As the co-founder and creative director of Carriage House, Paula Bickford has quickly distinguished herself as a generous hostess, inspired businesswoman, and global tastemaker with an extraordinary eye for detail. In addition to designing the members-only club with a nod towards European craftsmanship—hand-painted Portuguese tiles, restored Mediterranean architecture, Murano lamps—she’s uniquely created a home-away-from-home where guests are meant to linger and strike up spontaneous conversation. As bossa nova plays, fireplaces glow, and cocktails wait at the ready, Carriage House is a decidedly sophisticated newcomer to the Palm Beach scene.
Here, Paula, who co-founded the club with her husband Michael Bickford, speaks to PALMER on what makes an ideal evening, how to establish the mood, and what sets the club apart.
Palmer: What’s the key to a perfect night out?
Paula Bickford: Something spontaneous! My favorite kind of night out should require very little planning. I like calling one or two of my best friends and going to the club. There, we’ll meet with many of our other friends. I love the unpredictability of who we will end up spending our evenings with.
Big dinner tables or small?
I personally prefer smaller, more intimate dinners of 6 to 8 guests where you can easily engage in conversation. However, I also enjoy a large dinner from time to time, and the club is great for hosting both.
Do you have a favorite room in the club?
If you feel like having oysters and champagne, my favorite area is the Blue Bar. In this room, the height of the tables is designed in such a way that you are meant to eat something light. And the cocktails that are designed for that room also match certain foods that are offered there. Then when you go to the Reading Room, there is a fireplace, the backgammon games, chess, books—all art books that you are encouraged to take from the bookshelves and have a browse. The concept is really not to attach to one room. They’re all intimate. You and your party can be plenty in a room.
Who would be your ideal dinner guests, past or present?
This is a hard question! I guess the answer depends on the day, time, and mood. I would invite the people I am closest to—my mom and grandmother for art class followed by lunch or tea time. Or my husband for a date night. My dad for whiskey and cigars. My son and daughters for a Sunday brunch and film screening. My best friends for a fun Saturday jazz night in the parlor. Or my team to celebrate our achievements or to solidify our bond.
The club is very much a reflection of your personal interests. You tend to use the same flowers for Carriage House and your home. Which varieties to you gravitate towards?
I like to use mainly tropical flowers: birds of paradise, hibiscus, lobster claw, and, of course, jasmine and bougainvillea. When I was living in London, my choice of flowers was very different. I love tulips, hydrangeas, wisteria, baby’s breath and roses. Many roses. However, regardless of where I’m living, orchids are my all-time favorites. They are strong and delicate, modern and timeless, and they are always in my home and in the club.
Friends have told you that the club even smells like your own home. What is your signature scent?
I am in the process of creating my own candle and perfume. I’m usually more drawn to citrus than floral scents. I also like wood and mineral notes for night. I never have anything that is too sweet.
You created original playlists for the club. Who is definitely on the soundtrack?
Frank Sinatra and Tom Jobim. This is an all-time classic. I also love listening to Sergio Mendes and Jorge Ben Jor.
It truly sounds like a home away from home.
Definitely. I used to often host friends at home, and now I prefer the convenience of bringing them to the club. You settle the kids in bed and head off in one of the club cars. The experience starts at the door of your house.
The club recently started offering lunch. Do you prefer a long, leisurely lunch or dinner?
During the week, my lunches must stay within the hour. But dinners are definitely long and lively. On the weekend, family brunches are my favorite.
Which designers do you prefer to wear for a night out at the club?
Johanna Ortiz, Galvan, Loewe, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana.
Any good travel plans for the holidays?
I have an upcoming trip to the Iguacu Falls in Brazil for my brother’s wedding. I am also planning to go to Aspen and Crested Butte for some skiing in January. I often travel back and forth to London, where we have a home. And Venice is also on my calendar, as I need to see and approve the new Murano lamps I am designing for the club.
That’s a lot of travel. What do you never leave home without?
My phone and my Amex. As long as my family and team can reach me, I will be okay without everything else.