IT LooKS AS THoUgH IT WeRe BoRN AND BReD IN CHARLeSToN—MAgNoLIA HoUSe. giving credence to this
sunny illusion: five Corinthian columns crowning its front entrance, an iron balcony that pirouettes across the
elegant façade and unrestrained bow windows that conjure Scarlett O’Hara. Prominent architect John Volk’s
grand lady hails not from the Deep South, but 1939 South Florida—Palm Beach to be precise!
“That’s what really attracted us to it,” says Christopher Drake, who shares the home with his interior design
and life partner, Lee Bierly, and Speedo, their frisky golden retriever. “Its architecture is very romantic, and
even more so because it’s surrounded by a sea of Mediterranean-style homes landscaped with palm trees.”
Although Magnolia House had been severely damaged by two hurricanes, this award-winning Boston-
based team was so enchanted by its georgian demeanor, they were easily swayed. “The windows leaked,
the roof had been ripped away and the rear wood façade was rotted,” says Drake. “It was like a damsel in
distress. It was almost ‘gone with the wind’! We couldn’t resist.”
Bierly and Drake, who have been an active part of the Palm Beach social circuit for two decades, brought
the house back to life—a labor of love that earned them the 2007 Ballinger Award from the Preservation
Foundation of Palm Beach. And it has become a focal point of their lives. “We have two other houses, one in
Boston and another on Nantucket Island, but this may just be our favorite,” says Bierly.
So whether in Palm Beach working on an interior design project or simply feeling the urge for “easy living,”
the duo is off to Magnolia House. “When we’re working, we’re having fun,” says Drake, “we’re wearing shorts
and alligator shirts instead of suits.” And more often than not, mornings on their “funky little island” begin with
a two-mile bike ride to Main Street with Speedo racing beside them to get the morning paper and glasses of
freshly-squeezed orange juice. once Speedo is worn out, Bierly and Drake head off to a round of golf or to
the beach club for a swim and an afternoon of soaking up the sun.
Magnolia House is home to their most precious possessions and often, their favorite friends. “our guests
are as important as the rooms they’re in,” says Drake, adding that the neutral palette of beige and taupe,
spiced up with bursts of sunny marigold, sage toile and cherry red drapery, forms the perfect backdrop for
the extraordinary furnishings they have collected from around the world in the last quarter century.
In the breakfast nook, a classically-inspired cabinet painted Colonial Revival white becomes a stage for an
array of 18th and 19th century Napoli porcelain. Nearby, early 20th century orkney chairs from the eponymous
Scottish town, crafted from reeds, sit in patient audience. other treasures in this cast of characters’ command
performance are an antique glazed terra cotta stove the couple stumbled upon decades ago in the south
of France, and two rococo style paintings salvaged from the boiserie of a venerable French home and
purchased in London.
“There are so many things we treasure that we have carried with us from house to house,” recalls Bierly.
“Very few pieces were purchased for this house and almost none bought just to fill space. I believe that is why
people always remark that our home feels seasoned.”
The same accidental elegance enlivens their living room. A sedate portrait of a golden-gowned lady is
paired with an ebony-lacquered Venetian tea table and an eccentric, exotic empire-period swan chair.
“We adore chairs,” says Bierly. “Their forms, whether they are Victorian slipper chairs or French bergères, are
fabulous. And our upholstery is detailed in the same way as haute couture—with dressmaker details that
romance the silhouettes. The same can be said for our window treatments, which flow with an ease and
cascade like the folds of a gown.”
So attired, Magnolia House is the perfect hostess. Whether for a quiet get-together or a lavish affair of more
than 100, she evokes ensorcelled entertainment with decided grace. “The indoors and outdoors blend as the
guests mix and mingle under the covered veranda and candles float in the pool,” Drake says. “It’s paradise”