An Art and Design Revival at the Cody House in Palm Springs

Light and space art meets modern design at the William F. Cody family residence.

Steven Biller Arts & Entertainment, Modernism

Phillip K. Smith III's "Portal 6" commands attention in the living room, which includes Afra and Tobia Scarpa–designed Soriana lounge and side chairs for Cassina and a Pierre Chapo “eye” coffee table. Gisela Colón’s 8-foot-tall “Parabolic Monolith (Polaris)” towers in the distance.

Architect William F. Cody built his family home in Palm Springs in the prevailing spirit of the postwar period — a steel-framed modern structure with large glass areas that open to gardens, patios, and an atrium and allow natural light to beam through at different angles throughout the day.

The residence was completed and published in the professional journal Arts & Architecture in 1952. Seventy years later, Spanish architects Paula Bueso-Inchausti and Guille Castaneda, the husband-and-wife principals of the Palm Desert design-build firm Nomos RED, purchased the house through real estate agent Keith Markovitz, of TTK Represents, a collector of minimalist art who thought the home’s glass-enclosed spaces would be a perfect setting for light and space art.

Artists who work in light and space, an art movement that began in the late-1960s in Southern California, use industrial materials such as polyester resin, cast acrylic, and glass to explore questions of perception. Whether by directing the flow of natural light or embedding artificial light within objects or architecture, works by these artists elicit a heightened sensory awareness.

Phillip K. Smith III’s 6-foot-long “Lozenge 6 Horizontal” illuminates the office. It hangs behind a 1940s walnut desk and bridge armchairs by André Sornay.
With the blessing of the homeowners, Markovitz invited Peter Blake, owner of Laguna Beach–based Peter Blake Gallery, to outfit the Cody house with light and space art and collectible design during the Intersect Palm Springs art fair, Modernism Week, and the Desert X exhibition of site-specific art. “I was blown away,” Blake, a frequent visitor to Palm Springs, says of his first encounter with Cody’s architecture. “So much of what we talk about, like blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors, is here. Whichever room you are in, your relationship to the outdoors is there. It’s really beautiful.”  Rather than mount his usual (and memorable) booths at the art fair and the Modernism Show at Palm Springs Convention Center in February, Blake doubled down on his installation at the Cody house, which he opens by appointment for tours. “This is the future — a pop-up house in a market somewhere during the right season,” he says. “December in Palm Beach, August in the Hamptons. Move to where the people who appreciate this are going to be. I can’t imagine having white-box shows anymore.”
Gisela Colón’s blow-molded acrylic “Liquid Triangle” presides over the dining room, which features a Antoine Phillipon and Jacqueline Lecoq–designed table and “Model P60 Chairs.”
He continues, “Everything about this house and everything about the desert is about light. As the light changes throughout the day, the whole feeling in this house changes.” The light animates the bounty of artwork by historic figures of California light and space (Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, De Wain Valentine, Helen Pashgian) and the second generation: Gisela Colón, Lita Albuquerque, and Palm Desert–based Phillip K. Smith III. Each of the latter trio has participated in Desert X over the years, either in the Coachella Valley or in Alula, Saudi Arabia. The installation is “an homage to Desert X and what’s happened in contemporary art in the desert over the last few years,” Blake says, referring to the vast offerings, which also include High Desert Test Sites, the Bombay Beach Biennale, and multi-weekend tours of artist studios in the high and low deserts.

“We not only did the art in the house, but also the collectible design,” he continues, noting that the reductive and minimalist art in his gallery program show perfectly with modernist aesthetics. The furniture he selected for the Cody house “surveys modern design from the 1930s until the early ’70s, from Bahaus to the end of modernism, and covers all major parts of the world — Brazil, Italy, France, Denmark.”
A painting by Lita Albuquerque hangs over the Vladimir Kagan Serpentine sofa. A Jorge Zalszupin coffee table, Pierre Guariche magazine stand, and Jean-Pierre Laporte “Girolle” chair for Thonet round out the vignette in the den.
Smith’s “Portal 6,” a massive, 6-foot-diameter fiberglass sculpture with a programmed LED color progression, dominates the living room alongside an arrangement of Afra and Tobia Scarpa–designed Soriana lounge and side chairs for Cassina and a Pierre Chapo “eye” coffee table. Beyond this captivating vignette stands Colón’s 8-foot-tall sculpture, “Parabolic Monolith (Polaris),” as well as small cast polyester resin wedges by Alexander and Valentine and a glass cube by Bell.  An adjacent room pairs a 5-by-5-foot pigment and gold leaf work by Albuquerque with a Vladimir Kagan Serpentine sofa, Jorge Zalszupin coffee table topped with a porcelain sculpture by Stephanie Bachiero, and a Jean-Pierre Laporte “Girolle” chair for Thonet. Another vignette punctuates the pairing of a Smith light work and an Albuquerque painting with a Marco Zanuso “Triennale” corner sofa from 1950 and Baghdad lamp by Mathieu Mategot from the same period on a Kagan “Unicorn” side table. 

In the office, Smith’s 6-foot-long “Lozenge 6 Horizontal” glows from behind a 1940s art moderne walnut desk with bridge armchairs by André Sornay. Off the kitchen, Antoine Phillipon and Jacqueline Lecoq “Model P60 Chairs” upholstered in Dedar Milano fabric surround the designers’ dining table. “These are French modernists, and their work is extremely minimal,” Blake says, noting he added the Gio Ponti silverware and Carl Auböck salt and pepper shakers. On the wall, he placed Colón’s blow-molded acrylic “Liquid Triangle” to preside over room.
A ceramic figure by artist Stephen De Staebler from the collection of Peter Blake.
Ceramics from Blake’s personal collection — including a figure by Stephen De Staebler and a stoneware vase by Axel Santo — also appear in the house along with modern sconces and lamps and surprises like the 1950s Pierre Guariche birch and brass magazine stand. The appointment-only exhibit runs until March 31. To schedule a visit, send a request to [email protected].