With its signature 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 with style. 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. Bonus: As a longtime summertime resident of East Hampton, Sarah shares some of her favorite places to sip, shop, and hang in the Hamptons.
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.
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 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.
As the summer winds down in the Hamptons, we can’t wait for Palm Beach’s “season” to begin! What’s new there?
We have a lot going on at the Colony, as always, and the team is hard at work preparing for an amazing 2020/2021 winter season! The hotel will open fully on October 29th, after spending the summer undergoing an update of her lobby and many of the villas. To those who know and love the Colony of old, never fear, her original charm will remain forever; she was designated a Historic Landmark by the Town of Palm Beach in 2020, so all updates are really more restorations and refreshes than renovations. Our iconic lobby, now affectionately referred to as “the living room” is undergoing a complete restoration, and will be completed in November 2020. The new design, by Kemble Interiors and executed by Shapiro Pertnoy Companies, will reflect the Colony’s ethos of personalized hospitality and feature many intimate vignettes of soft seating, cocktail tables, and conversational furniture. As the lobby’s focal point, Kemble Interiors designed a 10-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling pagoda that will rise above the living room’s existing fireplace. Inspired by traditional garden follies common to large 18th-century estates, the pagoda will actually project from the wall as though it were outdoors.
And what’s this we hear about the return of Swifty’s?
I’m excited to announce that Swifty’s is set to return to the Colony Hotel this fall! After a successful first season in Palm Beach, Swifty’s is coming back—this time with outdoor dining and expanded service. Swifty’s POOL will also launch on October 29th, serving lunch, dinner, and cocktails around the Colony’s swimming pool, as well as alfresco seating under the hotel’s outdoor hanging garden. A more casual concept but still offering the Swifty’s favorites that we all know and love, look out for live music and impromptu activations to keep the Swifty’s POOL patrons on their toes (think rum tastings, book readings, acoustic guitarists, and other safe and socially distant endeavors!). The traditional Swifty’s dining room, inside the hotel, will reopen for dinner in mid-December.
You have more exciting design news to share; tell us about your partnership with the iconic hand-painted wallpaper creator de Gournay.
The Colony partnered with famous de Gournay to create custom wallpaper to adorn all four walls of the living room. The paper is an entirely new pattern exclusive to the Colony Hotel, and features flora and fauna indigenous to Florida. Alligators creep from shallow pools, and panthers stalk wearing diamond necklaces. The pattern is a departure from past de Gournay projects in that it reflects whimsy and humor, elements essential to the Colony Hotel. We worked closely with de Gournay to embody both the storied tradition of its artisans and the spirit of Palm Beach in the final pattern, which was inspired by an original mid-century mural that adorned the Colony lobby years ago.
The Colony’s interiors aren’t the only update to the hotel. What can visitors expect in the way of a more effortless check-in process, and how are you adjusting to the current times?
Check-in will go wireless for a more personalized and seamless arrival experience, also eliminating touch points of shared check-in desks and allowing for social distancing. Check-in will come to you, rather than you having to congregate on arrival. The Colony is lucky to have ample outdoor areas for dining, and we will be switching out poolside chaise lounges for low cocktail seating every evening to allow for more open-air socializing of separate small groups.
A seamless, more personalized arrival experience? Sounds fab. What’s your overall 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 at the Colony. 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 both 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.
What are your favorite spots to visit in Palm Beach?
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!