Sarah Wetenhall: Pink Paradise At The Colony Hotel

Sarah and Andrew Wetenhall are the owners of The Colony Hotel, a pink paradise in Palm Beach flocked to by many East End snowbirds. We spoke to Sarah to learn more about the history of the famed venue and this season’s offerings — from a collaboration with goop to fitness program by Tracy Anderson.  

Sarah Wetenhall. Photo by Neil Rasmus / BFA

Can you start by telling us about the history of The Colony Hotel?

The Colony Hotel debuted in 1947 during Palm Beach’s post-World War II construction boom. Commanding the western end of Hammon Avenue, The Colony was (and still is) in an unparalleled location — just steps from both the ocean and iconic shopping destination, Worth Avenue. In the ’50s, it was bought by real estate investor Joseph Tankoos Jr., who brought a sense of sparkle to Palm Beach. During his reign, The Colony was described as gracious, elegant, popular, and the beloved resort home of the rich and famous. Guests such as Judy Garland, Lena Horne, John Lennon, Sophia Loren, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Frank Sinatra all frequented the hotel. 

The Colony was also a beloved backdrop for photographer Slim Aarons, who was known for capturing beautiful people doing beautiful things in beautiful places. The hotel was sold to David McConnell and my father-in-law, Robert Wetenhall, in the 1970s, and underwent several renovations of the facilities and rooms. During this time, The Colony was committed to the local Palm Beach community, hosting charitable galas, and buzzing with entertainment, glamour, and celebrations. Although ownership was transferred in the late ’80s, my father-in-law remained involved and dreamed of a day when the property resembled the crown jewel it once was. Fast forward to 2016, when my husband, Andrew, and I purchased the hotel and embarked on a journey to restore it to its former glory. My father-in-law always told me that owning the hotel would be the best years of my life, and they have been. The Colony had been in our family for nearly five decades; my husband, Andrew, grew up traveling to Palm Beach. When we purchased the hotel, our goal was to honor the property’s colorful and storied past while welcoming a new generation of well-traveled and discerning guests. We wanted to remove the veil of Palm Beach mystique and create a place that had something for everyone.

Sarah Wetenhall, Gwyneth Paltrow. Photo by Nick Mele

Let’s talk about the iconic design. Could you tell us about the restoration of the property and how you brought your vision to life?

Although the restoration of our Pink Paradise began when my husband and I purchased the hotel in 2016, it really culminated during the summer of 2020 when we redesigned the hotel lobby, which we now refer to as The Living Room. We hired Celerie Kemble and Mimi McMakin of Kemble Interiors to spearhead the redesign. They were the perfect fit to represent the island’s multi-generational aspect and speak to the desires of the “old Palm Beach” guard. We then partnered with de Gournay, who designed a bespoke mural as a respectful nod to the mural that was in the original hotel lobby in 1947. 

The Colony Hotel Pool

The next phase of the restoration was the guest rooms. In the summer of 2022, in honor of our 75th anniversary, we embarked on a complete guest room redesign with Kemble Interiors and de Gournay, along with Society Social, Schumacher, and Farrow & Ball. As a part of this redesign, we debuted our capsule furniture collection with Society Social, an 11-piece collection designed in collaboration with Society Social founder Roxy Owens. The assortment, consisting of artisan-crafted rattan and faux bamboo pieces, together with select upholstery items, is inspired by old-world Palm Beach and captures the tropical glamour typical of The Colony as well as the playful and vivacious spirits of both brands. This furniture is featured in each guest room. 

Renowned fabric house Schumacher also collaborated on the project to recreate heritage designs customized in pink, green, and blue colors exclusive to the hotel. This restoration was truly a celebration of design and a homage to our storied past. It embodies not only the elegance and class of Palm Beach but also its whimsy and revelry. Although never fully complete, each project brings the hotel closer to the best version of itself, reinforcing its legacy of being a place to connect meaningfully and authentically with Palm Beach, its colorful history, and all it has to offer.

Tell us about your mascot, Johnnie Brown.

Johnnie Brown is one of Palm Beach’s celebrities! Affectionately known as “JB,” he was the beloved pet monkey and constant companion of Addison Mizner, the famous architect who designed the Everglades Club and much of Palm Beach. In the 1920s, he could be spotted in the heart of town on Mizner’s shoulder. Today, he is our mascot and pays tribute to our whimsical and nostalgic nature. JB can be found in every corner of our Pink Paradise (guests can even text him!)

