding English antiques for a more formal feel. For balance, on the wall opposite the fireplace, she placed a Regency mahogany sideboard. Many of the antiques were supplied by The Elephant’s Foot on Antique Row in West Palm Beach.
Lamps and chandeliers are from Niermann Weeks. “The chandelier that swags either side of the fireplace are crystal and metal with a beautiful Venetian silver type of finish,” she says.
The color scheme is neutral with touches of icy blue. “A room this large needs color, but it has to be soft, which is more consistent with the formal style,” she says. “The room does not get lots of sunlight, and the icy blue brightens the room up.”
Fabrics are by Cowtan and Tout, and all the patterns are subtle, she says.
“There’s a soft pattern on the drapes, a small herringbone on one chair and a larger pattern on the wing chairs, but the room is not defined by pattern; it’s more defined by the mix of the pieces together.”
The goal, she adds, “was to be elegant. In a past showroom, I chose bold colors in the drapery fabric, to draw the eye to the view and away from the adjacent kitchen; that’s a little trick,” she says. “But this is an interior room, with no views. Even the stained glass keeps the eye inside, so the drapes are softer.”
Written for the Palm Beach Daily News, Feb. 27, 2015