Replaying the Classics

Owners and architects restore modern houses with state-of-the-art amenities

Ralph Haverkate and Bettina Waldraff hired architect Lance O’Donnell to remodel a home designed by Donald Wexler. Though they added a master suite to increase living space from 1,900 to 2,500 square feet, they maintained the original architecture and combined modern and vintage accents.


Whether it’s in Palm Desert, Palm Springs, or Rancho Mirage, a midcentury modern house feels the love.

Architecture enthusiasts recognize the good bones of structures built in the desert in the 1950s and 1960s — even when the structures have lost their luster cosmetically or been misguidedly altered.

When Ralph Haverkate, a real estate broker specializing in midcentury modern residences, came across an abandoned house in south Palm Desert that was facing a short sale, he called his wife, Bettina Waldraff.

“He wanted me to see the inside of the house with the true midcentury modern beam ceiling and big back yard, which our two Entlebucher Swiss mountain dogs would love,” Waldraff says. “We both saw right away the potential this property could have.”

The couple turned to architect Lance O’Donnell, who had worked with midcentury modern icon Donald Wexler. They gutted the house to the studs and concrete floor and added a master suite with its roof tilted in the opposite direction of the existing roofline to give it the “butterfly” effect employed by Wexler. They also added amenities in the kitchen that bring 21st century living into focus: a Miele dishwasher, built-in espresso machine, 150-bottle Subzero wine cooler, and an induction glass cooktop.

Chris Menrad, who also works in real estate, purchased a William Krisel-designed house in Twin Palms in 1999 and renovated and landscaped it five years ago in consultation with the architect. Then Menrad partnered with his friend, architect J.R. Roberts (who restored and lives in E. Stewart Williams’ Edris House), to purchase and restore other late ’50s Twin Palms houses. In December, they completed one house and began work on a second.

The two have the benefit of Krisel’s original plans held by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles — access coming by way of Krisel. The midcentury modernist is working closely with Menrad and Roberts (who hold the positions of president and vice president, respectively, of Palm Springs Modern Committee) on stripping away years of modifications to return original integrity to the houses, including colors and landscaping.

“[Krisel] is doing it all pro bono just because he is excited about what we’re doing,” Roberts says. “He wants to see his work shown in the best possible light,” Menrad adds. In conjunction with the screening of a movie on Krisel during Modernism Week, Menrad will host a reception (with Krisel in attendance) and unveil the plaque designating his house as a Palm Springs Class 1 Historical Site.

While the renovations make the most of the midcentury aesthetic, they incorporate new mechanical systems for today’s lifestyle.

One doesn’t have to be in the real estate business to find an architectural gem. Dermatologist Timothy Jochen and Lee Erwin planned to restore and then “flip” a 1967-built house in Rancho Mirage. But they decided to keep it.

“The house was so architecturally stunning with beautiful lines. It was unaltered from its original design and in such great shape that it just needed to be freshened up,” Jochen says. “We fell in love with the house and realized it was our dream house after the renovations were complete and we had been living there a few months.”

The City of Rancho Mirage has designated as a Historical Resource the house designed by Finnish architect C.H. Barland to combine the simplicity of the desert modern style with the luxe formalism of international style.

Knowing that film companies “appreciate nice architectural lines,” Jochen says he listed his residence with two location companies — one in Palm Springs and one in Beverly Hills. It has since been the site for more than 20 photo shoots, including Trina Turk swimwear, English fashion company Next Directory, French fashion catalog Wenz, Volkswagen, European car maker Skoda, and Hewlett Packard.

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