The value of an interior designer often lies in his or her instinctive brilliance, finesse for interpreting clients’ tastes into breathtaking environments, and gentle but persuasive communication. Scott Arthur Yerkey is a longtime designer for the Shwachman family thanks to all of those merits. In the case of their most recent project, however, he had to introduce them to the desert and convince them it was the right destination for their second home — all before he could put on his design hat. Pushing beyond the call of duty as a cross-country location scout was all in a day’s work.
Kim Shwachman has relied on and collaborated with Yerkey for the past 18 years. He has renovated her family’s home in Northbrook, Illinois, (a suburb north of Chicago) several times, inside and out. “He just gets it,” she says. “I don’t make a design move without him.” Transplants from the Midwest themselves, Yerkey and his partner, Cary Filsinger, co-own Filsinger Gallery on El Paseo in Palm Desert. Yerkey coordinates all interior design work; Filsinger is a landscape architect and the resident art enthusiast.
“Scott and Cary were the driving force in our coming to the desert,” says Shwachman, who originally had imagined a family beach retreat in Malibu. “After we sold our second home in Boca Raton, we knew we wanted to go west. They probably worked on me for four years to come see the area, as did my husband, Perry.”
Yerkey had warned Shwachman that beautiful oceanfront property doesn’t guarantee beautiful weather, and that prices would be considerably higher. Yerkey says the “sunny every day” climate of the Coachella Valley had already attracted him and Filsinger to relocate from Chicago. When Kim and Perry finally touched down in the desert, Yerkey scheduled a whirlwind tour of 20 down-valley houses in one weekend. The final one they saw was love at first sight — not for its good looks but for its potential.
Shwachman’s dream of hosting her three grown children for family gatherings (and of them someday bringing along children of their own) had her in pursuit of a private residence the size of a small hotel. “She wanted eight bedrooms in one house, and I kept telling her you won’t get that out here,” laughs Yerkey. “People do casitas. You don’t want to heat and cool parts of the house you don’t need.” Again, Yerkey’s voice of reason rang true. Resting on a generous acre and a half, the 6,000-square-foot main home has four bedrooms. Another four lie inside the 2,400-square-foot casita, separated from the house by a pool and spa. The gated home in the Vista Dunes community of Rancho Mirage was a rare specimen in that it didn’t require them to build an addition.
Kim and Perry Shwachman unwind in the master bedroom sitting area. Kim sits in the Vita swivel chair by Scott Arthur Yerkey.
An inviting living room divides the four bedrooms of the casita, which faces the pool, main house, and landscape by Cary Filsinger.
Shwachman was thrilled to find the space she needed. Sited slightly above the casita, the home offers long, clean panoramic views out to the mountains from any room. Those views are one of the few things that remain intact from the home they saw and purchased during that house-hunting weekend in 2016. “The house was built in 1998, the casita in 2012. Knowing they were going to keep it and use it for a long time, we gutted both,” Filsinger says. “The home was sold furnished, and we immediately took everything to Misty’s Consignments.”
Thus began the extensive renovation, which required creative reconfigurations in every area of the home. With a keen eye for scale and proportion due to the home’s bulk, Yerkey worked with Palm Springs–based contractor Art House for windows, doors, walls, flooring, and everything in between.
New cut limestone and vein-cut travertine flooring arrived from Italy, laying a smooth foundation for the newly opened family room. Pocket doors provide a seamless transition to the patio. “The outdoors is part of the family room and bar, where the landscaping and fire pit become part of the home,” Filsinger explains.
The adjacent kitchen offers a warm setting for cooking together as a family yet is sized to accommodate catered events. Guests almost immediately look up at the illuminated boxes, which contain colorful hand-blown glass by artist Joe Cariati.
When Kim and Perry finally touched down in the desert, Yerkey scheduled a whirlwind tour of 20 down-valley houses in one weekend. The final one they saw was love at first sight — Not for its good looks but for its potential.
Pocketing doors in the family room open to the outside. Pendants are by Luxe Light and Home in Los Angeles. The painting on the back wall is by Alexandr Onishenko; the one on the side wall is by Daniel Phill, both from Filsinger Gallery.
