One of the best things about owning two homes in two different parts of the country is that in addition to expanding one’s living spaces, one almost always multiplies a circle of friends.
That’s the way that Kansas City interior designer Jan Kyle—who shares a winter vacation home (and design office) in Palm Beach with her husband, popular veterinarian Wayne Hunthausen—was introduced to Donna de Varona.
“Donna is mutual friend of a dear friend, and she’s since become a great friend of mine,” Kyle says.
A friendship that led de Varona and her husband John Pinto to become clients of Westwood-based Jan Kyle Design after de Varona and Pinto—longtime residents of Greenwich, Connecticut—decided to become “official” snowbirds by purchasing a spacious condominium of their own. The bitterly cold weather on the East Coast finally made the decision for them, Kyle says. De Varona slipped on a sheet of black ice several winters ago and was knocked unconscious.
A native of California, de Varona had not only grown up in the year-round sunshine, she spent much of her childhood in a swimming pool: By age 13, she had qualified for her first U.S. Olympic swimming team and swam a preliminary heat of the freestyle relay. Four years later, at the 1964 summer Olympics in Tokyo, de Varona captured two gold medals and, before her retirement at age 17, had achieved a career total of 18 world swimming records.
De Varona’s Olympic medals are proudly displayed in her Florida home, but they only represent a component of her achievements. De Varona’s next challenge was to move to the male-dominated world of professional sports broadcasting, later winning an Emmy award and two Gracie awards (presented by Alliance for Women in Media).
“I knew, immediately, after seeing the three-bedroom apartment why Donna saw the potential,” says Kyle. “It wasn’t new, but it had spectacular bones and gorgeous polished travertine floors in the public area. It needed some updating and redecorating. It had flow, it just needed style.”
De Varona had a few caveats. “She wanted to start with a clean slate,” says Kyle. “Their home in Connecticut is very traditional. They wanted something very different for Florida.”
And even though the apartment looks out over the Atlantic, de Varona and Kyle wanted to stay away from Palm Beach clichés, like seashells.
“We only used them once,” says Kyle. “I created two assemblages, using giant clamshells filled with shells and coral branches in front of the two mirrors in the foyer, which is a gorgeous octagonal room where I had the ceiling gold-leafed. It’s my homage to Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus.’”
De Varona’s other challenge to Kyle was slightly more daunting. “They purchased the apartment in September of 2015,” Kyle says, “and wanted it ready for Christmas. And it was! Even though we had ordered custom furnishings, the apartment was completed when they arrived in December.”
Kyle had suggested “classic modern” as the style theme for the Florida home. “That meant, for this apartment, pieces that are sleek and modern. It’s very chic, but colorful and inviting. I used a palette of saffron yellow, burnt orange and cream.”
A third bedroom was transformed into a library for John Pinto, utilizing shades of camel, black and cream (the oversized sepia- toned photograph on the wall of two horses nuzzling was taken by Kyle’s husband).
In the living room, dominated by views of the Atlantic, the vibrant shades of orange, pink, green and blue pop from a canvas that de Varona discovered at the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s annual outdoor juried Art Festival.
And yes, Donna de Varona, former Olympic champion, still swims a mile every day. These days, only for pleasure.