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Three-Part Invention
House & Garden, October 2004

The clients wanted a serenely intimate master bedroom. But the large room was part of a cavernous two dressing-room, two-bathroom master suite in one of the most spectacular mansions designed by architect Addison Mizner, who gave Palm Beach its 1920s bull-market, red-roof-tile style.

Alberto Pinto knew exactly how to tame the space and create a calm elegance that reflects the sea’s shimmer. From Louis Bofferding in New York, he bought an Italian nineteenth-century hand-etched mirrored valance – part of the fabled silver bedroom of the late designer Rose Cumming – and placed it atop French doors facing the ocean. He used matte blue stucco on the walls, inlaid with luminescent mother-of-pearl. By day, sparkle; by night, twinkle. The curtains, lush layers of organza and moiré silk, replicate the soothing ripple of gentle tidal swells. Pinto gives the light palette a twist: the antique furniture is black-lacquered.

Elsewhere, he opted for simple materials such as white quilted cotton and white-on-white embroidered gauze. A traditional Portuguese design inspired the carpet. The custom-made mirrored bed, like the intimate seating and lamps of rock crystal or glass pearls, recalls ’40s glamour.

“I love treating the guest bedroom in an exaggerated way, which would be difficult to live in on a regular basis,” Pinto says. So when the clients decided that travel would be the overall theme for the house, Pinto chose China for the guest room and challenged himself to avoid clichés.

The effect is simplified chinoiserie. The room’s dark green background offers a strong contrast to the crisp white woodwork. That brightness punches up the florals of the hand-painted, no-repeat wallpaper, which in turn enhances the oasis-like garden views. This is not the China evoked by blue-and-white ware. This is a wilder place: the country’s dry western expanses. The room’s opulent silk-upholstered curves and the latticework clostra covering the arched windows hint of Tamerlane’s glorious Samarqand, miles ahead on the Silk Road.

The seminal twentieth-century decorator Elsie de Wolfe, a celebrity at the time of the mansion’s construction, designed comfortable, uncluttered, light and airy rooms. The clients encouraged Pinto to evoke that feeling, which he has, with his own distinctive touch. “They gave me all their confidence,” he says. “They understood the spirit of the house, and thus we progressed together with much enthusiasm.”

An antique blue-and-white wood panel served as Pinto’s inspiration for this Louis XVI confection of a room. “I included it in the décor and decorated everything around it to produce the same effects,” says Pinto, who is a master of the deliciously deluxe.

Using Le Petit Trianon in Versailles as a model, he copied the original’s blue walls for the ocean-facing room. Every piece of the antique Louis XVI furniture is light mahogany, honeyed daily by the sun. Pinto found the eighteenth-century French Savonnerie carpet, woven in sands, tans and blues, at auction. It anchors the white-floored, ultrafeminine room and indulges the spirit of Marie Antoinette, who occupied the original room. With a cloudlike white crown canopy and curtains framing the upholstered headboard, the room evokes the French queen’s interest in a simplified, natural style

For Pinto, the challenge that tapped 35 years of experience came in balancing the refinement of an eighteenth-century interior with the simplicity of a house on the shore. He decided to restrict himself by not using any imprinted fabrics. Instead, he juxtaposed white silks, linens, and cottons of different textures. All the upholstery is done in simple cotton embroidered with an eighteenth-century stylized floral pattern. The result is just what the clients wanted: a fresh interpretation of Mizner’s Spanish-influenced villa that, Pinto says, “never loses the idea that this is a holiday house.”