Indian Wells home

Elements of Summer

In the calm before the warm, pros weigh in on the season’s best upgrades

Lisa Marie Hart Home & Design

Indian Wells home
For this Indian Wells residence, Studio AR&D Architects created a strong connection between the home’s interior and its contemporary landscape.

Is the sweat-dripping, clothes-sticking heat of summer really the best time to embark on a massive outdoor endeavor? Or is that just our semi-urban valley legend, a prank that locals play on transplants?

“For homeowners, summer is actually the best time of year to remodel and tackle exterior upgrades,” says Shanna Frey, co-owner of Triton Tile. “The work flow slows down for most trades and contractors and they are more likely to be able to get the job done quickly. Summertime sales make it a good time to shop for materials.”

While many homeowners skip town for all or part of the scorcher months, professionals in the home industry stick around to prep homes for fall. (Fortunately, our air-conditioners drown out the construction noise.) Rick Neff, owner of Azure Pools & Spas, says new pools stay in demand year-round. Locals want a place to plunge during the summer heat; snowbirds want theirs in tip-top condition for high-season shindigs and holiday get-togethers. Neff sends progress photos to traveling and part-time homeowners. “By the time they’re back, it’s ready for fall,” he says. “In the process, they’ve increased their property value and added a pool that is aesthetic even when it’s not being used.”

Pools are just part of the story for summer’s valiant working crews and homeowners with big plans for improvement. Drought-friendly landscape (known as xeriscape) is de rigueur. A wide array of options prevents a boring design. Consider gravel, stone, pavers, concrete (maybe softened by a beautiful rug), tile, recycled rubber mulch, and artificial turf. Count on clustering small plants together and buying at least one or two larger plants or trees to avoid that sparse, just-planted look.

Native and drought-tolerant plantings mix with board-formed concrete, corten steel, and Ipe wood siding at this home designed and landscaped by Studio AR&D Architects. “The yucca, cactus, palms, and boulders generate a contemplative, sculptural yet habitable poetry,” says principal Sean Lockyer.

Outdoor kitchens appeal to home cooks with wood-fired pizza ovens, smokers, built-in barbecue stations, warming drawers, wet bars, wine fridges, ice makers, and heavy-duty margarita blenders. Cover with proper shade.

“It’s a good opportunity to take advantage of the time of year. You can see the sun’s position in the sky and how your yard works in summer,” says Kevin Kemper, co-owner of H3K Design. “If you’re building a pergola for sun and shade, you can position it perfectly.”

While you’re updating one aspect, consider all facets. The thermometer might read 110 degrees now, says Kemper, but come November guests will appreciate overhead infrared heating, fire pits, fire bowls, and a party-sized hot tub. Ambient lighting, metal work, gates, sculpture, misters, ceiling fans, and mounted televisions enhance outdoor living spaces. Solar panels and air conditioners? Without question. Indoors, summer tradesmen work through the heat installing home security systems, renovating dated spaces, and creating icy-cool home theaters.

“Even showing up on the job site in full sun and watching the workers is hard!” says Howard Hawkes, the other half of H3K. We asked these pros who brave the blaze for tips on summer projects. Your role: Pull the trigger, pay the bill, and observe from air-conditioned comfort.

This complete perimeter overflow pool by Azure Pools & Spas incorporates two spas.

TOP INNOVATIONS: Smaller, safer LED lights in the side of the pool (versus big headlight-style lamps); zero-edge and perimeter overflow pools

TIPS FROM THE PRO: Rick Neff, Azure Pools & Spas

PUSH BEYOND A FACELIFT. Some people want to just redo the plaster and tile. But many older pools need to be updated for safety and replumbed with new equipment. During the design process, we make the most of a wish list and budget. We handle permits plus HOA hoops and hurdles.
LIGHT SMART. The new LEDs spread the light, eliminate hot spots, are more efficient to run, and are a lot safer.
CHOOSE DURABILITY. Pebble Tec is still the No.1-selling surface and the most durable. Glass tile looks awesome at first, but over the years proves fragile and tough to clean. A good, durable porcelain tile is better. A light-colored tile is more forgiving with calcium than a darker blue.
GOOD LOOKS = MORE WORK. Perimeter overflow pools look like a sheet of glass and are the Ferrari of pools. But they’re more technical and require more maintenance. You have to know what you’re doing to design and own them.
SAVE UP. When I start pricing out pools, even I’m surprised. Several factors are driving the price up. After grass removal at $1.25 a square foot, you have permits, material cost, digging, rebar, plumbing, bonding, concrete. It’s costing a lot more to build pools than even 10 years ago.

A curved-edge perimeter overflow pool at Tradition Golf Club mimics a nearby window. Design by Gordon Stein; built by Azure Pools & Spas.

In Little Tuscany, an entry becomes an experience. Home and landscape by Studio AR&D Architects.

PROJECT: Contemporary Landscape
TOP INNOVATIONS: A hidden subsurface drip irrigation system that allows for pressure adjustments and a clean look; moisture-sensing irrigation controllers that use water only when needed

TIPS FROM THE PRO: Sean Lockyer, Studio AR&D Architects
GO BIG AND NATURAL. The landscape architecture we adhere to is pretty contemporary — not midcentury. It’s a bit more natural looking. We use a lot of natural materials like boulders. I don’t like straight lines and neatly spaced barrel cactus.
BOOK YOUR PLANTS. We have a spec book of every plant material we like to use. We loan it to clients and they flag what they like. It gets them involved. Some even let their kids pick out a tree or plant. We also use Pinterest to share ideas and information for a quick visual exchange.

Triton Tile carries this dark and stormy Samoa Antracita tile by Porcelanosa that stands up to outdoor environments.

