Tour the Rarefied World of Boca Grande's Gasparilla Inn

Steven Stolman
·3-min read
Photo credit: Brantley Photography
Photo credit: Brantley Photography

From House Beautiful

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, Cece Bowman and Mackenzie Hodgson of Kemble Interiors. 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."

Photo credit: Brantley Photography
Photo credit: Brantley Photography

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.”

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.

Photo credit: Brantley Photography
Photo credit: Brantley Photography

The Beach Club, which overlooks an endless stretch of powdery sand beaches with a host of swimming pools, is freshly renovated and is newly accompanied by nine private cottages. A club within the club, the cottages are outfitted with kitchens and living rooms as well as their own golf carts so guests can easily get around the property. 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 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.

Photo credit: Courtesy Gasparilla Inn
Photo credit: Courtesy Gasparilla Inn

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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