A River Runs Through It
A soothing stretch of flowing water sets the tone for modern simplicity
A water feature runs parallel to a long, glass-walled hallway, dividing the home into two wings: one for the main living areas and the master bedroom, the other for guests.
Photos By David Glomb
A terrific designer and fabulous architect mean little without the right clients. When the owners of this Rancho Mirage custom home hired designer Sam Cardella and architect Ana Escalante, the pair of professionals was thrilled to discover two undemanding clients who trusted them completely. The homeowners live in Chicago and love to come to Palm Springs for vacation, often with their children and grandchildren. Aside from requesting a clean-lined architectural home (although nothing “hard edge”), plenty of room for their guests, and the incorporation of a water feature, they left most of the grand scheme to their two pros. That decision was the smartest they could have made.
“They were looking for a clean, simple environment,” Cardella says of his clients. “They have a very nice art collection, but they’re not collectors. They didn’t have a lot of requirements or needs — most clients have a long list. They appreciate things that are simple, straightforward, and no-nonsense — which makes for a delightful client.” Cardella and Escalante, free to act on creative impulse and inspirations, surveyed the unusual pie-shaped lot the couple had purchased and got to work. What resulted is a subtle, spacious, and open home that showcases the duo’s individual talents while appealing to their clients’ desire for an uncluttered aesthetic.
Escalante dreamed up a parallel floor plan for the home, laying out the main living area and master bedroom on one side and the guest quarters on the other. Moving slowly, almost unnoticeably, between them, a soothing water feature divides the two wings, running and bubbling alongside a long glass hallway. The hallway’s recessed spot lighting was an important touch by Cardella, as the homeowners would use the corridor as a gallery space.
Passersby might mistake this modern home for a midcentry specimen by Donald Wexler or Albert Frey. Made primarily of steel, glass, and stucco, the construction process omitted wood, wood studs, and plywood. “It brings back the nostalgia of Palm Springs during an era that was quite progressive,” Cardella says. “Yet it blends in so nicely with the neighborhood and with what today’s lifestyle here is all about.” Cardella says he especially admires the way the home embraces the yard. “It doesn’t have huge high ceilings, and it’s not done on a large scale. It simply hugs the property” with its easy design.
There are outdoor spaces for living, dining, sunning, reading, and chatting. A den that opens onto the rear garden hosts the owners’ card games, and the kitchen disappears behind secret panels when the couple decides to entertain. But the home’s highlight is the long, cool water feature. The structure literally evolved around it, and the owners find it more interactive than anyone would have guessed. For added naturalness, the water has a slight ripple effect as it moves gently along next to the hall. The owners enjoy its look and sound from the living room, dining room, and den. At night, the whole stream lights up. “That’s when it’s really beautiful,” Cardella says, “with the water reflecting off the walls.”
Visitors are greeted by this bubbling pond as soon as they walk through the front door. From the entryway, the water appears to flow beneath the foyer. It continues along outside, moving parallel to the extended glass corridor. With the concrete flooring (used throughout the house) and the glass wall that reaches to the ceiling, the passage creates a soothing zone where one might stop to pause, reflect, and admire the architecture, the garden, or the simplicity of the space. The hall serves as the main artery of the house from which all things diverge.
The open design of the great room incorporates the kitchen, dining, and living rooms, punctuated by several distinct features. A light mobile created by David Weeks for Ralph Pucci International offers a major focal point and an attention-grabbing sculptural element in the space. Hanging in the kitchen, it also can be seen from the living and dining rooms. The piece hovers above a waterfall stone island, a Cardella design staple. For the built-in cabinetry in the kitchen and throughout the house, he chose rift-cut oak with ceruse finish, meaning it has a white pigmentation rubbed into it for added interest. When guests drop by, the decorative sliding shoji screens appear from pockets in the wall and come together in front of the kitchen to hide it away.
The living room fireplace employs a Cardella trademark: hot-rolled steel that surrounds the flames and extends up to the ceiling. The form uncovers an individuality in each piece of metal. “The texture of the material is beautiful and lends an Asian feel to the space — it’s like a Japanese watercolor painting to me,” Cardella says. The flames themselves appear to dance inside, creating another dynamic image as they roll above the silicon sand.
Though it’s tucked off the main living quarters, the master bedroom offers a feeling of great seclusion and privacy. Cardella opted for hotel-suite style, with a small living area off to one side and a cantilevered desk for a laptop computer. In keeping with the clean theme, white played a predominant role inside and outside the home. But in the bedrooms as with the other rooms, toned-down colors were introduced to make each space more warm and inviting. Art served a similar function, much of it selected locally from Imago Galleries and Colin Fisher Studios.
Moving back across the glass hallway and bubbling water, guest rooms serve as balance to the living areas. Winding around, the quarters end in a shot of light that gathers in the den. Two walls of glass reach to the ceiling yet slide in opposite directions, expanding the room to include the sculpture garden. Open to the elements, “the room really becomes part of the exterior landscape, almost as if you’re sitting in a pool house,” Cardella explains. The den, which doubles as a guest room, is one of the owners’ favorite rooms, where they often host nights spent playing cards. “When the doors slide to one side, the whole room becomes open to the outdoors, yet you still have drapery floor to ceiling,” Cardella says. “You feel that you are out in the garden.”
At every turn, small details provide the finishing touches in this home of distinction. The smooth white walls hover above the cool concrete flooring; an inch of space between them never allows the two to meet. Furnishings — an eclectic mix of modern and vintage — have been intentionally pared down to fulfill the owners’ sense of minimalism and to turn attention toward the architecture.
The designing and building process took three years to complete. But Cardella and Escalante expertly captured an ease in living both indoors and out. Open spaces filled with light and unencumbered by excess prove that restraint has its place in design — and that trusting clients don’t need a long wish list to receive their ideals for comfort, beauty, and measured simplicity.