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The Elrod House

Web Exclusive - John Lautner's Elrod residence in Palm Springs, CA.

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Republished from the October 1969 issue of Palm Springs Life Magazine – by Pat Phillips Oliver

Optimium individuality is the keynote of a stunning and boldly-conceived house that nestles massively like an extension of nature in the excavated rock of a splintered desert ridge at the southern tip of Palm Springs. The impact of design is immediate and dynamic, and there is a spectacular fusion of interiors and dramatic outdoor surroundings, accented by curve-swept walls, a gigantic expanse of windows set without the interruption of mullions, and clerestories that radiate down a concrete dome that spans the 60-foot living room and crowns a magnificent desert view.

This day-after-tomorrow version of the concept that a man’s home is his castle belongs to Arthur Elrod, AID, a bachelor and an interior designer. The house, which develops around a sequence of circles from the motor court entrance to the swimming pool on the cliffs edge, is frankly keyed to the occupant’s sophisticated personal taste. The imprint of individuality is everywhere present – in the revolutionary physical structure, so integrated with its natural surroundings that it seems quarried from its rocky site, as well as in interior appointments, many of which were custom-designed by the owner’s firm, Arthur Elrod, Ltd

Preparatory to the building of the monolithic structure, soil was excavated between dramatic outcroppings of rock so that the living room is in a kind of pit. Segments of the roof have been glassed over so that there is a view of Mt. San Jacinto, the city of Palm Springs and adjacent portions of valley and mountains. The interrelation of architecture and furnishings is defined in the main room by circular seating arrangements and the arc of a giant sofa, low-slung chairs and a sculptured, hand-woven rug. The synchronizing curvature of line extends along the fireplace wall which backs the dining section, where the buffet houses hi-fi equipment.

Its blunted-oval shape extending from the exterior rim of the overall circumference to the arc of an interior partition. Glass above cabinets seals off the area without blocking the view of the central dome. Natural and electric light enters from outside through segments of the dome and from the living room through spaces above wood-paneled doors. Low-voltage lighting is a warm accent throughout the entire house.

In Elrod’s master bedroom-study, focal point of the sitting section is a massive natural rock formation, an extension of the house foundation. Ceiling is of limed redwood boards installed between V-shaped concrete beams. Carpet is of goat hair. Walls, paneled with South American courbaril, accommodate built-in book shelves, fireplace, cabinets for stereo equipment and storage. The bed is situated behind a low partition, in a 60-foot space screened by a desk. Bath-dressing room contains a sunken tub, kingsize shower, mirror partitions, marble-top counters, sauna and assorted exercise gear. From the copper-clad gate of the entrance court, slate paving continues into the house and through the living room. From poolside, steps lead down to trails along the cliff, where Elrod maintains feeder stations for bird and ground squirrel populations.

The totality of Arthur Elrod’s house reflects complete empathy between the interior designer and architect John Lautner, AIA, and the structure is surprisingly close to the original concept. Construction required approximately two years under builder Wally Niewiadomski, who has done several Frank Lloyd Wright houses.

Complementing – or perhaps accenting – the indisputable drama of the home is the thoughtful planning and placement of a minimum of furniture. With an eye for scale and balance, the owner has skillfully avoided the "decorated" look that could minimize the magnificent architecture. Although charged with innovation, this unique residence offers, among its amenities, tranquility.

John Lautner (16 July 1911 – 24 October 1994) was an influential American architect whose work in Southern California combined progressive engineering with humane design and dramatic space-age flair. Visit – http://www.johnlautner.org/  for The John Lautner Foundation’s website.

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