Two artists and 16-foot white walls. A vast ceiling electrified with custom, state-of-the-art gallery lighting illuminates a pristine space designed to hang great work. But not theirs. Maybe yours.
New to the desert, Jody and Gary Levinson built their modern home in Las Palmas Heights with architect Jim Cioffi and builder David Johnston. Jody’s talents span the fine arts spectrum. Gary approaches life with a camera in hand. Yet they designed their long, gallery-style main hall to showcase the work of fellow artists.
“We are interested in creating and being part of a collaborative artist community,” says Gary. “In support of that, we put our house together in a way where every few months we could hang different art from our collaborative group for critique, discussion, and empowerment — something artists in general feel they can’t find regularly.” This is no forum to bring pieces to collectors for show or sale. Rather, it’s a comfortable place to join a freewheeling, open discussion that yields honest insights and genuine encouragement.
“I think there are a lot of people like us who do good work but don’t want to be represented by a gallery,” Gary says, “who just want to share it.” By facilitating noncommerical shows, the Levinsons hope to continue the evolution of the arts community. “These are LED, color-correctable, dimmable lights,” says Jody, of the hallway’s light source. “And we designed the space so you have room to stand back and really view the art.” The couple expect to present their first collaboration early next year.
A white stacked stone wall rises 16 feet in the atrium. A leather daybed for reading by Christian Liaigre sits on an antique Caucasian Soumak rug facing the Levinsons’ library wall. A photograph by Sabastiao Salgado hangs on the wall.
A monumental blackened steel fireplace commands attention in the living room, flanked by picture window views. The fireplace is double-sided to the outdoors, providing the opportunity for fireside seating and conversation in the breezeway between the home and casitas.
The gallery hall is only one built-in testament to their passion for and commitment to the arts. Make a left at the end of the hall — across from a monumental wall of books, with shelving by Poliform — and there sits a working studio for two. A wall of studio tables anchors a lofty space for the couple’s photography work and Jody’s drawing, watercolor, oil, and acrylics. The garage will soon house her ceramics studio and kiln.
“Jody is a real artist,” Gary smiles, mentioning her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Tufts University School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “After graduation, I did a bunch of entrepreneurial things. Then in 2007, I got cancer,” Jody says. “Gary said to me, ‘That’s it. Sell the business and do whatever you want to do.’ So I went back to school at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.” Then, for his 60th birthday, Jody surprised her husband with a day in the studio spent with prize-winning photographer, Jay Shadler. That day prompted Gary to sell his own business and attend the International Center of Photography in New York. Together they have studied at Maine Media Workshops + College.
Until their move from Pennsylvania to build their Palm Springs home, Gary invested 2 1/2 years on a labor-of-love project: documenting the last of the old cowboys. Jody has joined him in that quest. They load up an Airstream with photography equipment and hit America’s lost frontier with one question: “Who do you know who’s a real cowboy?” Saddle and tack shops, ranchers’ associations, and cowboy museums have provided rare connections. “These folks were so thrilled to have someone tell their story because they know their history is disappearing,” Gary says.
After admiring the work of Japanese artist Jun Kaneko at Art Basel Miami, the couple purchased this large ceramic piece, known as a “Dango,” to display at the entry. Five gates pivot across the front of the home in a play of light and shadow. Their pattern reflects the mountains’ peaks.
His goal is to preserve the cowboys’ story as a visual embodiment of the Code of the West. The portraits might one day live in a handmade book that will benefit the Center for Cowboy Ethics, among other charitable causes.
Ironically, during the two years it took to build their Palm Springs home with its art studio and gallery, the Levinsons made no art. The couple lived in their home in Venice, California, during the transition. Both are anxious to “get their hands dirty again” in a destination where they can stay active year-round. “We were opting for an easier, more enjoyable life,” Jody says. “We love that you can be outside all the time here.”
