Inspired at Ironwood

A wrought iron balcony from the second floor office and first-floor fitness room overlook the home’s serene front interior courtyard. Crystalline koi ponds and a stone Buddha lend a Zen-like ambiance. Architect Juan Carlos Ochoa likens the courtyard experience to “feeling like you are in a cocoon.”


Photography assistant: Tim Carter
Architect: Juan Carlos Ochoa
Builder: Paul Golden, Golden Construction Inc.
Interior Design: Kathy Jones O’Neill
Kitchen and Bath Design: Cheryl Hamilton-Gray Design
Additional Design: Marsha Young, Theresa Rinaman Interior Design
Landscape Architect: Wayne Connor and Associates Landscape Installation: Jim Head Construction

A labor of love three years in the making, this Palm Desert house showcases the appeal of a well-traveled life.

For a taste of Tlaquepaque, Mexico, spend an hour with a margarita and strolling mariachis in the central square of El Parían. But to truly experience the charms of this renowned artisan center near Guadalajara, visit its historic cathedrals, peruse shops brimming with handmade ceramics and stoneware, and wander through side streets lined with stately colonial mansions.

That’s exactly what architect Juan Carlos Ochoa, Seattle-based interior designer Kathy Jones O’Neill, and homeowner Nancy Smith did to find inspiration and furnishings for Smith’s Ironwood retreat in Palm Desert. “I believe that whatever projects we do should have a soul and spaces where our clients feel comfortable indoors and out,” Ochoa says.

This metaphysical design philosophy permeates the 7,691-square-foot residence that includes 10 fireplaces, a two-bedroom casita, separate pool pavilion, and nine-hole putting green spread over two lots. Cantera stone, travertine, and decorative wrought iron proliferate throughout the house; Ochoa sourced much of the material during trips to Mexico.

Imposing custom iron-and-glass doors off the circular stone driveway herald the entrance to a serene interior courtyard. Two koi ponds and a stone Buddha border the Cantera stone walkway that leads to the domed foyer of the main house.

Once inside, guests see an eclectic mix of Mexican, Spanish, Moroccan, Asian, and French art nouveau design elements, reflecting favored styles, art, and accessories Smith and her husband encountered during their travels abroad.

“We wanted to have this beautiful Old World feel, but to have more of a ‘world-traveled’ flair rather than labeling it a Tuscan villa or a Spanish hacienda,” Smith says.

A set of dishes they purchased in Ravello, Italy, serve as the inspiration for the home’s primary interior colors: a rich palette of muted aquamarine, deep eggplant, moss green, pumpkin, and raisin. Jones O’Neill first applied the color scheme in the dining room, starting with chenille chairs that surround the round mesquite wood dining table. From there, the color scheme radiates throughout the house.

“It gives interiors cohesion and a sense of continuity, which is especially important to keep the house harmonious despite the mix of styles,” Jones O’Neill explains.

Cheryl Hamilton-Gray designed the state-of-the-art kitchen, which features Carnival granite countertops with chiseled edges, a Lacanche commercial stove, and massive Mexican bar. Jones O’Neill created the motifs for the custom Italian Sicis mosaic tile that adorns backsplashes and the powder room.

A hand-carved, hacienda-inspired door with intricately carved icons frames the entrance to the master suite, which Ochoa reoriented to take full advantage of pool pavilion views. Over the bed, he created a resplendent built-in seashell headboard trimmed with stone and painted to a subtle silver patina finish.

With its high ceilings and mother-of-pearl Maya Romanoff wall coverings, the adjacent master bath recalls the ambiance of magnificent art deco spaces in Buenos Aires and Paris. Onyx sinks atop marble countertops; a custom fireplace with stone surround; an oversized, hammered-copper tub; and private patio, also with a fireplace and outdoor shower, create the ultimate bathroom retreat.

The estate’s metamorphosis was a team effort, with Smith at the helm and involved in overseeing and selecting materials, textures, fabrics, and furniture. Smith commissioned artist Rudy Van Brussel to create an impressive tropical scene for the hallway leading to the master suite. She employed Irvine-based artist Georgeana Ireland to paint murals on ceilings in the dining room and master bath, in niches, and in the wine cellar. Christina Quinn applied her master faux skills to decorative outlets and ceiling trim. Smith engaged Los Angeles-based Marsha Young and local designer Theresa Rinaman to assist with exterior furnishings, including planters, and selecting and fabricating drapes, pillows, and other accents.

The Smiths’ Ironwood residence, which will ultimately serve as their full-time home, clearly champions their appreciation for the desert’s outdoor lifestyle. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the impressive pool pavilion, where they often unwind and entertain guests. Imbued with distinctive south-of-the-border flair, the spacious open-air enclosure features a hammered-copper hood suspended over a top-quality Fisher and Paykel grill, etched stone fireplace, custom tile backsplash, travertine flooring, and marble pool bath. Outdoor amenities also include an elevated whirlpool spa with a rock waterfall and serene meditation area with sculpted-stone seating and fountain.

“A lot of the patios are as comfortable as the inside of the house,” Smith says. “We wanted a place where people can sit, read a book, go swimming, and feel like they are encased in this cozy, comfortable home.”

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