anthony cochran design palm springs

A Whole New Old World

The formality of East Coast and European design meets a breezy California aesthetic at this winter retreat inspired by the homeowner’s interest in history.

Emily Chavous Home & Design

anthony cochran design palm springs

In the enclosed front yard, soft blues and subdued prints on the iron patio set reflect a cloudless sky.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANTHONY COCHRAN

When an East Coaster lands in Palm Springs for the first time, a sense of scenic shock overcomes the system. There’s sun. There’s majestic, open nature. There’s a seemingly infinite parade of midcentury modern architectural gems gleaming in the heat waves. And, of course, there’s the dreamy backstory that this place once played host to the likes of Jack Benny and Frank Sinatra.

Charmed after repeat visits, this Bostonian bought in.

“Two very good friends of mine from Vermont got a house in Parc Andreas, and they invited me out a couple of winters in a row,” says the homeowner, who prefers to be unnamed. “I like that I can swim all winter and go hiking. It’s a good place for people who want to stay active.” The retiree made his desert dream official in March 2019, purchasing property in the Indian Canyons neighborhood of South Palm Springs.

Built in 1965, the ranch-style house lacked any defining architectural characteristics, save for a wraparound stone fireplace that separates the living room from the entry. Typical of midcentury homes, there is no great room, but rather there are smaller gathering spaces, each with unique purpose. From the front door and central living area, a hallway leads to a den with blackout curtains that serves as a TV room, an office, a full guest bath, and the master suite. Grouped at the other end of the home are the kitchen and breakfast nook, formal dining room, and a guest room with en suite bath.

The previous owners had flipped the place. Upgraded HVAC, kitchen, and bathrooms meant the design required minimal structural change. Still, it lacked personality.

“It had all the character of a Styrofoam cooler,” the homeowner says. “But it was pleasant, with a good layout that made sense for me.” On the recommendation of a friend, he hired interior designer Anthony Cochran of Palm Springs–based Anthony Cochran Design to transform the boxy blank canvas into a welcoming winter retreat.

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A 1950s Italian iron-and-bronze wall console adds visual interest without taking up too much space.

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Flanked by 1950s French sconces from Dragonette Limited, a Joseph Vernet “harbor view” commands attention in the living room, where a Lawson-Fenning sofa invites guests to gather.

“He has a very European/East Coast sensibility when it comes to decorating, which I happen to love,” says Cochran, who worked in New York. “But I knew that he was coming out here for something very different, very West Coast, very midcentury. I wanted to marry those two concepts.”

The result appears Old World in a new way; it stands out unapologetically amid the poppy design schemes that prevail locally. “What we’ve come to expect in midcentury design is heavy-handed and very bright. To me, those colors are exhausting,” Cochran says. “I knew the homeowner had sophisticated taste, and I didn’t want to give him what he could find in every Airbnb in Palm Springs.”

Tucked behind a privacy wall and towering ficus hedges, this 2,695-square-footer greets guests with a front-loaded pool and quaint outdoor sitting area. The soundtrack of a bubbling fountain bowl at the far end of the pool cleanses the mind and sets a mood as you step through the gate. This is where you’re likely to find the homeowner during the months he’s here, nose buried in a historical fiction novel in between swims.

Cochran’s color scheme expresses the tonality of the desert.
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Choice objets d’art bring a sense of the Old World to an otherwise midcentury dining room. The T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings dining set pairs with a leather-front credenza by Paul McCobb.

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Well-read historical fiction novels and academic literature fill the custom, beveled-edge shelves in the den; lifting them off the floor makes this cozy room feel more spacious.

Cochran raised the height of the privacy wall, relocated the entrance gate to give the walkway a better flow, and covered the front-facing exterior walls in bright white Slumpstone to add texture and make the architecture feel more substantial. He also built a cabana with retractable shades that accommodates additional seating.

Throughout the home, a subdued palette takes its cue from the great outdoors. “We have so much beauty in nature here,” Cochran says. “If you take a hike in this valley, even away from the palm trees, the colors are absolutely exquisite — so many wonderful sands and grays and sages and soft blues.” This colorway comes alive in mixed prints, supple fabrics, and wallpaper treatments that coalesce to create a French-inspired backdrop. There’s a hint of the Beverly Hills Hotel, too.

Working collaboratively, the pair pulled in a mix of American and European midcentury furnishings. Every item was reupholstered and many were refinished. The research required to source the right pieces was a welcome education for the homeowner, whose familiarity with art and antiques centers around another era. His primary residence in Boston and his summer house in Cape Cod brim with collected objects from 18th-century France. “I was happy to discover how many beautiful midcentury modern pieces there are. That was a real delight for me,” he shares. “I love that sense of time travel that you get looking at an old piece of furniture, imagining what it was like in its original setting.”

The home’s showpiece is a cleverly curated mural in the living room. “I thought it would be amazing if we could bring in an enormous master oil painting,” Cochran says. “But it was either going to be an absolute fortune or too difficult to ship.” Created with wallpaper panels from Papiers de Paris, a French company that licenses artwork from the Louvre, the statement wall features an 18th-century Joseph Vernet painting of the port of Marseille, somewhere the owner has oft traveled.

“It’s a way of bringing water to the desert,” the East Coast native says. “Not only do I have mountain views, I now have a harbor view.”

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An abstract traveler’s palm print decks the walls in the master. Ceramic ram’s head lamps on early Florence Knoll dressers bring a bit of playfulness; strokes of gold add glamour.

Artwork imparts a personal touch throughout the home.

Floor-to-ceiling glass sliders lining the rear of the house draw the eye to the relandscaped backyard, with a sizeable lawn, fire pit, fountain, and cactus garden with more than 20 desert specimens. The property abuts Indian Canyons’ North Course. You wouldn’t know it, save for the fly balls that whiz into the yard; the ficus perimeter shuts out the rest of the world. This homeowner isn’t a golfer, but he collects and displays the wayward golf balls in a vintage bowl in his living room — a gesture that might have pleased the home’s first occupant.

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The study features a Danish modern teak desk by Peter Lovig Nielsen.

Originally known as Canyon Country Club, the residential development where this house sits sprouted up in phases in the early to mid-60s. With the city’s first 18-hole golf course, Canyon attracted famous clientele. The club’s golf pro, Jack Koennecker, played with the best of them, Jack Benny and Frank Sinatra included. A licensed pilot, he even flew Benny and Sinatra between the desert and Vegas for gigs to ensure they never missed a tee time.

Koennecker lived in this house with his family, which is enough to make any history buff wonder if Ol’ Blue Eyes ever hobnobbed here. Either way, the home and its thoughtful blend of design styles invite the mind to drift back to that era. And after an eight-month haul from concept to completion, Cochran’s client has the perfect past-meets-present setting to realize his desert dream.

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A.T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings dresser creates a focal point in the guest room.

“We gave the house character, we gave it class, and we gave it a level of comfort that it hadn’t had before,” the owner says. “It’s just contemporary enough for me.”

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