Growing up, sisters Lisa and Laura Lemole spent countless days at their grandmother’s home on Casa Bendita at the north end of Palm Beach. They created a game while playing on the beach where each girl would choose the house they wished to live in as adults. Laura would always pick Amado, an estate that Addison Mizner designed for entrepreneur and socialite Charles Munn in 1919. Lisa’s heart, however, belonged to the white house next door to Amado that, to her, felt “like a castle.”
That Mediterranean Revival home carried its own rich past. Charles’ brother, Gurnee Munn, and his wife, Marie Louise Wanamaker Munn (whose family founded the Philadelphia-based Wanamaker department stores), commissioned Mizner to design their house, too. The estate, which sits on a 1.2-acre lot and boasts 150 feet of private beachfront, was ultimately named Louwana, a contraction of Marie Louise’s name.
Louwana, in all its magnificence, has been an elusive get through the years. The descendants of the original owners kept the home in the family for nearly a century. That would all change in 2006, when then-owner Aimée de Heeren (a Brazilian socialite, secret service agent, and widow of John Wanamaker’s great grandson, Rodman Arturo Heeren) passed away at the age of 103. Two years later, for the first time ever, Louwana was available for sale.
At this point, Lisa Lemole had become Lisa Oz, a best-selling author and on-air personality. In 1985, she had married Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon who would ultimately bring complementary medicine to the masses through books, TV appearances, and his own nationally syndicated health show. The couple had four children together.
Lisa’s parents had a history of home ownership on Palm Beach, and trips to visit them gave Mehmet the opportunity to fall as much in love with the island as Lisa had always been.
“Palm Beach offers an irresistible elegance, with the unique architecture of its historic homes abutting the raw beauty of its beaches,” says Mehmet. “Louwana is the culmination of a century of creation and preservation, and it reflects our family’s respect for tradition and beauty. We have traveled through the parts of southern Spain occupied by the Moors and appreciate this influence in Mizner’s architecture.”
The Louwana that the Ozes purchased in 2015 was largely untouched architecturally from what Mizner had originally envisioned. The most significant changes were made following the powerful hurricane of 1928, when the entry was relocated and the current living room, primary bedroom suite, and signature stairway were added. In the 1930s, Maurice Fatio’s firm augmented the property’s courtyard, building a new pool, loggia, and tennis house. The Town of Palm Beach designated Louwana as a landmark in 1980.
While Lisa wanted to preserve Mizner’s aesthetic, the lack of structural modernization resulted in a few issues. “I would have left it exactly like it was if it wasn’t unlivable,” she notes.
The first issue was that the Venetian staircase, while gorgeous, was open to the elements. The only interior staircase was in the service wing and measured just 2 feet wide. Given the frequency of rain in South Florida and the fact that the Ozes have four grandchildren, indoor stairs were a must. Another necessity was central air.
They enlisted Tom Kirchhoff of Kirchhoff & Associates Architects to lead the renovation, with the understanding that the key was to ensure structural integrity while protecting as much of the Mizner soul as possible. The renovation project (which lasted roughly three and a half years) would prove that this goal was easier to achieve in certain sections than others.
“As we uncovered areas of the primary suite, we discovered that the west portion of the south wing had serious structural issues,” says Kirchhoff. “In fact, it was collapsing in on itself. In the past, when alterations were made, bearing walls had been removed. New loads were not supported, relying instead on an inadequate non-load-bearing wall to sustain them. From the roof down to the foundation, we had to restructure the entire wing.”
The Town of Palm Beach’s Landmarks Preservation Commission granted Kirchhoff and his team approval to restore the primary spaces, including the living room, dining room, primary bedroom, original guest bedrooms, and the open-air stairway, while adding an interior family stair in what was previously a staff area. They were also able to retain the general layout of the property, including the entry courtyard, pool, tennis court, and beach cabana.
