At James Duncan’s Florida home, traditional beach bungalow meets Chinese antiques, African doors, and a bright blue rhinoceros in a creatively bohemian adobe.
Our motto is disciplined eclecticism,” James Duncan tells us. An interior designer and progressive artist, Duncan was first drawn to this modest 1950s Ridgewood home for its well-preserved authentic island style. Originally built on a coconut plantation by the Mackel Brothers, Florida’s earliest developers, the 2,400-square-foot tree-nestled bungalow was one of the area’s very first houses to be constructed, and one of the few still standing amidst the many torn down in the neighborhood.
“It was very original, very simple,” recalls Duncan. “We tried to respect the overall scale and intent of the rooms.” Structural edits, to that end, were restrained: kitchen and ceilings were expanded, doors and windows opened up and a small addition was built at the back. A coat of white paint added the quintessential coastal vibe, and the floors – finished by a commissioned artist – evoke a surfboard surface complete with a polished enamel.
“I didn’t want to make it too fancy,” comments Duncan. “It is what it is: a small Florida bungalow, a more contemporary vision but still casual.”
The glossy white floors, walls, and woodwork create a beachy backdrop, a neutral canvas for the Duncans’ vibrant art and furniture collection. A number of pieces are his own designs – from the living room sofa and coffee table to the ultramarine blue rhino head making a roaring statement on the wall. His striking objects d’art series also include skulls and weaponry, all created with a specially-produced French pigment.
“It’s tough when you have such an eclectic mix,” says Duncan. “We didn’t depend on color; instead, we let the art and decor take over.” Many of the home’s furnishings rotate on a regular basis – floor models that the Duncans test out themselves before sending off to their showroom. Others – the ornate French chest, 17th-century Buddha sculptures from the Far East - are globally sourced antiques. And yet others are unexpected mass-market finds: the dining room’s retro-style chairs hail from no other than IKEA. “Cheap and chic,” Duncan quips.
“We cook a lot, we love to party, we love travel and the house reflects all of that,” Duncan shares. Travel mementos abound: antique tiles from Portugal; a dragon sculpture from Bali; a lighted industrial pipe installation by a Cuban artist; a classical column in the living room found at a salvage store in England. Next to the kitchen is a piece of wall art, which was once an African door; with Duncan’s wife originally from Morocco, the couple travels extensively through the continent, amassing an impressive collection of contemporary African art.
“We have more art than we can hang,” Duncan remarks. Paris is another favorite acquisition source, especially for paintings: the one in the living room appeared in several Dior collections, he tells us. Another bold graphic piece takes place behind glass as the backsplash above the kitchen stove.
“We’re inspired by things we’ve seen, and we enjoy,” adds Duncan. “Most recently we were in Portugal; there’s this great bohemian atmosphere there that we’ve injected into our work. It is eclectic but it’s transitional, which keeps it from looking schizophrenic.
”The global boho vibe drifts out to the patio, wrapped by a lazuli-blue wall from Marrakech. A thatched roof shades a poolside lounge set with antique Chinese chests and lacquered African tables; an al fresco extension of the home in lieu of a larger addition.
“We could’ve added more indoor space, but we wanted more garden,” explains Duncan. “The scale is not ostentatious; in this case, less is more.
”Whether indoor or out, the home’s beachy, ocean-scented charm is an omnipresent theme.
“My daughter surfs, so there are surfboards and paddleboards everywhere,” he notes. “The home is not formal; it’s appropriate for the size and location by the water. It’s very comfortable, and it works”