Sant AmbroeusAlia Akkam • May 24, 2017
Grand cafés, warm, welcoming ones with clean lines and wood paneling, were bastions of all-day social activity for midcentury Milanese. These “refined, elegant, and classic” circa-1950s hangouts are what inspired New York-based Studio Robert McKinley when conjuring SA Hospitality Group’s Sant Ambroeus Palm Beach in Florida shopping mecca the Royal Poinciana Plaza. “I wanted to create a place that would develop into an institution; a place that was timeless, and a restaurant where loyal clientele would feel right at home,” says McKinley, who spent ample time with his team researching such storied establishments while in Milan and Venice.
This Florida outpost, the brand’s first foray outside New York, has the same familiar, swank vibe Sant Ambroeus has flaunted since the pasticceria and confetteria made its debut in Milan in 1936. Yet it also capitalizes upon the onslaught of sultry local surroundings by “taking cues from the sea and its beautiful colors, shapes, and energy,” points out McKinley. Mahogany wall panels carved into waves mimic the refracting pattern emblazoned on the custom terrazzo floor winding throughout. “Light and fresh” hues including pastel blue and salmon pink are also subtle nods to a tropical landscape.
By embracing luxe fabrics and a sophisticated slate of natural brass and Italian marble, McKinley brought synergy to the café, bar, and dining room, a trifecta of spaces showcasing “three different moods,” he says. In the bright café, patrons take to red sofas set against wallpaper that reimagines the original wrapping paper used for pastry and cookie boxes, while in the more upscale dining room chandeliers that channel Palm Beach foliage are the center of attention. Above the bar, where revelers sink into leather and ash stools, is a sculptural installation that conveniently doubles as shelving crafted in Venice from one-of-a-kind pieces of handblown glass.
“I always use materials that hold up over time and age gracefully. I believe each one has soul and character, therefore we spend a lot of time contemplating those choices,” McKinley explains. “We want everything to patina over time, allowing the guests to leave their mark.”