Seating in the living room gathers around a floor-to-ceiling brick fireplace. Lee was partial to his leather chair, but Smith suggested a makeover. He had the chair bodies reupholstered in rust-colored pebbled leather and the cushions in a textured fabric. The cocktail table by Roberta Schilling features cushions that slide. They look so inviting Lee suspected someone might take a seat, so Smith had the piece reinforced as a precautionary measure.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LANCE GERBER
Joshua Smith likes a change of scenery. The namesake of Joshua Smith Home & Design likes change across the board, as long as it’s done the right way.
Splitting his time between Palm Springs, New York, and Vermont, Smith is something of a chameleon. He has renovated his own career several times, beginning in real estate and then leaving behind the lucrative work to pursue his education in interior design at age 30. After interning for interior designer Steven Gambrel in New York City, Smith hung his own virtual shingle and started designing homes around the country.
His practice weaves interior design and personal development, combining them in a single focus: blissful living. “Our homes are our sanctuaries,” Smith says. “It’s where we go to connect with ourselves, to our loved ones, to the divine, however you choose to define that. It’s our place to retreat to when we’ve experienced difficult things that we must process and feel.”
Neither the just-enough landscape nor the desert color palette of the refreshed interior detracts from the original architecture, where horizontal lines contrast the vertical brickwork.
Smith referred to his “Six Pillars of Balanced Design” — functionality, beauty, comfort, personalization, senses, and connection — to transform the E. Stewart Williams–designed home of television producer and philanthropist David Lee.
Williams cut his design teeth on a home for Frank Sinatra and is known as the architect behind the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Mountain Station and Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan (now Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center).
Lee previously owned the Donald Wexler–designed Dinah Shore Estate. His interest in midcentury architecture joins a lifelong passion for the arts and a love for Palm Springs. The latter two inspired his substantial donation to the historic Plaza Theatre, propelling its preservation campaign. What he appreciates, he protects.
“I wanted to be very careful about any changes to what Williams did,” Lee says of his mid-’80s home in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood. “I told Josh that I was comfortable redoing [the dated primary bathroom and kitchen] only if we could capture in modern materials what Williams might have used had he had them at his disposal.”
Referencing the work of “the true modernists” of the midcentury era, Smith emphasized the elegant continuation between the indoors and out. “When you’re in the kitchen, you clearly see outside,” he says. “We didn’t mess with that at all. We didn’t block any of those views in any way.”
That’s the essence of the entire renovation.
“We wanted this to feel in alignment with the quality of the home but by no means compete with the architecture or with nature. We highlighted the architecture by keeping everything else quieter and softer.”
Smith’s thoughtful changes include new cabinetry in rift-cut oak that embodies a midcentury sensibility while providing modern conveniences such as a beverage drawer and paneled, efficient appliances. He selected tab pulls for many cabinets so they would “disappear.”
The smooth, sleek surfaces throughout the kitchen accentuate the rough-and-tumble texture of the brutalist-style brick. Smith selected rift-cut oak cabinetry for its clean appearance, and, for the island sink, an oil-rubbed bronze faucet blends into the landscape. From the counter-height chairs at the island, one can glimpse one of the original interior boulders of Williams’ design. Custom millwork by Burl and Flitch. Pendant lamps by Visual Comfort.
“The countertop and the backsplash are the same material,” he says. “It creates a sense of harmony and quiet without all those grout lines. The covered vent hood was another way to say, ‘We want this to recede and let the architecture take prominent stage.’ ”
In the living room, Smith positioned two facing sofas close enough to the fireplace wall that the cantilevered hearth acts as end tables. He drew his palette from the colors in the mountains and sunset. He reupholstered a pair of club chairs that Lee brought from his Wexler home, a sustainable way to give them new life. “Instead of throwing them out and having new ones made, we remade the cushions and brought in a textile that’s a little more comfortable, a little softer, and with pattern as well,” Smith explained.
He also made significant changes to the primary bathroom, replacing all the dated glass and aluminum framing and connecting the interior to the distant scenery with a mosaic tile blend with four types of natural-colored textured stone. “The mosaic transitions beautifully into the aggregate outside,” he says. “It’s the integration with outdoors and in.”
Smith chose “soft to the touch” outdoor fabrics by Romo and Perennials for the daybed, ensuring easy care. Lee’s existing artwork speaks to the “blue skies, clouds, and green oasis that is Palm Springs,” Smith says.
The views are striking from the shower, where the experience is like showering outdoors.
Smith notes that Williams specified a low-built bathtub with a tiled surround, which “was very difficult to get into and took up so much space.” A freestanding tub felt like an ideal solution. Yet after trying one there, Lee wasn’t convinced. “It’s the perfect relaxation spot, and he had an idea for a place to kick off your shoes and take in the view after a long morning walk. He was absolutely right. Instant spa.”
Functionality, beauty, comfort, personalization, senses, and connection. Smith’s six pillars and Lee’s direction combine throughout the minimalist haven while also paying homage to Williams’ original design.