The Ozes are a foodie family (Lisa and daughter Daphne are both cookbook authors), so the kitchen was of significant importance. When the Ozes purchased the home, the kitchen was staff-oriented and divided into three sections: a giant butler’s pantry, a little cooking area, and eating and sleeping quarters for the staff. While the old kitchen was certainly not a place to congregate, the new kitchen is a light and airy communal space with an expansive view of the beach and room for cooking and informal dining.
The basement-level entry, which was relocated to the south side post-hurricane to create a shared driveway with Amado, meant visitors accessed the home via a courtyard that led up to the dining room, living room, and library.
“After entering the front door, you had to go outside in the exterior stairwell to go back inside,” explains Lisa. “Then there were five French doors going in toward the east and then a door on the north and a door on the south. When you came in, you didn’t know which door went into the house. It was very absurd and the feng shui was way off.”
To remedy this, Kirchhoff incorporated front doors that open into a foyer created out of what was once the library. “Now there is an actual entry to the house,” Lisa continues. “It’s grounded and the flow of energy comes in and knows in what direction to go.”
With the restoration of the structure underway, the Ozes brought in Kemble Interiors to orchestrate the interior design. The fact that they purchased the home furnished added another level of excitement to the process and aided in the quest to maintain its historic integrity. Each generation who had previously lived in the mansion, from the Munns through to fashion icon Aimée de Heeren, had left behind their individual sense of style.
“It’s not all consistent with Mizner, per se,” Lisa says. “It’s a little microcosm of Palm Beach culture, with things from every period of Palm Beach style.”
The Kemble Interiors team was tasked with creating a cohesive blend of preserved elements and new accents. “Lisa and Mehmet very much wanted to stay true to the original Mizner aesthetic in the public spaces of the house,” explains Mackenzie Hodgson of Kemble Interiors. “This was the thread that wove everything together.”
In these public spaces, the designers called upon vernacular materials such as pecky cypress on the ceilings and terra-cotta tiles for the floors, explains Hodgson. They countered the cranky texture of pecky cypress with velvets and other plush fabrics. They utilized updated prints to give the vintage dark wood furniture a fashionable upgrade.
“Everything is balanced,” adds Hodgson. “We kept the walls painted white in the majority of the rooms to allow an easy flow from room to room. With painted walls, we relied on patterned and textured fabrics to imbue the spaces with color and richness.”
And they were excited to find a road map of sorts when it came to the home’s original artwork. “We discovered that on the backs of paintings, someone had written where it used to be hung,” says Mimi McMakin, principal of Kemble Interiors. “When it came time to hang art again, it was delightful to find each piece’s final nesting place.”
The proportions that Mizner employed in the living room and dining room convey a definite sense of grandness and scale. “If a room tells you how to behave, these rooms make you want to throw a party,” says McMakin. “Both rooms have sweeping views of the ocean and doors that can be flung open to a terrace and an expanse of lawn. The rooms retain the same character as they always have. If the walls could talk, they would reverberate the sounds of Champagne bottles being opened, gregarious chatter, and laughter.”
While Louwana pulsates with more than a hundred years of memories, these renovations represent a new chapter for the storied property. As with all successful transformations, McMakin and Kirchhoff agree that this facelift has managed to both honor the architect’s original intentions for the house and evolve to suit the current occupants.
“The house was originally a brother house to the house south of it … with the common theme of families mingling between both houses,” says McMakin. “The idea that this property is built for family is fitting with the Ozes’ lifestyle. When the house is in use, the family is enjoying the beach, tennis court, and swimming pool. This Mediterranean and Spanish Revival house has long been part of Palm Beach’s architectural heritage. [It] is as eccentric in its intricacies as Mizner himself.”
For the Ozes, it is Louwana’s comfort and approachability that make it feel like home. From the refreshed kitchen where the family often gathers, to the beachside cabana where Mehmet spends most mornings practicing yoga, Louwana has a warm, inviting personality that encourages creativity, expression, and togetherness.
“She makes you feel like you can run through the dining room or living room with your shoes off and sand between your toes,” says Lisa. “It’s a comfortable house, but at the same time still elegant. It’s like wearing a party dress with bare feet.”