PROJECT: Tile Deck to Bring the Indoors Out
TOP INNOVATIONS: Outdoor-compatible tile; natural coral stone tile that doesn’t get hot underfoot 

TIPS FROM THE PRO: Shanna Frey, Triton Tile
TILE IN STYLE. A tile deck over a concrete slab is becoming more popular, especially when it draws the indoor tile straight on outdoors. In the desert, through-bodied porcelain tile works outside without a problem, one benefit of a climate that doesn’t freeze and thaw.
CHOOSE WISELY. Dark colors look pretty but will get hotter than lighter colors and light, wood-look tiles. If you have a pool, consider tile with a higher slip resistance or textured tile.

This no-fuss backyard by H3K Design runs circles around those that require 
more water and care.

PROJECT: Low-Maintenance, Turf-Free Hardscape
TOP INNOVATIONS: Concrete circles as stepping stones and seating areas

TIPS FROM THE PROS: Kevin Kemper and Howard Hawkes, H3K Design
EASY DOES IT. As a yardscape, gravel comes in an array of colors from gold to gray. It’s clean, looks nice, and is easy upkeep, especially for part-timers. You can cover a large area affordably and might be able to get away with maintaining it yourself instead of hiring a gardener.
CIRCLE ’ROUND. Around circular seating areas, we build low walls. At bench height (18 inches), they serve a dual purpose as extra seating during parties. We do the same around planters.
GET MISTY. About 25 to 30 percent of our clients add misting systems. You can watch the thermometer drop nine degrees in a few minutes. We recommend a professional grade to create an envelope and a cool spot. The ones you buy at Home Depot aren’t the same.

Ribbons of rock flow through the stony landscape of the final home designed by Donald Wexler. 
By Desert Landscape Design.

PROJECT: Drought-Tolerant Designer Landscape
AVERAGE TIME FRAME: Two to four weeks
TOP INNOVATIONS: New water-conserving irrigation products and systems; interesting uses of rock

TIPS FROM THE PRO: Daniel Clemens, Desert Landscape Design
FEAR NOT. Don’t be afraid to landscape in summer. It doesn’t hurt the plants. If you use the right plants, they adapt. The only issue is that they need more water because their roots aren’t established yet. I would not go to Lowe’s and Home Depot. They don’t always stock things that live here. So if you put them in the ground they won’t live. Our weather conditions are like nowhere else.
SPLIT IT UP. We can split the project into phases by doing the front then the backyard or vice versa to work with timing and budgets.
ROCK IT OUT. We’re using a lot more rock in interesting ways. We did a ribbon of rock riverbed at the last home by Donald Wexler that was completed in February. We also recently did a “desert Zen” yard for Japanese clients instead of a Japanese garden, which is traditionally more green. It was almost exclusively rock with “riverbeds” flowing through.
SOME GREEN IS GOOD. Drought-tolerant landscape doesn’t mean it has to be cactus. We did a lush green microclimate that looks tropical but is all on drip right here in Palm Springs. We have not put in any grass for a while, other than the Wexler house. We try to discourage it.
BRING ME FLOWERS. Men want clean, tailored, modern, and minimal. Women tend to want color and flowers. Flowers notoriously need a lot of water, but there are ones we can use smartly.
SPLURGE ON AT LEAST ONE BIG SPECIMEN PLANT. Something really striking. Something big anchors the garden and gives it depth and dimension. While other plants grow, you don’t have to wait two or three years for it to look natural and established.
MIX AND MATCH. In an interior, it looks best when you mix modern and organic. Same thing outside. It’s got to be comfortable. If people do a modern house with a modern landscape, it looks too industrial. Like an office park instead of homey. It’s too contrived. A house with a lot of lines can use a landscape that’s softer and sexier with more curves.

Everyone loves bocce ball — and the person who provides the court. 
This one with wood frame by Vintage Outdoors

TIPS FROM THE PRO: Gary Conner, Vintage Outdoors
HAVE TIME AND SPACE. Bocce courts are trending but they’re more involved than putting greens. There is a lot more grading in order for the balls to roll flat and avoid breaking to the left or right. It has to be level. A regulation court is 91 by 13 feet. They require minimal maintenance but you’ll still need to blow it off and clean it up periodically.
PICK YOUR PLAYING FIELD. We do a wood or concrete border and a surface of the client’s choice. Real bocce players who want the old Italian feel will say there’s nothing better than a traditional oyster shell surface.
PREPARE FOR POPULARITY. Bocce offers a low-impact sport for everyone. You don’t have to burn up half your day on the golf course or spend money buying all the golfing equipment.

New window coverings by Hunter Douglas at Blinds Etc. keep the
summer sun outside where it belongs.

PROJECT: Heat-Blocking Blinds, Shades, or Shutters
TOP INNOVATIONS: New cellular shades that trap heat better; wood shutters in custom colors and stains

TIPS FROM THE PRO: Cathy Gustafson, Blinds Etc.
DEAL IN THE SHADE. The most energy-efficient, insulating shade is the Duette Architella by Hunter Douglas. This new honeycomb design is a cell within a cell so no heat transfers. They can stay down for privacy then go up and away, disappearing into two inches at the top.
ROLL WITH IT. Alternatively, interior/exterior roller shades roll away into nothing and offer remote-controlled motorization. In the great room, you can look right through a light-filtering shade to see the beautiful lakes and fairways while it cuts out harsh rays. In the bedroom, blackout shades promote sleep.
START BEFORE THE SUN FADES YOUR FURNITURE. During a consultation, we can see the direction you’re facing and how much heat you’re getting. We bring samples to match your décor colors, but a lot of people just match their baseboards with Swiss coffee.