On a cul-de-sac in the Andreas Hills neighborhood, a window changed everything. Efren Gonzalez and John Kavanaugh had been looking at a midcentury home for sale when they walked down the street and into a newer, Spanish-style estate that was also on the market. An enormous picture window that formed the far corner of the living room unraveled everything the men thought they wanted in a Palm Springs weekender home. Over the pink bougainvillea hedge, they glimpsed wide views of the backyard, Indian Canyons Golf Course, and the San Jacinto Mountains. Those two panes of glass and their L-shaped window seat were enticing enough to revamp the men’s plans.
From midcentury dreams to Spanish nights, the L.A. advertising executive and the award-winning songwriter for Disney never looked back. “We didn’t want to just get a house that had four walls,” Gonzalez says. “If we were going to go through all the trouble of another house, we thought, let’s get something special.”
The couple has been together for 28 years and visiting Palm Springs for just as long. Friends had been picking up houses, and, fearing they would wear out their welcome as perpetual weekend guests, the couple agreed it was time to follow suit.
Among their circle are Michael Ostrow and Roger Stoker, interior designers and owners of Grace Home Furnishings. “We met them years ago through friends at a party in L.A. I play the piano, Michael loves to sing, and we all became fast friends,” Kavanaugh recalls. “We always hoped one day we would have a house worthy of their design.” The couple placed a call on the spot. Ostrow and Stoker were at their Palm Springs store, but they came by the house and gave it the green light.
Despite being built in 2002, the home has a timeless appeal. Previous owners had embellished the meandering floor plan and soft, Spanish architecture with coffered wood ceilings, carved doors, and details that speak to the traditional Spanish revival aesthetic. Weighted down with rust-colored walls, stiff antiques, and bulky furnishings, however, its 3,374 square feet felt closed in and heavy.
John Kavanaugh plays the vintage walnut piano for Efren Gonzalez. “I love the scale of the giant portrait of Eleonora di Toledo,” says designer Michael Ostrow. “The narrow break dividing it gives a modern twist on a traditional image.”
“The realtor told us people would complain, ‘It’s so dark, it’s so dreary, it’s so not Palm Springs,’ ” Kavanaugh relays. “We understood that. That’s why we had Michael and Roger.”
In two months’ time, Grace Home gave the three-bedroom residence a refreshing new look. Ostrow says his clients requested a design that was Spanish but not kitschy. Elegant but not stuffy. Comfortable but not too casual. “We wanted to give the house a crispness that it did not have previously,” he says.
An antique French clock features painted matadors.
Never outside his comfort zone, Ostrow loves the range of homes Grace is asked to decorate. “I think people know us for designing homes with a Hollywood Regency/classic modern feel, but the truth is, we are very comfortable designing spaces in many different styles.”
Thus, designers not typically known for Spanish-style décor and owners who hadn’t been looking for it began their collaboration. Shared Pinterest boards and meetings got the ball rolling before Gonzalez and Kavanaugh trusted Ostrow to take the lead. The direction was for “a Montecito feel,” blending ivory walls and contrasting dark wood with pink as an accent color.
“We wanted something light with pizazz and a point of view, casual but still sophisticated, and I think we were able to find a good balance,” Gonzalez says. “It’s a place where you feel you can be yourself.”
The corner picture window that inspired the homeowners to make an offer.
His heritage served as inspiration; Gonzalez was born in Cuba, and his grandfathers were from Spain. Incorporated throughout the home are vintage framed photos of his aunt from her days as a flamenco dancer in 1950s Cuba and paintings made by his uncle while they lived there.
“I was selective about the Spanish elements we added,” Ostrow says. The homeowners had suggested he use them beautifully but sparingly. “Each room has a distinctive character piece to set the tone, from the over-scaled midcentury matador lamp in the den that we custom-painted to complement the scheme, to the large artwork and 19th-century clock with painted matadors in the living room, to the bed blankets made from vintage Suzanis in the bedrooms.” A photo of Lucille Ball dressed as a matador always gets a laugh in the red-striped powder room.
Under the wood beams of the dining alcove, niches glint with metallic shimmer from vintage ’60s Spanish-style wallpaper. A pair of vintage carved lamps top the buffet.
“They ran 90 percent of it by us, and we approved it, but we always knew Michael had a lot of tricks up his sleeve,” Kavanaugh says. “There were so many special things he just did and knew we would like.”
Through thoughtful design choices, the spacious home nurtures an intimate quality. Past the fireside living room and the dining alcove under a wood-beam ceiling, a cozy den reveals another fireplace flanked by built-in shelves filled with books and vintage pottery. Arched hallways and Old World chandeliers add to the warmth.
Family and friends stay in the two guest rooms — one yellow and one blue, with coordinating Spanish tile in the bathrooms. Both are a good distance from the master suite. “You can stay in there all day long; you don’t even have to come out,” Gonzalez says of the coffered-ceiling master bedroom with a Spanish-style corner fireplace and access to the swimming pool. “It’s so comfortable, and it feels very protected.”
A mix of similar patterns in the master suite is light and lively, from the rug, pillows, and antique Suzani blanket to the upholstered bobbin chairs. The carved bed has a linen headboard.
Kavanaugh says Gonzalez’s advertising background led them to “brand” the home with the name Villa Vista, an ode to the picture-window view that clinched the deal. As the home is a departure from the couple’s post-and-beam weekday digs in L.A., friends were anxious to see the finished result. “All of them know Michael and Roger’s work, and they have all said, ‘Wow. We had no idea they could do so many different things,’ ” says Kavanaugh.
Not the midcentury pad they set out to find, nor the dark lair they first purchased, the home is an exact match for the couple’s taste and lifestyle. “I think this is very Palm Springs,” Gonzalez remarks. “There’s so much modernism already that maybe the next [design] wave should go back to Spanish again, which is the [city’s] roots.”
Moroccan tile wallpaper sings a blue note in a guest bedroom.