Not Just Modern, Ecomodern

Scott van Dyke

Solar energy powers the lights and air conditioner, tiny tankless water heaters store 200 to 500 gallons of instant hot water per hour, and a salt- water pool twinkles under the Palm Springs sun in the backyard. After a dip, the owner walks barefoot over an organic-fiber area rug, through hallways done up with low VOC paint (to preserve air quality), and into the bathroom, where his glass mosaic-tiled shower with a water-conserving rainhead offers a swathlike view of the Santa Rosas’ peaks.

He may be living on the cutting edge of the lavish, eco-friendly homes movement, but he’s hardly the first on his block to enjoy the lifestyle. All of his neighbors live within by energy-efficient, insulated panel systems and photovoltaic solar panels for affordable     heating and cooling.

Royal Palm Estates is the first “ecomodern” community completed by Contempo Homes, a Palm Springs-based company that mingles midcentury-inspired architecture with the  latest in conservationist home building technology. “People are attracted to the design, the functional aspects, and the livability,” says Contempo Homes Chairman Mike Hutchison. “This is the next logical step in modernism. We have technology today that allows us to do things that weren’t possible back then.”

he butterfly and folded-plate roof lines and open floor plans popular in the Alexander homes have been updated in these six new homes, which feature larger rooms, 15-foot ceilings, gourmet kitchens, and a smart control irrigation system. These homes on Royal Palm Court also received a blast of glamour: Six interior designers were charged with creating luxurious interiors worthy of the $1.8 million price tags. Lighting by George Kovacs suddenly shone down on the terrazzo tile embedded with bits of recycled glass and the concrete floors were polished to a glossy shine. Furnishings from local stores — Classic Chic, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, P.A.D., Ligne Roset, and the new-to-Palm Springs Interior Illusions — were brought in by the truckload before the homes welcomed their first visitors last March.

Several designers jumped at the chance to track down the finest in eco-friendly furnishings to take the mission one step further. Lori Dennis of Dennis Design Group in Beverly Hills relied heavily on Livingreen in Culver City for art, accessories, linens, and bedding made of organic or recycled materials in the model home she designed.

“The coolest thing about green building is that you can reside in a home that is less toxic to you and the environment and actu- ally save money on energy while doing it,” Dennis says. Contempo estimates these homes will see electric bills that are 70 to 80 percent less than comparably sized homes nearby.

Moreover, green building affects the aesthetics of a structure only to the extent that the client wishes to have those elements exposed, attests Mark Nichols of Mark Nichols Modern Interiors in Palm Springs. “An owner can have it either way.” For the Contempo Homes, designers enjoyed free rein, as the homes’ energy-efficient aspects were hidden away. Designer Patrick Mundt, owner of Classic Chic in Rancho Mirage, appreciated that Contempo’s “green building materials were integrated into the overall design and never seen.” In addition, he says, “Going green allows you to spend less on water, upkeep, and electricity, so you have more to spend on fabulous art and the best in interior design and furnishings.”

im Clark of Wright Design in Palm Springs agrees that style never needs to be sacrificed in order to be environmentally sound. And for designers, “green building can actually enhance an aesthetic because it helps to activate the creative process,” Clark says.

With eco-technology advancing quickly, Nichols feels strongly that there is no reason not to engage in some green aspect of building on any new project, commercial or residential. Although green interior design is a different beast. “While the market is introducing many new eco-friendly floor coverings, wall coverings, paints, and upholstery suitable for commercial interior design, the variety of products that are refined enough for personal interiors is still evolving,” he says.

Nichols is always on the lookout for new products and materials that his clients will approve of — both aesthetically and philosophically. “My clients who have chosen to build green already incorporate other aspects of environmental sensitivity into their lives. It’s in their personality, and they are the trailblazers. Through their efforts, our collective consciousness will be raised. Personally, I think it’s pretty cool to see your electric meter running backward when it’s 100 degrees outside and your air conditioning is on!”

It is cool, but these fancy features don’t come cheap. Hutchison asserts that while these homes may cost more initially, the owner is eventually reimbursed through savings in utility costs. “In an environment like this where you’ve got sunny days more than 300 days each year, ‘green building’ makes sense,” he maintains. “At least nine months out of the year, you will probably end up selling power back to the grid or getting a credit on your utility bill. Building ‘green’ will be a real value for homeowners in the long run.”

Contempo Homes has three more Palm Springs communities on the drawing board: Country Club Estates, Vista Estates, and Alexander Village. The first two should have models ready by late this year or early next year. Buyers can look forward to living across the street from like-minded individuals with their feet planted in the modern design of the present and a bright green eye toward the future.

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