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Tour the Rarefied World of Boca Grande's Gasparilla Inn

Town and Country logo Town and Country 3/5/2021 Steven Stolman
a living room filled with furniture and vase of flowers on a table: Because sipping on Boca Punch and playing a game of backgammon sounds good right about now, doesn't it? © Brantley Photography Because sipping on Boca Punch and playing a game of backgammon sounds good right about now, doesn't it?

Since its 1913 remodel, the Gasparilla Inn & Club has been a power hub in the sleepy village of Boca Grande, located on a barrier island between Naples and Sarasota. Titans of industry like J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford vacationed there, as did Hollywood elite like Katherine Hepburn. But after a century of vacationers, the shabby-chic transomed rooms (sans air conditioning), peanut butter and bacon canapes at cocktail hour, and a strict, clubby dress code, were in need of a refresh. The designers to call? Interior design duo Palm Beach native Mimi Maddock McMakin and her daughter Celerie Kemble. A team who intrinsically understood which Lovey and Thurston Howell-esque touches should stay, and which were ready to enter a new era.

“When you work on a property that is so appropriate for its setting and loved by generations, one of the most important things is to not mess it up," McMakin says."Many people have strong emotional connections with the Gasparilla Inn, having gone there with their parents, even grandparents, over the years. That being said, there’s a fine line between charming patina and simply worn out."

a living room filled with furniture and vase of flowers on a table: Touches like the tortoise side table make the Kemble Interiors renovation of the Gasparilla Inn & Club feel whimsical, but not saccharine. © Brantley Photography Touches like the tortoise side table make the Kemble Interiors renovation of the Gasparilla Inn & Club feel whimsical, but not saccharine.

Now blissfully air-conditioned, the inn has reopened, painted a pale lemon chiffon yellow with crisp white trim. The expansive lobby is reminiscent of other storied 20th century hostelries, like Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Backgammon tables are dotted throughout, interspersed with gently faded upholstery and the original wicker and rattan furniture."We used as much of what was there as we could, especially in public places," McMakin says."People wanted to be able to have their picture taken in the same chair that perhaps they had been photographed in as a child. It was a big part of our job to make that possible.”


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Off the lobby is BZ's bar with a mural from Florida native Marcia Wendel presiding over guests sipping the inn's signature cocktail, a bracing Boca Punch that's made with three types of rum. After a glass or two, patrons can practically float into the expansive dining room, all soaring ceilings, gently rotating fans, flickering candles, dance floor, and allées of potted palms.

a dining room table: The oceanfront dining room is a place to lounge and sip on a Boca Punch. © Brantley Photography The oceanfront dining room is a place to lounge and sip on a Boca Punch.

New to the property is the Beach Club, which overlooks an endless stretch of powdery sand beaches with a host of swimming pools. A club within the club, this area is for the exclusive use of the guests in nine private cottages, outfitted with kitchens and living rooms as well as their own golf carts for getting around. It's an amenity made for the pandemic-era travel pods and offers an ultra-private respite for vacationers who now might now find themselves crowded out of Miami and Palm Beach. In these new spaces, McMakin and Kemble let loose: an art team was on-site for three months, hand-painting walls and creating custom touches, like coffee tables filled with local sand and shells encased in lucite.

a palm tree in front of a building: With a fresh coat of paint, this Boca Grande fixture is ready for another season. © Courtesy Gasparilla Inn With a fresh coat of paint, this Boca Grande fixture is ready for another season.

Old and new, the charms of Gasparilla Inn are clear, especially as the state sees an influx of New York amenities like Sant Ambroeus, La Goulue, and Le Bilboquet. It is a rare expression of Florida atypical to the Gulf Coast; Mustique rather than Margaritaville.

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