PHOTOS BY George KamperThe secluded Palm Beach home instills a sense of warmth and welcoming.
Kelly Klein’s innate sense of taste and style emanate from every aspect of her tranquil Palm Beach, Florida, home. Referring to it as an oasis perfectly befits the 3,000-square-foot that she created for herself and her young son Lukas four years ago. Known for her accomplishments as an author, fashion designer, photographer, and quite notably as a lifelong competitive rider, Kelly could easily add interior designer and architectural visionary to her repertoire of skills.
As a teenager, Kelly studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and went on to a job as an assistant designer to Ralph Lauren. She continued to hone her design skills while working in the design studio of Calvin Klein. Kelly and Calvin eventually married in the ‘90s but amicably decided to end their marriage in 2006.
For 30 years, Kelly spent her winters in Wellington, Florida, pursuing her love of equestrian sport, but after a bad fall, which led to her decision to stop riding, she decided to purchase a private lot on Palm Beach Island’s Intracoastal Waterway and build a house. “I’d never done that before so I chose David Piscuskas, of the firm 1100 Architect, who had worked with me on my New York City apartment a couple of years earlier,” explains Kelly. “David and I came up with the concept of a house that was glass on one side and cement on the other. I love the idea of having only a sliding barn door at the front of the house. During hurricane season, that gets closed off so I’m totally protected.”
Upon entering, everything one might know of Kelly’s pared-down aesthetic becomes evident as the environment quickly envelops the senses in a soothing serenity. It’s quiet. It’s minimal. And the restrained, monochromatic color scheme and earthy textures direct the viewer’s gaze without a hint of effort. There are no visual accidents or oversights here. Each framed photo, potted orchid, or objet d’art is perfectly positioned for maximum impact. In deference to her love of horses, varying sizes of equine photos are strategically hung throughout.
Although sophisticated in its design, Kelly has created a home that imbues a sense of warmth and welcoming. Cedar ceilings, teak doors, limed-oak floors, reclaimed-wood furnishings, and open shelving in the kitchen, lined with a neutral palette of earthenware, all contribute to the casual atmosphere.
The home’s wow factor unfolds when a series of glass and teak doors slide open to create a seamless vista—linking the interior living space with the exterior covered terrace with outdoor fireplace, European-style pool, and the water beyond. In a 2012 interview with Architectural Digest, Kelly said, “I knew in my mind how I wanted to live here—in an indoor-outdoor house and enjoying the breezes with the family always together. I find that in big houses everybody is always in a different room, and no one can find each other.” Even the discerning Palm Beach architectural review board referred to her intimate house as a “breath of fresh air.”
Kelly’s parents were both strong influences on her fashion design, photography, and overall design aesthetic, as well as her profound love of horses and riding. “I think both of my parents were quite stylish,” admits Kelly. “My dad was a film director, so he was quite creative, and mom was an antique dealer who collected art and antiques. She’s had many stores, so I think I got a lot of my art background by growing up with ‘50s and ‘60s furniture in the house, and maybe that inspired me for my modernism background. I was surrounded by the arts growing up, so yes, they definitely had an influence on me.”
“My father took me for my first riding lesson in Westport, Connecticut, and it immediately became a real passion. I eventually got my first pony when I was about 5 years old, and I did horse shows from then on,” smiles Kelly. “My father bought the pony at a roadside auction for $25 and brought it home to the barn one day. I think it was a roan cross Appaloosa with one blue eye. He was very scruffy.”
Initially, Kelly rode at local shows around Westport and Fairfield, Connecticut, explaining that she was more of a local hunter rider. Her father eventually went into the horse business with the great horseman and world-class trainer Bernie Traurig (See Equestrian Living Summer 2013, “At Home with Cait and Bernie Traurig”), which led to lots of young horses that Kelly could ride during her early teens. She described them as green and young and said that they ultimately taught her to ride. Bernie, whom she’s known since she was 10 years old, gave her great lessons. But before Bernie, Rick Fancher was her trainer.
