The Surf Club Makes a Splash
by Siobhan Morrissey
A portal to the past and at the same time a completely modern escape, the new Surf Club is a stunning expression of subtle luxury. A cocoon of comfort, the property is a melding of intimate hotel-the Four Seasons, designed by Joseph Dirand-and private residences featuring the clean lines of architect Richard Meier. The old and the eternal unite in this project with its preserved Art Deco architecture, modern additions and emphasis on nature. The iconic Peacock Alley looks more like the nave of a church, with the entrance more uplifting than grand as the eye travels from the vaulted ceiling with its dark exposed beams to the big reveal of the ocean in the distance.
It's a place where husband and wife can be couples again while staff entertain their children. Guests can unwind at the spa, which boasts treatments so rejuvenating that one client claimed the facial recognition program on her cell phone couldn't identify her for two days after a visit.
Back in its heyday, people paddled around the pool in kayaks and attended fashion shows or black-tie boxing matches. Unusual sightings were commonplace, from elephants in the lobby to race cars by the beach. On any given night, one might bump into Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra or Elizabeth Taylor and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor frequented the club. Even former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill relaxed there, chomping on a cigar while painting seascapes.
Tire magnate Harvey Firestone opened The Surf Club in 1930. Roughly eight decades later, real estate investor Nadim Ashi decided to expand on that concept and lured a stable of talented individuals to make The Surf Club once again a destination of distinction. Here, we check in with a few of these tastemakers.
Fernando Wong, landscape architect
"The history of The Surf Club was really important to me," Wong says regarding his decision to take on a project that ultimately involved 40 plant varieties, 240 palms and 250 other trees, including a banyan tree that's three stories tall and 45 feet wide. Trucked in from Hobe Sound, the tree had to be cut vertically into five separate sections, transported by flatbed, and then reassembled like a living puzzle upon its arrival. Wong transformed the original property from a sandy expanse to a seaside oasis. He credits Winston Churchill for inspiration. "There was a photograph of Churchill at one of the pool cabanas," he says. "I was captivated by the whole notion of him in this cabana, painting, and what he would be painting now. I wanted the possibility of adding greenery to the painting."
Melanie Courbet, curator and retailer
Les Ateliers Courbet is a seductress of beauty, with household objects so enticing you may be tempted to pet them. "We don't place anything behind glass. I hate vitrines," she says. "I try to make things very comfortable and accessible." Aside from the myriad varieties of chairs, sofas, tables, rugs and even an assortment of marquetry flooring, there's also a full complement of objets d'art, such as Tadao Ando's limited-edition Venini Cosmos vase, with its combination of cubes that carve a sphere out of negative space. Courbet, who is a descendent of the famed French painter Gustave Courbet, represents a stable of artists and artisans who also exhibit at her flagship store in New York. The Surf Club boutique features work by the same craftsmen and emphasizes the more colorful objects in their collections.
Antonio Mermolia, Le Sirenuse head chef
Mermolia creates miniature gardens on a plate. Some dishes resemble a bouquet of colorful spring flowers. Others, like his signature tiramisu, are more monochromatic. The tiramisu, with its twin stalks of chocolate spiraling out of the glass, has tiny leaves of mint that conjure the image of a newly budding plant. Taking his cue from the restaurant's namesake, a resort on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, Mermolia infuses Le Sirenuse with the flavors of his native Southern Italy. At 34, Mermolia may seem young to helm such an iconic establishment, but he's put in his time at several landmark Italian restaurants in New York, including Il Punto. He also has something all great chefs must possess, the ability to take command in the kitchen. He once played professional basketball as a point guard in Italy's national league. "A point guard is basically the coach on the court," he says. "In the kitchen it is very similar."
In addition to Mermolia, The Surf Club wooed America's top chef and the Michelin man behind the French Laundry, Chef Thomas Keller. His restaurant will open later this year.