Bethany O’Neil’s decade-long journey creating her dream home started with a long walk around her neighborhood. Ready to downsize, she scanned “for sale” signs as she strolled and fell instantly in love with a cottage based upon one feature: its French doors. A self-professed Francophile who appreciates old-world details, O’Neil adored the classic style, the ample natural light the doors let in, and—most importantly—the view they afforded her tiniest housemates, Daisy and Duffy, her West Highland terriers.
“It seems like a silly reason to love a house, but that detail really charmed me,” says O’Neil, of Bethany O’Neil Interior Design. That essentially every other detail didn’t align with her style hardly deterred her. “My husband and I typically buy houses that need a complete overhaul,” she explains. “That way I don’t feel guilty redoing everything to my taste. And even though the aesthetics weren’t what I wanted, the house had great bones.”
Though O’Neil immediately recognized the house’s potential, her vision evolved slowly. “It took me several tries to get it just right,” she says. Over the course of three renovations handled by Legacy Homes and Dyehouse Comeriato Architect—the latest spanning eight months—she installed travertine tile, wood, and afyon sugar marble flooring; added a circular driveway, mahogany garage doors, a pool, an outdoor kitchen and shower, a powder room, walk-in closets, and a fireplace; replaced the front door and every window; extended the front of the house to create office space; converted an oversized lanai into a spacious kitchen; gutted the master and children’s bathrooms; and landscaped, among many other modifications.
“Pretty much all that was originally here are the French doors,” says O’Neil. “I love France. I must have lived there in a previous life because I always choose the French way of life in my interiors; I love to combine new and old. But I veer more toward the era of Louis Philippe [France’s final king] rather than Louis XIV. That style’s a little less ornate and easier to mix with modern pieces.”
Along with overseeing the above “facelifts,” O’Neil carefully curated her furniture and accessories for a presentation that’s timeless, but with undeniable hints of coastal living. “You have to edit when you go from one house to another,” she says. “For a cohesive look, you have to be willing to cull pieces that just don’t fit in the new space and find ways to reinvent your favorite things.” For instance, an antique armoire that lived in a former kitchen now holds towels, decorative soaps, and apothecary-type items in her master bathroom, while her beloved French buffet cabinet now camouflages the television in her family room. (She hired someone to cut bifold doors into the top for easy access.) “I couldn’t let go of most of my antiques,” she says. “They have history and give a house soul. I actually added several more and had them painted in neutral and coastal colors to make them work with my decor.”
Experimenting with style has been O’Neil’s lifelong passion. “When I was a little girl, I would constantly rearrange my room,” she says. Throughout her childhood, she accompanied her father on work trips to places such as New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Charleston, and Boston, where she would visit department stores and other shops, studying vignettes and what made some especially impactful. After attending the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, she worked for Ralph Lauren’s Home Collection before launching her own interior design business in 1992.
O’Neil established her career in the Midwest, where she was born and raised. But she started to hear the siren song of Southwest Florida about 20 years ago, when several longtime clients purchased properties in Naples and asked her to furnish them. By 2004, she’d convinced her husband, Tom, an engineer, to pack up and move. “We love everything about the area, but mostly the balmy weather and the boating life,” she says. Professionally, she appreciates the many design resources that Naples offers. “1st Dibs and Chairish are my favorite non-trade places,” she adds. “Almost all of my new pieces are from Hickory Chair.”
When not out enjoying the water, the couple is most likely relaxing (or working) at home. “We are definitely homebodies,” O’Neil says. “We’d much rather entertain here than go out.” That inclination guided her design process and is a big reason why she invested in her pool area and kitchen. To her delight, her son and daughter share this preference and frequently have friends over. “I had to make sure my family room had seating for at least eight,” she says. “Because we so often have company, the home has to perform like a much bigger house.”
Her goal with decor was to create an environment that is elegant but also friendly and comforting. She started with a palette of white, ivory, beige, and gray blue, which helps her family and friends feel relaxed, while also providing her a neutral canvas that’s easy to update seasonally with accessories. “It has to be classic,” O’Neil explains. “I don’t like getting caught up in trends. Also, there should be at least one old thing that’s in every room of someone’s house. It doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘historical,’ so long as it has meaning to the person.”
She conveys playfulness and personality by mixing antique and modern pieces and accenting them with a variety of textures such as linen, velvet, fur, crystal, alabaster, stag, quartzite, raffia, and grasscloth. “Even though much of the house is white, it doesn’t feel stiff,” she says. “Sometimes people can get so caught up in the newness, fine finishes, and formality that it actually makes guests nervous about putting a glass down on the end table. Everything we have has somewhat of a distressed finish that has a sort of forgiveness to it.”
To flood the home with natural light, which psychologists attribute to improved energy, mood, and quality of life, O’Neil employs floor-to-ceiling windows and lots of mirrors, including one from the 1600s that brightens her daughter’s room. “I love mirrors,” she says. “They make the space feel bigger. They bounce light. And they bring out the importance of artwork.”
Having dealt with fine art in her early 20s, O’Neil has a deep affection for storied pieces. Among her most treasured purchases are framed Fortuny fabrics, which have been printed by Venetian artisans for centuries, and oil paintings by nineteenth-century artists such as James Ward, whose work is displayed in the Louvre. “Almost all of my art is original and old,” she says. “Most people wouldn’t appreciate it; they want new art. But it’s a part of me.”
An apparent lack of clutter completes the tranquil atmosphere. “It’s there—just hidden,” O’Neil says. In addition to using antiques to mask electronics, she keeps her work supplies in baskets behind a large panel and has doors in her dressing room to conceal clothes. One detail she doesn’t bother obscuring? Daisy and Duffy’s nose marks, O’Neil replies, adding, “They’re on every door and window.”