A Sailfish Point Home Gets A Modern, Masculine Makeover By Interior Designer Patty Downing
Home—our cozy haven. Our prized personal oasis to share and celebrate with loved ones. Our shelter from the elements and sanctuary removed from the outside world. It is, overwhelmingly, our destination of choice—the one place on the planet that reflects and expresses our unique personality, interests, experiences and very identity.
Except for when it doesn’t.
The dizzying demands of his career required that Bill Bevins maintain residences on both coasts. Pingponging to and from New York and Los Angeles left him little time to savor the vacation home he purchased on Sailfish Point more than 20 years ago.
Recently retiring and going through a divorce, Bevins decided to consolidate contents from his other homes and make the Stuart location a permanent place with a style all his own.
But this proved tougher than he thought.
“I’ve had lots of homes, but I’ve had (previous marriages) and never really decorated the places to suit myself,” says
So he decided in bring in a professional—Patty Downing of Patty Downing Interiors in Stuart.
“For 20 years I’ve driven past her place of business,” Bevins says. “Nobody is in business that long unless they’re reliable, and she was fabulous.”
Let there be a light
Downing surveyed the décor—which was rife with stained wood grains and tones that heightened a closed-in feel—and declared a diagnosis.
“He had big, heavy oak moldings and ornate iron chandeliers,” she says. “It was overly Old World.”
First order, she suggested, was to lighten up the place. She advised an unobtrusive color scheme that allowed his impressive art collection to shine. She suggested painting the moldings white and making walls varying tones of gray.
“It was perfect for his art,” she says.
Owning an assembly of sculptures and paintings, Bevins says his arts patronage is guided by his heart.
“Most of the paintings are pop art,” he says. “It’s not stuff that I bought because I thought I was making great investments. I bought it because I liked it.”
During every redecorating endeavor, Downing is careful about letting the client lead the creative process.
“I’ve always thought I’m pretty gentle,” she says. “I don’t go into someone’s home and say, ‘You must do this and this and this,’ because if I say, ‘You must get rid of this,’ they may say, ‘It was my grandmother’s, and it’s my most favorite piece in the world.’”
With Bevins, Downing introduced ideas that would enable his favorite items from his other houses to mingle with ease. He responded well to each suggestion. Too
well, in fact.
“I’d hold my breath and say, ‘What do you think of this?’ And he’d say, ‘Yeah. I like it,’” she recalls. “Everything I was showing him, he’d say, ‘I like it.’ ‘Really? Or are you just saying that?’ And he said, ‘No, I like it.’”
Bevins promises he wasn’t merely placating her.
“It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “Every single thing that (she offered) I was in to.”
Departure and early return
With the colors and styles agreed upon, Bevins left for vacation, giving Downing two months to finish everything.
Using soft gray paint, she recast the atrium as the ideal showcase for a striking bust with a floating hand to its chin. She transformed the den with built-in shelves of dark wood and silver tract lights to accentuate his paintings.
The masculinity of the original feel remained but got its contemporary upgrade. The theme carried through into the master bedroom and the living room, where in the latter she replaced the fireplace with a modern dark stone. On its mantle rests a golden statue that resembles a robed Oscar, neighboring a striking painting composed of newsprint crafted to read, “The Time Is Always Now.”
Her subtle reworking of a breakfast nook—set amid a ceiling-to-floor bay-window—was crafted perfectly to direct all attention beyond it and into the lush gardens outdoors.
Everything appeared on schedule for the big reveal, until Bevins announced he was returning two weeks early. Downing raced to finish.
“He came in and I’d gotten a lot further than he thought I had,” Downing says.
With more finishing work to do, she tried to manage the remaining weeks of renovation with as few intrusions as possible. Bevins took everything in stride.
“You can do it quick,” he says, “or you can do it right. And the people she had were doing it right.”
Discovering, inspiring talent
Striking the right tone derives from more than Downing’s formal background. Living in Eastern Maryland, Downing worked with an interior designer, redoing historical houses while taking classes at a nearby community college. She moved to Stuart in 1981. Encouraged by friends in the field, she took additional design classes at what was then Indian River Community College.
“It just kind of evolved,” she says. “It’s been an easy process. I don’t have much of an ego.”
As she succeeded in growing her business, decorating homes in exclusive communities such as Harbor Ridge and John’s Island, Downing also inspired an apprentice of sorts. Her daughter, Megan Downing Frech, originally attended Tulane University and majored in English and fine arts before she “backed into interior design and she’s doing really well,” the proud mother says. “She’s very, very creative and innovative. I love her work.”
Frech owns a design firm in New York City, where clients often seek to replicate a highly specific look, making for a very different market than Stuart.
“Here, people aren’t hiring for a look,” Downing says. “They’re hiring you to say, ‘Can you make my house my home?’”
Downing believes she succeeds in this effort thanks to a gift she honed during an earlier—and entirely different—career. As an intensive-care nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, Downing says she learned how to really listen.
“She listened to what I had to say,” Bevins says. “I’ve been totally comfortable with every room in the house as it’s come together—it’s exactly what I wanted. I’ve had the place but I wanted it to be mine. And that’s what she did, she took a place that I’ve lived in and made it mine.”