Atlantic Beach’s Hotel Palms was scheduled to open its doors as a renovated and rebranded boutique hotel the very day that Hurricane Matthew skirted our coastline in late 2016. There were sandbags still lining the doorways when their first guests checked in shortly thereafter, recalls Greg Schwartzenberger, who owns the hotel with his wife and interior designer, Julie, and his sister, public relations maven Stevan Brown. The three are all native to the area, and say the short natural disaster delay put perspective on their new business in their beloved beach town, but didn’t stop progress. Mainly because Hotel Palms is designed to be embedded in the neighborhood, a true part of its architectural and cultural vernacular, and a place for slowing down. With a keen pulse on art and design, as well as local culture, the hospitality philosophy of the eleven-room modernized 1940s motor court hotel is to be an “organic shelter,” says Julie. It is meant to evolve over time with the imprinted layers of its visiting, curated artists as well as the vestiges of events that have led to impromptu art moments.
In this way, staying at Hotel Palms is more like staying in someone’s home — the objects and arrangements fluid and indicative of a collected history. While a stay here also has the perks of a fine hotel, the goal is for each guest to feel like an “Unlikely Local,” the hotel’s trademarked phrase, which means getting a taste of living in Atlantic Beach.
Customizable Unlikely Local itineraries are offered, along with free beach cruiser and foam board rentals which will likely come in handy. The beer and wine lounge, a small but airy room with a bar, seating, and complimentary wifi also offers coffee by locally-owned Show Pigeon Coffee. The lounge is open to the hotel’s central courtyard, which all of the guest rooms face. Laidback and communal, the courtyard offers lots of seating, an après-beach shower and a fireplace for chilly nights. “We tell people, when you stay here you feel like you live in the neighborhood,” says Greg. “That’s ultimately the experience we want guests to have.”
The concept for Hotel Palms was born of the owners’ familiarity with the locale. “Being all born and raised here, and then traveling, we saw a need for a cool hotel in the neighborhood and it didn’t have it,” says Brown. “We believe the best hotels are a fabric of their own neighborhoods,” adds Julie. “Atlantic Beach is a special place, and we have a unique perspective on what it should be like to truly be that fabric.”
The inspiration was fed by a trip to Austin, Texas, where Greg saw a lot of great one-story motor motels transformed into boutique hotels. “He got us fired up,” says Julie, whose interior design company Edge and Lines is the Palms’ design partner. “Design-wise, we wanted to stick within the vernacular architecture of the area,” she says. “We didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, we wanted to fit in.” She shares the story of a particular series of objects d’art found throughout the hotel, casually placed in unlikely spots as small sculptures: “I was running and inspired by the bootjacks of palm trees,” she says, referring to the leaf bases left on the trunk of native Sabal Palm trees after a frond dies and falls. Their name stems from their “Y” shape that is reminiscent of devices used to help remove feet from boots. “They provide an organic shelter for the tree and I always said I wanted the hotel to be an organic shelter for our guests — to be ever-changing.” Julie started gathering bootjacks and asking artists to paint them when they visit.
The art inside and outside of Hotel Palms is an artist series that Greg and Julie integrate into the hotel’s style seamlessly. When the hotel opened, there was no art on the walls. “We both believe that art is something you layer and something that happens more organically over time,” says Julie. The first pieces of art hung in the rooms were photos by Gunner Hughes, a New York City-based photographer and Flagler College graduate known for moody, uniquely-cropped landscape and nature photos, many focusing on surf and sand. “We found as we got more into art how rich a resource Flagler’s art program has been,” says Greg, pointing out two more artists displayed in the hotel who are Flagler graduates: artist and Surf Shacks author, Matt Titone, whose prints hang in the largest suite, and Jason Woodside, a muralist who painted the chimney and an in-room fireplace. While the Schwartzenbergers like to let the artists create in their signature styles, unencumbered, Woodside was open to collaborating with Julie for the fireplace, since her aesthetic is more calm and muted than the palette of Woodside (seen in the saturated color of the chimney outside, which Greg says is “like a Lego”). “He softened his palette for the room,” says Julie. “It was nice to collaborate with him in making it all feel cohesive with the interiors.”
More in-room pieces of art include edgy lifestyle photos by Los Angeles-based photographer Neave Bozorgi, and laser-etched skateboard decks by Mark Oblow, a decades-long fixture on the national surf/skate scene. Along with the bootjacks, these pieces are displayed sparsely, in a way that calls attention but evokes an overall sense of uncluttered expansiveness; a vibe of possibility, at a slow pace. Enhancing this breeziness is thoughtful spatial planning and simple furniture with clean lines, reclaimed wood headboards, and concrete floors. “In general, I want people to just pause and be in the present moment,” says Julie. “I think if you can edit your design and present things in a calm and uncluttered way it’s easy for people to receive and grow in themselves.”
By Meredith T. Matthews
Photos by laird