Photo by Carmel Brantley

You recently collaborated with goop to create a villa. Can you talk about this experience?

When we contemplated a partner for our next villa redesign, it was imperative to collaborate with a brand that shared our vision of beautiful living and meticulous design. goop was the perfect fit because of its dedication to making even the smallest moments deeply meaningful and experiential; from there, the conversation happened organically. We were able to move relatively quickly to bring the goop Villa to life because of our mutual commitment and excitement to work together. The process was fast-paced and smooth, and our visions were aligned from the start. Both of our brands have an unwavering commitment to uphold their mission, and with this mutual understanding, we were able to bring out the best in each other. The result? An amalgamation of the feminine, Parisian aesthetic that goop is known for, coupled with the fun and whimsy of The Colony and Palm Beach. We created a space that is exhilarating from a design standpoint, yet serene and cozy: the kind of hotel room that you never want to leave. It is a stunning, collected mix of old world and new, an elegant, feminine sanctuary, complete with an array of goop beauty products for guests to enjoy.

Joey Wölffer, Tamron Hall, Sarah Wetenhall and Rachel Zoe at the Southampton Hospital Gala. Photo by Sean Zanni/PMC

Last summer, the Southampton Hospital Gala theme was A Night at The Colony Hotel. Please tell us about the evening.

We had the pleasure of sponsoring the Southampton Hospital Gala on August 5 to benefit Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. This marked the third summer of taking our Pink Paradise on the road to visit our guests in their summer home — the Hamptons! For one night only, we successfully transformed the event venue in the heart of Southampton into Palm Beach’s pinkest hotel — from the dance floor (which was wrapped with an image of our swimming pool complete with our lounge chairs and towels) to the table linens, and of course floral design by Lewis Miller, the evening truly felt like a night at The Colony Hotel. More importantly, the evening was filled with both new and familiar faces coming together to support a crucial cause in our community.

What does your perfect day in Palm Beach look like?

When I’m not working, a perfect day in Palm Beach starts with a Tracy Anderson class at The Colony and an order of Pop-Up Bagels; it’s called balance! Of course, a stroll down Worth Avenue is a given, as well as a visit to The Royal Poinciana Plaza to complete any and all shopping needs. If my kids are with me, we are biking the Lake Trail or surfing at the beach, and if they’re not, it’s cocktails at Le Bilboquet, followed by dinner at Swifty’s.

The Colony Hotel. Photo by Lesley Unruh

Can you tell us about some of the in-residence partners you have this season at The Colony Hotel?

It is true when we say The Colony has something for everyone. From fashion and retail to fitness, beauty, and art, you don’t even have to leave when you check in to the Pink Paradise! 

Dolce&Gabbana has returned to our Pink Paradise with a pop-up boutique until 2025. Tracy Anderson’s fitness classes are back as well. Just as our clients are between Palm Beach and New York, so are Tracy’s.

For facial treatments and massages, Naturopathica is in residence with us for the first time. Their established spa and line of products are well known and respected in New York and on the East End, so it was a no-brainer to bring them to The Colony. Luxury brand Asprey is also back for another season, located in the mezzanine above our Living Room. Guests adore the one-on-one service and shopping experience that Asprey offers. In our Solarium, we have artist Rachel Morrissey debuting her new solo show, “Bloom,” in February. I cannot leave out Pop-Up bagels; this cult favorite has quite the following! We have guests traveling from as far as Miami to pick up their dozen, and they sell out within minutes every weekend. 

We always say that The Colony is much more than a hotel; it is a way of life and, as I’ve stated before, a place to connect meaningfully and authentically with Palm Beach. It is through these best-in-class partnerships that we can consistently surprise and delight our guests and provide them with an experience that is like staying with a gracious, sophisticated, and well-connected Palm Beach friend.

Coming up: Guild Hall in East Hampton will hold its 2024 Visionaries Luncheon featuring Rebecca Hessel Cohen, LoveShackFancy Founder & Creative Director, in conversation with Sarah Wetenhall at The Colony on Thursday, March 14.

Jessica Mackin-Cipro

Co-Publisher/Editor

Jessica Mackin-Cipro is an editor and lifestyle writer from the East End of Long Island. She has won NYPA and PCLI awards for journalism and social media. She was previously the Executive Editor of The Independent Newspaper.

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