An invitation to Myrna Kaplan and Albert Aaron’s home bears a Rancho Mirage return address. Stepping into their home, however, guests find themselves transported to exotic locales, easily lost in a world of foreign faces, abstract figures, and a beauty reflected in found objects collected for their meanings from across the globe.
Kaplan — who sits on the Board of Contemporary Art Council at the Palm Springs Museum of Art, as well as being the California representative for Chicago-based Leslie Hindman Auctioneers — has spent her life traveling. Her love and passion for striking locations and their distinct cultures is apparent in every room of this modern home. She has surrounded herself with mementos of her journeys, and her guests seem to enjoy them as much as she does.
The Kaplan-Aaron home — originally hers, now theirs together — began to take shape six years ago when Kaplan called Sam Cardella, a design veteran with a background in architecture. Kaplan had sold her house and bought a lot where she wanted to begin construction on a new 5,400-square-foot house from the ground up. “I had worked with Myrna on a previous project, and she said she wasn’t going through with this one unless we did it together,” he says. “We have a great chemistry.”
Thus working with Kaplan was easy, says Cardella. “A great deal of this house is Myrna’s personality,” he says. “She’s sophisticated and stylish and has an incredible eye. I am able to work with her on a completely different level than most clients.”
The oversized front door swings into a home that is open and bright, yet calming and comfortable. A spacious living area reaches up 13 1/2 feet with a far wall of glass for a seamless transition to the outside living area. There, antique kilm rugs are rolled out when the couple is in town for a cozy look only emphasized by the Robert Tuffin sculpture of a wire figure that curls up poolside for an afternoon nap in the sun. Nearby, soothing sounds from a water feature by Palm Springs artist Roger Hopkins are carried inside. Hopkins had cut a boulder in half for the water feature, but it was Cardella who suggested the other half of the giant rock be used to form a freestanding fireplace for the living room. It was a big job, with the rock so large it had to be “rolled in on two by fours like the Egyptians would do,” Cardella says.
With the warm glow of the flames and the easy, indoor-outdoor flow, Cardella designed the living room with entertaining in mind. A pair of antique, Kuba-cloth upholstered chairs anchor an ottoman in front of the flat-screen TV. Crisp, white chairs are perched next to low-sitting, streamlined sofas placed back to back. Though there are three separate sitting areas in all, the configuration allows people to interact by simply turning to the person on the sofa behind them, a reinvention of the 19th century gossiping chair.
The modern furniture adds a sense of balance to the ethnic-inspired décor. From across the room, an authentic African ritual costume — rarely found complete with headdress, skirt and mask — looks down on mingling guests. A colorful N’mba fertility sculpture from the Baga tribe in Africa — placed on wheels to relocate during parties — welcomes near the entryway. Kaplan’s love of African culture is apparent, and she says her attraction goes beyond the pieces’ tribal aesthetic. “African art is a living and dancing art, to re-enact myths and religious ceremonies. . . . I collect things that are part of the ritual belief system rather than decorative pieces,” Kaplan explains.
For the smaller-scale events the couple hosts, Kaplan, a skilled cook, can almost always be found in the kitchen. During the home’s design phase, she had just returned from a trip to Thailand and wanted to give special thought to the kitchen’s placement in the house. “I noticed that people there live in a compound, but they have a main house where they have meals and commune together; that appealed to me,” she says. So Cardella made the kitchen the heart of the home. “If I’m cooking and someone’s reading or watching TV, we are still in contact.” Chef-style amenities include a vegetable sink; a hooded, six-burner stove with double warming doors; and a stainless Sub-Zero refrigerator. A large island separates the living room with an informal dining area and the kitchen. It’s topped with Arizona sandstone that extends down to the floor on each side, a signature trait of Cardella’s design. Two ’60s-era lamps from J.F. Chen in Los Angeles sprout up from the island, bringing the living-room look to the kitchen work surface.
When guests find the space too inviting to leave, they follow the poured and placed concrete floors — gridded to mimic the architectural structure of the home — to the two guest rooms across the landscape of the house. On the way, visitors say goodnight to the “Baga Boys”: four seemingly playful figures from the Baga tribe that dance in the hallway. They were traditionally serpents used to ward off evil spirits.
Kaplan and Aaron’s bedroom sanctuary lies down a hall off the entryway. Floor to ceiling glass fills one corner of the bedroom, looking out onto the pool and yard. A four-poster bed with a bamboo headboard gives the feeling of a room within a room. A sitting bench beckons at the foot of the bed, and receding shelves on each side hold books and other nighttime necessities. Dual bathrooms and closets weave behind the room, deceptively hiding the large area behind the walls. Showers have concrete walls, pebbled floors, and skylights. One bathroom opens onto a secluded bamboo garden with a refreshing outdoor shower.
In all, Kaplan’s dream was achieved: A home that defies its structure, where the outside feels like in and the indoors come alive. A house that brings a sense of community — with a kitchen and living area at the heart and soul of the building — where entertaining, enjoyment, and sharing take place. And a cozy dwellings that, though filled with relics from travels abroad, unfailingly reminds Kaplan why she loves to come home.