"The site is spectacular," says architect and designer Tim Morrison about 41914 Tonopah Road. Morrison, together with his partner Scott Strassner, recently reimagined — literally from floor to ceiling — this historic property in the elite Thunderbird Heights community.
The extraordinary four-bedroom, 5.25-bath circular house sits on 1.17 acres, and the unique way the 90-foot-diameter space interacts with the surrounding landscape greatly influenced Morrison’s vision of its possibilities. "I liked the way the house had a great relationship with the views," he says. Morrison, who travels the world to build and restore high-end homes for such celebrities as David Beckham and Eddie Murphy, says he approached his design for each curving room with a view of the outside in mind, but with equal attention to maintaining an ease of living indoors.
The natural beauty of the Coachella Valley is visible from every vantage point in this massive, round abode, making the Tonopah Road house feel enclosed and cozy, as well as open to the world. Shimmering expanses of Palm Springs surround the pool area, while the windows in the master bedroom boast a mountain view. The minimalist furnishings work with the soft white colors of the carpet and walls to make the already stunning views that much more dramatic. The effect is the feeling of being enveloped in a plush space but also connected to the outside. In this sense, the circular home on Tonopah Road is everything a contemporary estate should be: full of light and smart design touches, carefully organized living spaces that allow for both privacy and togetherness, and beautiful outdoor spaces where people can gather to eat, chat, and relax. A house built for living and playing in, and tailor-made for a party.
Original Warren Platner furniture in most rooms of the light-filled home, emphasizes the circular theme. Each piece adds to the strong, cohesive look whether placed on plush carpet or pale terrazzo flooring.
An aerial view of this Thunderbird Heights estate set on 1.17 acres highlights its study in circles. In front of the saucer-like home, a curving driveway arcs around the original fountain.
Built in 1970, the home is known as one of the first architecturally significant properties in the community. "We tried to honor the house, but give it back to the finishes that would have been ideal at the time," Morrison explains. First to go were the "very ’80s" rock flagstone floors. In their place, Morrison laid terrazzo floors. They instantly brightened the main room, helped along by the windows that look out to the immaculately manicured front lawn.
As part of the exterior’s overhaul, Morrison mercifully removed the concrete-and-Astroturf putting green on one side of the house. He enhanced the front yard’s original fountain with citrus trees. He also pushed back the wall near the pool area to create more gathering spaces, some shaded, others sun-soaked.
The rooms themselves seem to fan out into the lawn, and every room is designed to feel open to the outside. The space had been unevenly remodeled several times by previous owners when Morrison and Strassner stepped in. The kitchen, for example, was "all mirrored," featured out-of-place country brick, and was oddly situated at the center of the house where the dining room is now. The "big move" of this team’s ambitious redesign was to "open up the dining room and push the kitchen over, opening up the light on that side of the house," Morrison says. Newly outfitted with white statuary marble counters and a center island, the kitchen makes it easy to toss a salad or pour a cocktail without missing any of the fun happening in the circular pool pavilion (a great spot for epic card games).
Adjoined to the pool’s surrounding deck by a swim-under walkway, this mod, shaded cabana seems to float like a raft in the center of the swimming pool. It’s all one can do not to imagine a midwinter’s party, the temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, wait staff traversing the walkway with trays of hors d’oeuvres held high. It’s a whimsical estate that virtually cries out for another round of champagne.
Over the summer, Palm Springs Modern Committee hosted its annual membership drive at the indoor-outdoor estate. "The magnificent views from wherever one stands or sits within this beautifully situated property are breathtaking," says Outreach Committee Chair Nickie McLaughlin. "And its interior design makes for a cool, calming experience. Sheer heaven!"
Like a theater in the round creating a sense of both intimacy and space, the home has rooms that flow around the new focal point of the dining room. In line with the rest of the residence, the dining room shines in all white, save for a dramatic wall sculpture, which makes it feel clean but not sterile.
Long, suspense-building hallways and twists of Tonopah Road’s spiraling floor plan connect the bedrooms, each with separate sitting areas ideal for reading a book with a glass of wine or a cup of tea or just watching the sun dapple the lawn. As befits a grand estate, visitors would feel special in any of the four bedrooms; there is no "lesser" guest room.
Pink pops of color in the central living area echo the pink quartz in the rock wall near the pool. The green Warren Platner chairs in the main room are discontinued models and now collector’s items. Other notable items include a game table and chairs, designed by Ringo Starr and Robin Cruikshank and acquired in London. These touches of color and unexpected objects keep the purposeful minimalism from feeling unwelcoming or too spare. After all, this is no yurt, but a couture-style tribute to the architecture and design of the house’s origins. Sleek and clean can still feel delightfully funky.
The dining room now takes center stage in the middle of the home. (Morrison smartly relocated the kitchen next to the pool.) Wood ceiling beams radiate out from this room through the living areas and past the perimeter of the 90-foot-diameter estate.
Heavily veined marble countertops add subtle pattern in the minimalist open kitchen, which now enjoys a pool view and improved ease for outdoor entertaining.
A Saarinen dining table and tulip chairs provide a casual area for morning coffee and the paper.
The home’s glass-walled circumference brings in 360-degree views that vary by room. This bedroom, one of four, looks out to the original fountain that Morrison enhanced with new landscape.
Morrison’s vision of relaxed contemporary elegance with a retro edge feels complete in the interconnected intimate spaces, all saturated with light and airiness. Gray color accents, plush carpets, and lighting fixtures that feel appropriate to the home’s birth year give the bedrooms a soft, relaxed feel. A preexisting powder room was transformed into a gentleman’s bathroom. With partitioned walls, etched glass, and a "dressing area," all the room needs is a valet on duty to feel like Downton Abbey in the 21st-century desert. The layers of vertical colored glass that flank the doorway in the spacious entryway are an especially playful detail, making the most of the beautiful desert light on that side of the house. Each individual space feels personable. Multiple resting and reading areas allow people to see one another yet maintain their separate activities.
Thunderbird itself, with its large, 60-foot-wide streets and homes set on varying elevations, offers residents a tremendous sense of privacy. No high walls block views of palm trees and mountains in the name of seclusion. This home, along with the cloud-white heaven of its updated interior, is ever-open to the desert light and landscape.
Despite the grandeur of its 6,400 square feet and loads of designer details, the home is surprisingly livable. Tonopah has a relaxed, curated vibe without feeling pretentious or overstyled. "It’s a comfortable place," Morrison observes simply, meaning Tonopah Road is an example of estate living at its finest, Palm Springs style.