PHOTOGRAPHS BY AMY BARTLAM
When recently retired contractor Ken Kurtz learned that his wife, Becky, and daughter, Jenika Kurtz Cuadra, had made an offer on a new project house, he was hardly amused.
“I didn’t want to go through this again,” he says. Ken had acclimated well to the absence of manual labor in his life since closing Kurtz Construction, and he’d already made a new foray into baking and decorating desserts. Another teardown didn’t sound like retirement to him. “I called the Realtor and asked, ‘What if we decided to put this on the market tomorrow?’ because I was so concerned about it.” The couple’s existing place in Palm Desert was cramped and dark, but they had been flipping for years. If you asked Ken then, he would have told you he’d rather find something that was finished if they were going to upgrade. Regardless, when you’re picky from your own experience, turnkey can be hard to come by.
The Kurtz women were floating in the pool, browsing real estate listings on an iPad, when they found it — the perfect forever home in Indian Wells where Becky and Ken Kurtz could savor their well-earned free time and comfortably entertain their family, friends, and frequent houseguests. The interior needed an overhaul, to be sure, but spatially, it ticked all the boxes.
The 3,342-square-foot home, built in 2000, has four bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths with a spacious combined kitchen and living area that opens to a backyard pool. Natural light pours in from multiple angles, and during dinner parties, guests can spill outside through the sliders and still feel connected to the action indoors.
An easy indoor-outdoor flow from great room to patio makes hosting a breeze.
“We’ve never had room for a big piano,” Becky says. “That was the one thing I wanted.”
A 1929 Kurtzmann piano takes center stage near the entryway; it was made the year Becky Kurtz’s mother was born.
“So we drove over,” Becky recalls. “Ken wasn’t even there, but we put an offer in.” With seasonal heat on the horizon, Ken had flown the coop early and landed at their summer home on Lake Superior in Wisconsin. That house was the family’s previous undertaking; Ken spearheaded renovations and Jenika orchestrated the aesthetics. A chip off the old block, she owns her own interior design firm, J. Kurtz Design, in Los Angeles. Becky — who is executive director of the Desert Town Hall speaker series and a former editor at Palm Springs Life, from 1986 to ’89 — shares in the affinity for architecture.
She maintains her real estate license but likes to sit back, assume the role of client, and watch her loved ones create. Their son, Dennis, who lives in Chicago, is simply happy to visit.
When Ken returned to see the Indian Wells home, he zeroed in on all the heavy lifting. The builder-grade tile had to go. The boring brown kitchen needed gutting. All the wiring had to be rerouted. It lacked proper windows. “He was right,” Jenika acknowledges. “But I knew what it could become.”
The formal dining room features a salvaged chandelier from one of Jenika’s prior projects.
After the seven-month rehabilitation, Ken can’t imagine living anywhere else — and the act of a father loosening the reins to let his progeny take the lead was priceless.
Inspired by the memory of a piece of artwork that hung in one of her childhood homes, Jenika infused the house with her version of 1970s Parisian flair. Whitewash Palladio Wide Plank hardwood, crisp white walls, and black interior doors create a gallery-like canvas for pops of coral pink, polished gold fixtures, and cheerful prints throughout. “She talked me into painting the double front doors pink,” Ken says, laughing. “I absolutely love it.”
The Serena & Lily breakfast set creates a transition between kitchen and great room.
Wallpaper behind the wet bar features line drawings of women’s silhouettes.
His favorite room is the kitchen, which accommodates his dream side-by-side refrigerator and freezer unit and a professional gas range with dual ovens. “I was interested in the look of things,” Jenika says. “My mom and I are both form over function. My dad is function over form, so we had to make sure we had well-performing appliances. He’s a fabulous baker, and he loves cooking.” Black cabinetry makes a dramatic statement; sparse uppers spare the walls for bistro-style sconces and artwork, while white marble countertops and a minimalist range hood impart an open feel. A large island provides ample workspace to decorate cakes, and a farmhouse sink ensures cleanup is a breeze.
“My dad is function over form,” Jenika says. “We had to make sure we had well-performing appliances.”
By removing soffits in the kitchen, the Kurtzes took full advantage of the home’s 11-foot ceilings. They ditched the existing wall-to-wall upper cabinets in favor of a white, wood-trimmed hood and a pair of uppers that drop all the way down to the countertop. Tucked away from view, past the Bertazzoni microwave, is a walk-in pantry. The real stars are the side-by-side Frigidaire Gallery refrigerator and freezer units.
Off the foyer, a dedicated piano lounge makes for a truly grand entrance. “I’m not a huge fan of the living room next to living room thing that seems to be typical in the desert,” Jenika says of the front space, which shares a double-sided fireplace with the great room. “Immediately, that first day I saw it, I thought, ‘This could be my mom’s piano room.’ She’s played since she was a kid.”
Opposite this personal concert hall is the formal dining room and, beyond that, a wet bar connecting to the kitchen. Stocked with all the essentials for a juniper-forward gin and tonic, it calls to mind the chic lobby bars that you find at hotels in Palm Springs. A splash of patterned wallpaper lining the back of an existing niche-turned-shelving-unit gives this nook all the personality it needs.
Color blooms in the bedrooms, where pink tones impart a sense of warmth and choice floral elements feel like a breath of fresh air. One room features a mural-like statement wall that’s actually wallpaper.
“For a lot of men, I might not suggest pink,” Jenika says. “But I knew my dad would love it.”
While the shared spaces find tranquility in a white backdrop, the bedrooms don’t shy away from color. Shades of pink on the walls and floral details in the fabrics and artwork exude a vibrancy befitting a home that caters to multiple generations. The main bedroom and two guest suites, each with a private bathroom, cluster on one side of the residence; an attached casita, where Jenika stays when she and her husband visit, sits on the other.
A reupholstered bench provides a place to lace your shoes.
Black cabinets extend to the primary bathroom, which gets a punch of color with an area rug.
Decked in big flowers, this comforter jazzes up an otherwise minimal four-poster bed.
Jenika appealed to her parents’ individual style preferences through her palette and material selections as well as the finishing touches — cane detailing in some of the furniture, a crystal chandelier over the dining table, vintage area rugs. “We say my dad is very Thomas Kinkade; he’s fancy. My mom is more contemporary. She likes things that are faceted crystal and shiny,” the designer explains. “I’m able to push boundaries a bit more with them because I know what they’re going to like and not like. I know that they trust me implicitly.”
That isn’t to say the fixer-uppers among this creative family have been free from challenges. Having renovated more than 1,000 houses in his day, it comes with the territory that Ken would be reluctant to release control. The Lake Superior property came with a learning curve. He went off-script a few times out of habit, without consulting his designer daughter. But now, after going through this process and watching his former shadow step into the light, he has no hesitation passing the torch and says he wouldn’t make another design decision without calling Jenika first (except, perhaps, when it comes to his cupcakes).
A bamboo headboard and vintage bamboo storage unit bring casual, tropical flair into one bedroom, where guests soak up the vacation vibes. Over the bed hangs a graphic print by Phoenix, Arizona–based illustrator Dylan M.
“I didn’t know what the end result was going to look like. I followed her orders, that’s all. And I was just crazy in love with the whole thing,” Ken reflects. “It was fantastic working with her.”
For Jenika, the feeling is mutual. “To be able to use what I do for a living to make them happy, improve their lives, and give them something they enjoy is a gift.”