Drawing A Blank

A Designer chooses neutrals for art's sake.



Scott Van Dyke and Bennett Fitts.

Perhaps the most visually stunning aspect of the Palm Springs residence shared by interior designer Monty Collins and Microsoft executive Jerry Dark is the view that soars above the lush expanse of Canyon Country Club's fairway. Framed by 14-foot high ceilings and a wall of glass, the San Jacinto mountain range leans in close, casting long purple shadows across two dogs fast asleep on the living room floor.

To many, the very appeal of the desert comes in the form of such views. The mountains, the sun, the pools, and the patios. The privilege of indooroutdoor living year-round. Monty Collins chose his 1970 Roy Fey house for its many outdoor spaces — both on the golf course and completely private. And as he moves from room to room, he enjoys South Palm Springs-style beauty and views from every one.

But here's where his vision strays from the norm, where he takes an unusual route in embellishing a home so many would find ideal for a collection of midcentury showpieces or stiff and boxy modern furnishings: Nearly everything in it is white, off-white, cream, ivory, beige, or a not-too-distant cousin on the color spectrum. The sound of subtlety is everywhere, while the views and a varied art collection are left to speak for themselves.

Many designers can't resist packing a space with a visual feast of furnishings, wall hangings, and window treatments — the latest and greatest from L.A.'s showrooms and shopping trips to France. But for his own home, Collins gravitates toward natural elements in muted tones. His simple furnishings provide a comfortable and unpretentious blank slate in which to relax, entertain, and appreciate the locale.

"Muted" in this midcentury modern home doesn't mean bland or boring. The decision behind each piece was made to complement the whole and accentuate the natural surroundings, emphasized by floor-to-ceiling glass doors that slide open in each room. The river-rock flooring set in sandy concrete carries an organic feel through several rooms. The master bath creates a true sensation of being outdoors, with walls of glass that look out to plumeria and sago palms in a Zen-like courtyard designed by landscape architect Charles Pearson. Raw cubes of tamarind wood sit unassumingly as tables. And a table nearby is topped by a jagged piece of mined selenite. "I'm not normally into rocks and crystals, but this one has an energy about it," Collins says. "Everywhere we've moved, it has resonated with our guests."

In this space, Collins and Dark host intimate evenings in which friends converge to share a passion for art and good conversation. On cool desert nights, flames dance across shards of glass and lava balls in the living room fireplace. The earthy décor and soft lighting promote a tranquil environment for guests to mill about both inside and out, enjoying the company, those views, and the owners' unique art collection.

"The neutral backdrop lets the artwork and the people come forward," Collins explains. And come forward it does. With compelling works by photographers, painters, and sculptors from all over the United States and the United Kingdom, the collection is a thoughtprovoking mélange of colorful landscapes, vibrant characters, and clever wit.

In the center of the house, a white paneled wall somehow manages to evoke a cozy library feeling. On the opposite wall, leading out to the pool, resides an electric blue metallic balloon dog in a Lucite case by internationally renowned sculptor Jeff Koons. Across the nearby bar is a bold painting of a race car driver and a race track by London artist Julian Opie. One guest bedroom wall is graced by a painting with an orange spot on a blue background entitled Exploding Cheese by Ed Ruscha. And for Collins' 50th birthday, the couple commissioned a piece by Brooklyn artist Christopher Rose. The 10 x 5 work, a wildly bright and whimsical cityscape, sings out as the focal point of the otherwise hushed in neutrals living room.

Collins and Dark used to live seasonally, choosing to rent in Las Palmas. There, they were quickly charmed by the mountains and the swaying palms and vowed to one day make their home in the desert. That dream comes true now with Pride and Joy, their two irresistibly affectionate Labradoodles. Often you'll find the four of them soaking up the sun poolside on overstuffed robin's egg blue cushions atop Richard Schultz's Confetti line of white patio furniture. This spot has one of the best views of all — where personal art meets the desert vista. In one corner of the pool, splashed by the fountains, rests a tall aluminum sculpture by Seattle artist Steve Jensen. Follow the organic form above a cluster of palm trees and your eye greets again those looming San Jacintos.

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