“I had really good teachers, and I was a good rider, but I never competed until much later in my life. I started showing in the A-circuit horse shows in the amateur-owners division when I was 27 years old,” Kelly recalls. “I bought a couple of nice horses, and by that time I was able to support myself, and that’s when Charlie Weaver became my teacher. He was a great horseman, and I stayed with him until the bitter end.”
With tremendous admiration, Kelly describes Charlie as an amazing trainer and hard-working man. “He had those horses so prepared for me to compete. He knew my capabilities as an equestrian and would buy the right horse for me so I was safe,” Kelly reflects. “As long as I didn’t mess it up, I usually could win. If I didn’t win, it was always my fault. Always, because the horses were perfect under Charlie.”
By the time Kelly was competing as a hunter at the adult amateur level, she was also enjoying a burgeoning career as a fashion designer and fashion photographer. “When you have another job you’re doing, you can’t ride every day. You have to show up at the horse show and kind of wing it,” Kelly says. “Charlie was really good at setting the horses up for me so I could continue to work and then show up to compete and be competitive. That’s what I wanted to be. I didn’t want to lose. I wanted to win. I had a good run in my equestrian life with Charlie and before Charlie.”
This remarkable partnership came to a sad end six years ago when Charlie, at the age of 58, suffered a fatal, paralyzing injury after falling from a horse he was prepping for a show. Weeks before that, Kelly also had a serious fall that led to her extremely difficult choice to stop riding. “At the time, I had a 2-year-old son, and I made a very hard decision to just give it up at that point. I couldn’t ride anymore. I’ve never been back on a horse,” Kelly admits. “I go to Wellington every week to watch my friends. I have a lot of friends there, and I love watching any division. My boyfriend, Nick Manifold, is a five-goal polo player, and I also go to watch polo. I think about riding every day, but I just go over to Wellington every time I feel like it and just watch.”
After the loss of Charlie, Kelly and her business partner, Stormy Good, sold Wild Ocean Farm, their Bridgehampton, New York, horse farm. “Madonna bought the farm, and she keeps her horses there,” Kelly says. “I have one retired horse in Middleburg, Virginia, and I still go and visit once in a while.”
Kelly capably balanced her riding and design careers as they both evolved, but she gradually shifted her creative focus to photography. Her work has been published in countless major national and international fashion and lifestyle magazines as well as in high-profile advertising campaigns. Stunning examples of her keen eye are displayed in six coffee-table books that feature topics such as pools, crosses, emotions, and, most recently, horses. Considered the most successful of her books, Horse conveys Kelly’s lifelong passion for the equine world with evocative imagery. The process encompassed compiling over 5,000 photographs and editing them down to a few hundred; these feature images by world-renowned photographers such as Steven Klein, Helmut Newton, Bruce Weber, and Patrick Demarchelier, to name a few.
These days, Kelly prefers to take on a few select creative projects, casually entertain friends and family at home, and focus on her 9-year-old son, Lukas, who has begun to show an interest in riding. “He’s just starting to ride,” Kelly smiles. “He goes one day a week for an hour.”
Never far from the profound impact that horses have had on her life, Kelly’s poignant introduction in Horse reminds us all of the incomparable joy and purpose they can bring to anyone’s life. “My love of horses is an indescribable feeling,” she writes. “I will never quite understand what it is that drives young girls to get up at five o’clock in the morning to spend a little time with their horses before school. What is it that makes us throw ourselves into neck-breaking maneuvers in a show-jumping arena? It is like an uncontrollable drive. My love of horses has been the only constant in my life. I love everything about them: their smell, temperament, their large, friendly eyes, their warm breath, their muscles—everything.”
Credits: Produced by George Kamper; photo assistant: Felipe Patino;
production assistant: Sherryl Kamper; hair and makeup: Marissa Nemes@artist-management.net; retoucher: Christine Johnson.