Beth’s Wild Wild West

When collector and philanthropist Beth Rudin DeWoody bought property in West Palm Beach, they called her a pioneer. After they saw what she had done with it, “visionary” seemed more appropriate.

“I’ve been coming to Palm Beach since I was three years old,” says Beth Rudin DeWoody over lunch with her decorators, Carl Lana and Randall Beale. First there were visits to her grandfather’s house on Eden Road. “It was this wonderful fifties house,” DeWoody says, “with terrazzo floors and a kidney-shaped saltwater pool.” Then there were frequent stays at her father’s house. It was during one such Palm Beach, Florida, family vacation that she realized it was time to find a place of her own.

“I set out to find a decent house in the $400,000 to $500,000 range,” says DeWoody. “All I saw were dumps for over a million.” She eventually found three lots on the Intracoastal Waterway, one with a modernist split-level fifties house. It was exactly what she was looking for, except that it broke the cardinal rule of real estate: location, location, location. The split-level house DeWoody discovered was in West Palm Beach, at that time Palm Beach’s less fashionable neighbor. Her friends called her a pioneer. Historically West Palm was the place Palm Beachers drove in and out of on the way to the airport. DeWoody is quick to point out that she has always relished adventures in real estate: “I moved to TriBeCa in 1975, before it was called TriBeCa.” But real estate is, after all, in her blood. The family business, Rudin Management, owns and manages 36 buildings in New York, roughly 15 million square feet of some of the most valuable property on earth.

Besides her responsibilities as executive vice president of Rudin Management, DeWoody is president of the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation. Her philanthropy and patronage of the arts has made her a well-known presence in the contemporary international art world, as has her eclectic taste. In between art by Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol and sculptures by Tom Sachs and Subodh Gupta is what she calls her junk. “I love my little collections of Lucite, colored glass, coral trays,” she says. “I don’t mind junk, but it has to be good junk.” Her decorator interjects, “I believe when Beth buys it, it’s spelled ‘junque.’ ” And three waterfront lots provided ample space for it all.

A sculpture garden was built, and the main house and the guesthouse were handled with care. “So many modernist houses are being torn down,” says DeWoody. “That original ‘Florida’ feel gets destroyed. If I see yet another saffron-yellow Mediterranean house…!”

The split-level fifties house that serves as DeWoody’s main residence has two bedrooms and opens onto the infinity pool and garden. There is a shark sculpture by French artist François-Xavier Lalanne at the end of the pool, and a Richard Pettibone vertical column sits on the lawn. The bed in the master bedroom, which features a headboard from the estate of Palm Beach socialite Molly Wilmot (DeWoody also picked up Wilmot’s Lucite coffee table and her slipper chairs), is surrounded by a Tom Sachs bunny sculpture and a glass wall sculpture titled Almost Nothing by Rob Wynne. In the living room the vintage sofa is from Pace, and the pail on the coffee table is a Jeff Koons.

“I love the idea of buying all this stuff, then walking away and telling my decorator, ‘Okay, make it work!’ ” says DeWoody.

“We knew we were working with a shopper and an avid collector,” says decorator Lana. “So we worked on structure, but we never had formal furniture plans. We were never locked in.”

The guesthouse also provided a storage solution while the garage was transformed into an art gallery. A shopping cart by artist Sylvie Fleury rotates in the center of the space. A crocodile lounge by the Brazilian Campana brothers sits near a piece by Gaetano Pesce and a Warhol print of an electric chair.

The 30-foot-tall royal palm trees that line the courtyard of the guesthouse were brought to the property fully grown. “Clients want the landscaping to look like it’s been there for forty years,” says landscape architect Alan Stopek, who collaborated with Beale and Lana. Stopek brought in 60-year-old silver palms, a huge variety of succulents, and aloes that can grow to 30 feet tall, creating a landscape atypical for the area. “Beth brought us a book about Lotusland, this wild garden in Santa Barbara, California, and said, ‘I want something like that!’ ” Which is exactly what she got.