Most 1970s-era rental apartments are the architectural equivalent of stale saltines—white walls and tired finishes—unless they have Aldous Bertram as their tenant. “It’s as plain as can be, it has cracks, and there’s termites everywhere,” says the British designer and artist of his Palm Beach home, “but that’s all hidden.” He used traditional interior paint to add color, but he didn’t stop with a standard coating of the walls: Next came a Chinese vase on his bedroom wall, a striped “tented” ceiling in the living room, and a pair of wall niches so lifelike, you want to reach into them.
“I studied a photo of an Amsterdam corridor painted with these four niches and four statues, and I thought, Well that is just the neatest trick,” says Bertram, who works with decorator Amanda Lindroth on projects in Palm Beach, the Bahamas, and the U.K. (That’s how he ended up on this particular stretch of Florida sand in the first place.) “They were surprisingly easy to do, because your eye wants to believe that a niche is there so much that it doesn’t really look at the details.” To achieve the effect, Bertram taped out their forms, painted one side darker than the other, and “swished the paint around” to create a shadow. “Suddenly, they popped!” Well, not exactly suddenly—Bertram estimates the niches took him several hours. (Perhaps it’s no surprise that he has sworn off mural painting: “I never really want to do one again. It’s incredibly laborious and highly stressful.”)
The niches are just the start of the visual wizardry in this one-bedroom space. Take Bertram’s tented hallway, lined in an Indian fabric from Etsy that cost him $5 a yard. He applied it like a madman, tacking pieces to the walls with picture nails and then covering the edges with Indian trim. “The effect is so great, because that was the most boring, ugly, narrow corridor, and now everyone is like, ‘Wow, this is a cool transition!’ ” he says. “It feels like an extra room, even though it’s just six feet long and three feet wide.” Throughout, apartment walls are lined in antique engravings that Bertram buys, colors, and sells online. “They’re acquired largely from eBay—I know my search words,” he says. They make up 90 percent of the art in his home.
Bertram is not only good with a paintbrush, though: He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in Chinese Influence on English Garden Design and Architecture, and he has a book forthcoming on the subject from Vendome. Accordingly, the apartment is dotted with enough chinoiserie to appease any member of the Palm Beach glitterati. There’s a miniature Chinese temple lined in 300-year-old engravings, which Bertram constructed from plywood (prior to working for Lindroth, he was a dollhouse-maker). Plus, there’s a litter of green-and-yellow foo dogs, believed to ward off evil spirits, and de Gournay goose tureens he found at the West Palm Beach Antiques Festival. “I’ve wanted those for 15 to 20 years!” says Bertram, who originally spotted them in British country houses in his teens. “I had to scramble around to multiple ATMs to take out enough money to pay for them. And I live in terror that I’ll break them. But I am obsessed.”
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