How The Colony Hotel, a Palm Beach Historic Landmark, Is Going Modern

by Aria Darcella
The Colony Hotel

With its sophisticated pink exterior, the Colony Hotel is easy to spot in Palm Beach.  And for the past three years, owners Sarah and Andrew Wetenhall have ensured that the historic site has lived up to its storied reputation — while also bringing it into the  21st century. The Daily caught up with Sarah to find out how she and her husband modernized the iconic property, and why it’s such a special place for their brood.

What’s your connection to Palm Beach and to the Colony?
The Colony has been a part of the Wetenhall family for more than five decades! My father-in-law, Bob Wetenhall, purchased the hotel with his business partner in 1969, so my husband, Andrew, and his brother grew up going to the Colony regularly. His father kept an apartment in the hotel’s penthouse, even after majority ownership of the property passed to his business partner’s relatives. Andrew and I have been coming as a couple for more than 20 years now. Palm Beach and the Colony is all that our three children have ever known for Christmas, Easter, and spring break.

Sarah Wetenhall (Nicholas Mele)

How did you and Andrew take the helm?
When Andrew and I had the opportunity to bring ownership of the Colony back into the Wetenhall family, we couldn’t pass it up! We share a mutual love of travel; we find joy in seeing the world together and discovering different hospitality situations, while at the same time always coming back to visit the touch point of the Colony under its previous ownership. We knew in our gut, after being guests for so long, that the hotel was not reaching its potential and that we could help guide it into the future while preserving its legacy.

You have a background in fashion PR. Was there a learning curve to joining the hospitality business?
Many of the design, visual, and branding elements actually come quite naturally to me. We’re in this business at the suggestion and encouragement of Andrew’s father. Bob has told us stories for years about how the time he spent owning and running the Colony were some of the most fulfilling and most enjoyable years of his life.

How did you plan your renovations to retain some of its original charm?
The Colony was recently denoted a historic landmark by the Town of Palm Beach, so her  original charm will remain forever and all renovations will be updates, more than additions. Under our ownership, the pool deck, Palm Court, Coral Ballroom, solarium, and CPB restaurant received full interior décor face-lifts, and Swifty’s [restaurant] was created from a former music venue. Three of the villa apartments have recently been renovated; our interior décor partner, Kemble Interiors, is amazing at interpreting old-world Palm Beach style for modern life. The pool is actually an original historic element, dating to 1947.

(Courtesy)

Palm Beach Lately and Serena & Lily collaborated on a villa. How did that come about?
Beth and Danielle of Palm Beach Lately were fantastic partners because they embody the traditional Palm Beach aesthetic that defines the Colony. They kindly and generously approached us with the Serena & Lily relationship, and frankly, they were the linchpin in the Sisters Suite collaboration. It all dovetailed perfectly, as we had a villa in need of a refresh, just as Serena & Lily was opening their Palm Beach store and launching a new collection inspired by Palm Beach.

What’s your customer-service philosophy?
With just 89 rooms and suites, no other Palm Beach hotel has the infrastructure or ability to deliver the intimate, personalized experience offered as the Colony does. Not only do we know our guests’ names and preferences, but we’re able to anticipate their needs with laser focus. We offer unique amenities that embrace our unparalleled location; the Colony is passionate and playful, with one foot in the sand and one foot on Worth Avenue. Paddle boards, bespoke cruiser bikes, beach picnics, and our custom beach buggy take guests to the sand or to peruse the shops.

Did you frequent the original Swifty’s before it closed?
Absolutely! Everyone went to Swifty’s; it was an Upper East Side institution. Andrew and I worked with Swifty’s owner Robert Caravaggi to bring it to the Colony. We eat there as much as possible! It’s an elevated scene with great people-watching that serves classic comfort food. Swifty’s offers a more distinguished, curated dining experience than CPB, which is more informal and spontaneous.

The Colony Hotel

(Courtesy)

What other New York touches have you integrated?
We have an ongoing art partnership with the Upper East Side’s Voltz Clarke Gallery; they provide pieces for Swifty’s and mount rotating shows in the solarium. We also regularly host fashion events for brands like Galvan London, Armarium, and Rosie Assoulin.

How often do you commute back to NYC?
Weekly in high season, biweekly in the shoulder seasons, and I try to work remotely from our home in East Hampton in the summers.

Tell us about your trivia nights!
They were started by Elizabeth Marshman, our manager of special events, about a year ago, and have since taken on a life of their own! It’s great to see programming like this be owned by the community.

What’s it like working with your husband?
Andrew and I have learned to work hard at our communication and to schedule carefully the time that we talk about work. We attempt to not let work and the Colony dominate our personal and family time. In all honesty, sometimes we do quite well, and others we don’t. I think it’s pretty normal. We just keep talking, loving each other and our kiddos, and being grateful for all that we’ve been blessed with!

What are your favorite spots to hit up near the Colony?
I love a bike ride or jog along the Lake Trail. My kids live for the gelato at Piccolo Gelato, and the beach toys and gear from P.B. Boys Club. When I want some retail therapy, I enjoy wandering the vias off Worth Avenue — they’re always full of sweet little stores. And you can’t go wrong when shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue at Esplanade Palm Beach. They always have what I need, and often quite a bit of what I don’t need!

(Courtesy)

What do you love about shopping in a store versus online?
I love to touch fabrics and get a sense of how they fall on my figure, which is impossible to do unless you’re in the store. Plus, I love the social aspect of shopping in person. As a working mother of three young children, I value the time I get in store to shop and put together outfits. It takes me back to my first career in the fashion industry and brings me such joy.

What do you read on the beach?
I’m always stockpiling books. On my list so far are: When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains, by Ariana Neumann, and The Most Powerful Women in the Room Is You, by Lydia Fenet. I’ll also end up reading a Rick Riordan Percy Jackson and the Olympians book; my 11-year-old son and I always read a book together each summer.

What are your goals for the Colony in the next decade?
We have a long-term plan to renovate the pool and outdoor dining areas, the café, and the lobby, which will result in a complete décor transformation of the ground floor of the hotel. We’re also exploring potential spa and fitness expansions to bring top talent in those areas to Palm Beach and offer these important full-service amenities to our guests.

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