royal hawaiian estates palm springs

A Modern Trip to the South Pacific

Tiki was never their thing. But the historic Royal Hawaiian has a way of romancing new residents into getting on island time and raising a Mai Tai to the theme.

Lisa Marie Hart Current Digital, Home & Design, Real Estate

royal hawaiian estates palm springs

Creative director Q Caylor and his husband, Tom, had a generic wish list in 2018, when they began searching for a second home in the desert. It read like a commonplace ad in the condo personals: “Two weekenders from San Francisco seek a low-maintenance, midcentury complex that promotes indoor-outdoor living.” They found a number of properties met their requirements when their real estate agent asked an important question: “If you’re coming to Palm Springs, don’t you want a place that feels like Palm Springs?”

Once Alex Dethier of Paul Kaplan Group planted that seed, their search became an unhurried quest for something a little more iconic and a lot more personal.

“As soon as he said, ‘Don’t you want a place that has a real Palm Springs midcentury vibe?’ we knew he was right,” Tom recalls.

More than a year later, they walked into a two-bedroom unit at The Royal Hawaiian Estates that had just come on the market.

In 1961, developer Philip Short commissioned architects Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison to design the 40-unit oasis on five acres. The tiki theme played into America’s fascination with exotic Polynesian culture in the 1950s and ’60s. Royal Hawaiian slid into disrepair by the 1990s, before it began to receive an exterior restoration and some fresh aloha in 2010 when it was designated the first Historic Residential District in the City of Palm Springs.

Neither Q nor Tom was ever a tiki buff, at least beyond Tom’s affinity as a kid for kitschy movies with a South Pacific setting, like Donovan’s Reef starring John Wayne. The modernist lines drew them in. The vaulted ceilings, sliding glass doors to outdoor lanais, and clerestory windows immediately felt like a new home away from home. “We fell in love with the iconic architecture, the perfect location, and an ideal renovation opportunity,” Q notes.

Q Caylor, a creative director in San Francisco, worked with David Marks Design on a bold mix of color and pattern to define the home’s aesthetic. Nowhere did this ethos come together more than in the living room, where the peacock blue Phillip Jeffries wall covering brought together vibrant tropical color, strong modern lines, and textural cues that referenced the tiki elements of the property.

“It is a vacation place, and we love a retro vibe,” Q says. “We wanted to reference the Royal Hawaiian style, but not live in a tiki bar.” A Wayne White wallpaper mural adorns the original shoji screens separating the den and the living room, adding a blue-skied touch of the tropics.

In the kitchen and entry, original terrazzo floors, now cleaned and polished, were a surprise and welcome find under a layer of dated tile. New countertops and a bright coat of paint on the cabinets make a strong case for choosing an affordable makeover over a costly renovation.

But why fight a theme? Q has spent his career shaping retail experiences for home and fashion brands such as Target, Pottery Barn, Gap, and Levi’s. For the couple’s newfound Polynesian paradise, Q teamed up with stylist David Marks to help temper his Regency tendencies and infuse a measure of tiki charm. Now, their South Palm Springs pad honors the original design intentions and midcentury heritage while radiating modern glam.

Set amidst hushed grounds, tropical vegetation, and a boomerang-shaped pool they usually have all to themselves, their weekend retreat became their full-time “bunker” last spring. Vacation is a new mindset — even as they work from home — and the pair sees how their eventual retirement abode can function day-to-day. “It’s been a great place for working, relaxing, and entertaining,” Tom says. “And we’ve definitely had our share of visitors.” For friends and family, it’s a shorter hop than Tahiti or even Maui. Apparently, everyone can get onboard with a bit of tiki in Palm Springs.

One of the first and most transformative parts of the renovation was the removal of wall-to-wall carpeting from the bedrooms and living spaces. In the master suite, jade green malachite wall covering draws color from the potted palms on the private lanai through to the en-suite bath.

Throughout the home, contrasting graphic shapes and textural vintage pieces balance each other in a way that reflects midcentury style while infusing a casual California eclecticism. “The previous owners had obliterated the original architect-designed kitchen, bathrooms, and patio spaces,” says Q. “But the bones were still there, presenting the opportunity to infuse a fresh, yet reverent aesthetic. I love that it has a theme to it, but now it is mixed with a modern mindset.”


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