Sale of the first two houses they fell in love with fell through. So Gary, a builder for 35 years, suggested they dig in and start from scratch. Ideas came fast and easy. Prior to a meeting with Cioffi, Jody and Gary prepared a 140-slide presentation — “a gestalt of our aesthetic and requirements,” as they call it. “We knew we wanted post-modern, and Jim added so many things we wouldn’t have thought of,” Gary says. “And Dave was a fabulous builder. We were so lucky to meet him.”
The Levinsons hosted their son’s poolside wedding in their new home, made hospitable by its indoor-outdoor flow and views in all directions. A two-layer roof brings light through the home with clerestory windows.
The Levinsons designed and furnished the home’s interior themselves. Few people would guess they imported their contemporary living room furnishings from their last residence: a 2-centuries-old converted barn in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Artists are like that. Their eyes see clearly what others’ never could. The seven-bedroom barn was, more often than not, filled with family and friends.
The new, voluminous one-bedroom house manages room for family, too. The Levinsons lead their guests down a breezeway to the guest wing instead of using their studio space for bedrooms. Two casitas with mirror-image floor plans face the pool, native boulders, and mountains.
For entertaining, a dining table seats 12. To mask kitchen prep, a shade shimmies down from the ceiling to hide the immense workspace. Four concrete pendants from Austria dangle in front, illuminating six seats at the bar.
When the wall glides open across the living room, the Levinsons have a clear view of every reason they moved to the desert. “In a collaborative effort, Gary and Jody tasked architect Jim Cioffi, civil engineers John and Allen Sanborn, and landscape designer Elena Adina Peterson to prepare an artistically appointed yet technical canvas — one that allowed our team to construct a finely detailed architectural home,” says builder Dave Johnston. “If our team’s work somehow made Gary and Jody’s life a little better, then I feel like all of our efforts have been a success.”
Architect Jim Cioffi designed a way to divide the double shower and the freestanding bathtub while reserving views for both. This white stacked stone wall with built-in niches, shelf, and towel/robe hook did the trick beautifully.
The home excels as a contrast of dark and light — with studied emphasis on the latter. “As you get into many areas of the house, it would have been dark. But Jim spent a lot of time focusing on where the sun would be at various times of day and how light should play through the house,” Gary says. A plant thrives in the atrium beneath a skylight. A freestanding tub lends a vacation-style view down the length of the lap pool. And a pane of glass across the double shower frames the mountains with exacting care.
Jody and Gary in the kitchen with their cat, Heisenberg.
Glass walls, clerestory windows, and strategic light sources bathe the home in a brilliant aura that is clean but never stark.
The pool where Jody swims laps every day looks as natural as a fresh spring — now that 255 semi loads of boulders are out of the way. In the breezeway, a blackened steel two-sided fireplace serves as the outdoor counterpart to the living room centerpiece.
Precision-cut gates by Phil Hoffman, designed by Cioffi’s son, Anthony, rotate across the front of the home, with a pattern that apes the mountain peaks. Jody says the Arizona cacti came through a “Saguaro whisperer” in Tucson. “I feel they are spiritual, magnificent plants,” she says. “It’s hard to grow them here; I feel honored to have them on the property.”
It is a property that has changed their lives. “We moved for two reasons,” Jody states. “We thought we could live a healthier lifestyle here, and live longer. And we wanted to connect with and contribute to an artistic community.” The house enables both. The pair swim, hike, and bike when they’re not in the home gym. (Cioffi even added an outside door for use by a trainer.) “We pictured, ideally, that we would get up in the morning, hit the gym, fall into the pool, go back into the bathroom to shower, and start the day. And it works!”
Now their efforts turn to works to line their gallery hall. The Levinsons insist: They’re not collectors; they’re artists. Artists who like to meet fellow artists. Although they certainly have pieces they could hang in that gracious expanse, those walls are otherwise spoken for.
“Palm Springs has great people in it. It’s perfect for us,” Jody says, six months after their move.“We could not have scripted it better.” Now they’re ready to make art, convene with artists, and let that 16-foot showplace fulfill its purpose.
The master bedroom maintains a seamless flow out to the pool for Jody’s morning swims and uninterrupted views. A painting by Charles McVicker and three photographs by Gary frame the doorway.