The homes I design are immensely varied,” says architect and interior designer Rod Youngson, whose eponymous West Hollywood firm has completed residences throughout the United States, as well as in the French Riviera and Puerto Vallarta. “But people tell me I have a signature look. It’s pretty clean and spare; I don’t like fussy design. Whether I’m doing an Alexander, Japanese-style, or a Georgian home, I bring it down to the essentials; it’s not cluttered. Symmetry also plays a large part in my work,” he adds. “And I like the drama of long vistas; they apply to any style that I do.”
All these qualities appear in Youngson’s own home, a recent renovation of a Palmer and Krisel-designed Alexander home in the Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs. Youngson, who once owned a home in Palm Desert, plans to make this his primary residence once his Beverly Hills home is sold.
“I’d always been attracted to the Las Palmas area. Then I heard about this house becoming available,” he says. The 2,600-square-foot residence, once owned by George Hamilton, was built in the early 1960s. “But my decision to buy it wasn’t about the house; it was about the view. It’s fantastic, and it blew me away.”
The view is from the rear of the home: a sweeping vista of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains, framed in the foreground by some of the gently swaying palm trees that give Las Palmas its name. Youngson notes that one of the fortunate aspects of his home’s site is that it’s stepped in the rear so that the neighbors’ homes are about 15 feet below his. “You can’t see but a peek of chimney of any house out back,” he says.
Unfortunately, previous work on the home did nothing to incorporate the magnificent view. “When you walked in the front door, there was a dropped ceiling made of some funny grill material, boxed-in heating ducts between the entry and the living room, and a fireplace straight ahead,” Youngson recalls. “And there were Venetian blinds everywhere — you couldn’t see outside. I ripped the house apart, keeping the architectural integrity [of the midcentury modern design] and opening it up as much as possible.”
When you walk into the home today, the unobstructed panoramic view straight ahead immediately captures the eye. Youngson moved the fireplace to an inside wall so that the south-facing rear wall of the home is now a bank of low-E glass sliding doors and windows, topped by a tier of clerestory windows. “I extended the roof overhang, which gives sun control without compromising the view,” he notes. Cellular shades are mounted into a transom bar and can be dropped down for privacy or shade, leaving the clerestory windows above the transom uncovered but shaded by the overhang.
“The Alexander homes were originally done on a pretty tight budget,” Youngson says. And because most were built as seasonal or weekend getaways, they didn’t have all the amenities that today’s full-time homeowner often desires, such as ample closet space. Plus, the plumbing was on the roof of Youngson’s home — an impediment for getting cold water in summer months. His remodel addresses these issues. He also installed new windows and doors in metal frames, giving them a crisper look than when they were simply stuccoed into the walls.
He brings the same clean and crisp aesthetic to the interior design of the four-bedroom, four-bath home. The color palette is simple but dramatic: shades of white and gray, punctuated by splashes of greens and browns. Floors in the living areas are made of gray, oversized Italian tile that looks like stone. “It’s an extra-dense porcelain tile that has a natural aspect to it, and it’s supposed to be impervious to staining without sealing,” Youngson says. The bedroom floors continue the color palette with slate-gray sisal carpeting. White CaesarStone, an engineered quartz material, covers kitchen and bath counters. Youngson designed the counters so that the material cascades down the sides of the kitchen bar and the bath vanities so that they look like pieces of furniture — one of his signature design elements. Shower surrounds are simple white 4"-by-4" tile, except in the master bath, which employs gray Venetian glass tile.
The home’s furnishings are a mix of custom pieces designed by Youngson and accessories from such mainstream retailers as Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel (the latter he calls his source for good design on a budget). “I went for a very clean but not typical midcentury look,” he says of the furnishings. “Good midcentury pieces are out of reach, price-wise. Bad pieces are everywhere, but who wants them?"
Midcentury is, however, an architectural period for which Youngson has an affinity. “It’s the era I studied originally,” he says, referring to his training at the University of Southern California School of Architecture in the 1950s. “So you might say I’ve come full circle.”
Being his own client doesn’t necessarily make architecture and design any easier. “Oh, it’s much harder,” Youngson says with a laugh. “I’m the world’s worst disciplinarian for sticking to my own budget. … I can always seem to justify spending more money. And there’s a lot of ego involved. … What will people think?”
Judging from his clients (many of whom have hired him for multiple homes) and inclusion of his work in the likes of Architectural Digest, Youngson’s work resounds with home connoisseurs everywhere. One of his biggest fans is his son, Mark Youngson, a Realtor and real estate appraiser. “Growing up, we’d move to a new home every two years, each one more spectacular than the last,” Mark recalls. “And it seemed that just as we’d get the last piece of silverware in place, there’d be a knock on the door from a complete stranger, asking, ‘Want to sell?’"
Lucky for Palm Springs, Rod Youngson plans to stay in the neighborhood for a while.