Commissioned in 1948 as a vacation getaway for a Los Angeles family, the Palm Springs home has two notable original architects: legendary modernists John Porter Clark and Albert Frey.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY COLIN ROBINSON
“Palm Springs is the first place I remember,” says the wistful owner of a newly renovated vintage ranch home in Old Las Palmas. Every so often, her mid-1960s memories of childhood forays in the desert return in Technicolor flashbacks: doting older siblings, the neighbor’s pomegranate tree, a red wagon. At the time, her father was the head of the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention & Visitors Authority (now Visit Greater Palm Springs), but as complicated family dynamics would have it, she grew up in Pennsylvania, where she still lives today.
This isn’t just a story about restoring a home that had lost its architectural identity over decades of ill-conceived remodels. It’s also a tale about what it means for a person to return to the place of her earliest memories to set down roots for the future.
“I’m sure there’s some psychology there,” says the homeowner, a retired interior designer. “Palm Springs has always felt very comfortable and familiar.” In 2019, when she purchased the 3,166-square-foot house — an equidistant meeting point between family on the East Coast and in Australia — it was in its counterfeit Colonial phase, complete with foam crown molding and other ornate embellishments entirely inauthentic to crisp desert modernism. While the home’s native ranch style bore some aspects of the local architectural flavor (a simple silhouette, for example, and a southern orientation that beholds the San Jacinto Mountains), it was still something of an outlier in the landscape.
“There aren’t a lot of examples around here of a really solid California ranch–style house, which is exactly what this is,” says Duane Smith, principal of local design studio Hundred Mile House, who took on the vacation home’s latest renovation. “I think ranch houses are underappreciated for what they can offer, which is a lot of smart thinking and easy living.”
Chief among these overlooked ingenuities is the lack of space-consuming hallways. They didn’t figure prominently in the house when it was completed in 1949, and they don’t today. “I can’t stand hallways,” says Smith of Hundred Mile House.
Luckily, his client’s first instinct was to pare down the Frankensteinian architecture to its elemental nature and undo decades of unfortunate enclosures. Among them, a breezeway had been co-opted for a breakfast nook. Then a laundry/mechanical room was oddly placed between the galley kitchen and said breakfast nook. Once these smaller volumes were liberated, an 80-foot-long corridor, from one end of the house to the other, emerged, passing through reconfigured spaces of loft and latitude.
“Palm Springs has always felt very comfortable and familiar.”
“Ranch houses are underappreciated for what they can offer.”
Between his three kids and her four kids (ranging in age from 18 to 30), plus their significant others and extended friends and family, the home’s generous footprint would likely be pushed to its seams were it not for the collaboration of Hundred Mile House’s Smith and the homeowner. Together they logged many hours on FaceTime — him on the jobsite, her in Pennsylvania — to keep the renovation moving forward through the pandemic.
The kitchen has been transformed into a 16-foot-by-16-foot modern cookery large enough to accommodate meal preparation for the variety of diets within the large, Brady Bunch–style family. Its good-weather dining capacity could ostensibly triple the seats at the Calacatta marble island just by pocketing the multi-slider glass door to access an outdoor table. In the living room, a long built-in banquette is padded with three twin-mattress-sized cushions. Two hanging beds at the pool cabana — a structure added in the 1990s but modernized with Smith’s favorite black-and-white patterned tile from Clé — could sleep even more.
Flexible spaces were important, but not at the cost of coziness.
An unofficial census conducted by Smith revealed that 19 people could comfortably bunk at the house on any given holiday. While the homeowner predicts that Thanksgivings will likely test the home’s max capacity, most other times of the year, family and guests can probably be counted on one hand.
To keep the sizeable residence feeling snug, the homeowner invoked the popular Scandinavian concept known as hygge (loose translation: “cozy comfort”). Quantity, however, is minimal. “As I get older, I’m not into ‘stuff’ as much,” she says. Warmth and welcome abound through a thoughtful palette of natural materials: teak millwork, rustic white-oak floors, grasscloth walls, and ceramic tiles handcrafted with soulful texture. Danish-style furnishings are inviting in their sculptural forms, like the Hans Wegner–inspired Wishbone dining chairs with their wooden wraparound arms.
Warmth and welcome abound through a thoughtful palette of natural materials.
“The house just feels like a hug,” confirms Smith of Hundred Mile House. Yet even on a blindingly hot day in Palm Springs, the warm tableau actually provides a cool break. At sunset, the homeowner, also an avid gardener, retreats to the backyard. Amid an aromatic arrangement of citrus trees, gardenia, lavender, and sage, she takes pleasure in a daily ritual, a full-circle moment in miniature. “I like to watch the mountain turn pink,” she says. No