Becky Gochman first climbed on a horse when she was eight years old and immediately began to beg her parents for one of her own. At 11, exhausted by her nightly tears, they surrendered. As a mother, she spared her own daughters any childhood trauma by lifting them onto horses when they were just 18 months old. As a rider, she’s their role model—she has held the Wellington, Florida, title in the amateur-owner hunter division for riders 36 and over for five years.
Dedicated riders own horses. Becky Gochman owns 20. She keeps them at her farm in Wellington, in a barn so lavishly equipped that other horses dream of living there. But the Wellington riding season lasts only three months, and the farm, designed by Tom Scheerer, wouldn’t work as a year-round residence for a family with school-age children. Palm Beach, just 17 miles away, would do quite nicely.
In Palm Beach, she and her husband, David, took an oceanfront house built in 1925 and, instead of updating it, tore it down. The home next door, though new, looked old, so they hired its architects, Peter Moor and Chris Baker, to build a house that looks as if it belongs in the neighborhood, but on a smaller scale at 4,000 square feet.
And then Scheerer went to work. This was his third project for the Gochmans; before Wellington, he’d transformed a staid Manhattan townhouse into what he describes as a “kooky, off-kilter home out of The Royal Tenenbaums.” Harmony prevailed. “Tom presented me with three different choices, and I tended to choose the one he liked,” Becky recalls.
In Palm Beach, the couple wanted a house “with the integrity of older houses, but we don’t like ‘grand’ anywhere.” Scheerer’s family summered on the most exclusive road in East Hampton, and he has collected houses in equally chic locations, but there is nothing grand about his work. “Informality is my watchword, especially at the beach,” he says. “On the outside, this house is vaguely Bermudan. Inside, it feels more like a loft. I removed some architectural details, then added others so the rooms flow into one another, with the furnishings telling each room’s story."
Readers who cherish Scheerer’s decorating books will appreciate the lessons he has imported from his own homes. That means bentwood chairs, bamboo-wrapped coffee tables, generous applications of rattan and wicker, and floors that sandy feet can’t damage. There are small, sly touches: a banister painted with an aqua enamel that echoes the blue accent on the Chinese paper chandelier, faux-painted bamboo in the dining room, and, in the living room, large paintings of tropical plants bookended by plants on tables.
And wherever possible, there is instant aging, from reclaimed floors to blackened hinges. “The house is crisp and modern, but I’m not afraid of a little patina,” Becky says. “Everything that we have put in the house is meant to be used.”
She told her architects she wanted them “to bring the ocean in,” and they delivered just that. The story of the house is windows and glass doors, and more often than not, those windows and doors are open. “At dinner on Thanksgiving, we watched surfers and paddleboarders,” she recalls. “And pelicans—that day, I learned they fly in flocks."
On her walks, she’s invariably looking for houses that have had recent visits from their gardeners: “No one forages like I do,” she admits. “For me, a pile of debris is a treasure. I collect clipped hedges. I made a Christmas tree out of discarded plants. Sometimes I ask people if they have coconuts that have fallen—I don’t like to see wasted coconuts.” Eccentric? Dinner is occasionally served on an outdoor Ping-Pong table; the Gochmans are likely the only one-percenters in Palm Beach who use their screened porch for sleeping.
Because Becky worries about the ecosystem of sand dunes and beach plants, the Gochmans didn’t develop much of their property. They clean their section of the beach, and they may soon have an oceanfront organic garden. “Palm Beach used to be all about highly manicured properties,” she says. “Now, more and more people care about the environment.” Consider this house Exhibit A.
This story originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Siweb.