Grasscloth in the living and dining rooms adds interest and pattern while preserving the neutral color palette. Cut into 36-inch squares and arranged in an alternating rotation, the wallcovering produces a giant checkerboard impression. The concept repeats in the master bath vestibule in smaller, 16-inch squares.
Significant demolition fulfilled Shwachman's wish for a sweeping dining room. The removal of a non-load-bearing wall combined two vast spaces into one, where a pair of dining tables seats up to 22 people for grand occasions. A 21-foot buffet with hand-raked detail teems with storage below, doubles as one of the home’s most dramatic artworks, and makes a subtle division between the great room. On top is a fossil of two fish dated by Filsinger Gallery to at least 50 million years old.
Working with gallery owners on an interior ensures that the art will be flawlessly in sync with the rest of the home’s design. Kim and Perry chose a range of ancient fossils akin to those they enjoy in their primary home. They also had a chance to meet Prague-based artist Alexandr Onishenko at the gallery and became fast admirers. His work displays prominently in their desert home.
“I know the parts that need a wow and the parts that need a wonderful,” Yerkey says of the overall interplay of art, furnishings, lighting, finishes, and accessories. “Designing a home is like going to the theater: You can only have a few leading roles. For the supporting role pieces, you can love them, but you don’t have to love them like a lead actor.”
The kitchen offers a warm setting for cooking together as a family yet is sized to accommodate catered events. Guests almost immediately look up at the illuminated boxes, which contain colorful hand-blown glass by artist Joe Cariati.
Crystal vases on the island and cookie jars on the counter are by Baccarat. A Holly Hunt fixture adds a glint of gold. For the high cabinets, Yerkey commissioned hand-blown vases by Joe Cariati Glass to complement the colors of a Daniel Phill painting.
The master wing underwent a massive transformation that both improved the space’s flow and customized its functionality. For instance, as substantial as it is, the home lacked a designated office, so Yerkey turned the master closet into a library for Perry and then repurposed a workout room off the master bedroom to create a new master closet.
The couple also preferred one large bathroom to the parsed up, his-and-hers layout of their late 1990s home. Yerkey designed a singular master bath as an elegant refuge of current style. “The round window above the tub used to be a glass sliding door, and the tub sat on an enormous deck that looked like a stage,” he says. The new porthole window allows natural light into the room, while its bronze tint ensures privacy.
The second bathroom received a clever twist. Yerkey converted the steam shower portion into a pool bath, accessible to the outside. The remaining area became Kim’s dressing room, accoutered in Italian flocked wallpaper.
In the master bedroom, Yerkey blended a muted color palette with rich textures to form “a sanctuary of relaxation, which speaks to their style and the kind of home they were looking for,” he says.
Across the pool, in the four-bedroom, four-bath guesthouse, an open living room/kitchen area surrounded by the suites allows guests to rejuvenate in a self-contained hideaway.
"I know the parts that need a wow and the parts that need a wonderful,” Yerkey says. “Designing a home is like going to the theater: You can only have a few leading roles.”
A Daniel Phill painting hangs adjacent to a 92-inch-long fossil branch. Custom coffee table in limestone with bronze leaves by Formations in L.A. Fossils from Filsinger Gallery.
A 21-foot buffet incorporates a fossil of two Diplomystus fish. Painting by Alexandr Onishenko.
“Kim and Perry put a lot of faith in Scott,” Filsinger notes. “He’s very connected to what they like, so they gave him a creative design license from start to finish.” In just over a year, Yerkey walked the couple through their completed home.
“The single biggest reason we were able to do this kind of renovation, and do it remotely, was that Scott tracked the design progress, and Cary was the home’s property manager,” Kim Shwachman shares. “They were there constantly, being our eyes and ears, and they were all-in.”
Yerkey’s design has the family heading to O’Hare International Airport as often as they can to visit. The California contemporary style is easy and comfortable, he explains, a place where the kids can feel as if they are on vacation, while the home maintains a sophisticated feel for entertaining. Daughters Blair, 25, and Dani, 24, and son Tyler, 21, love to arrive with friends in tow. Eighteen guests for Thanksgiving dinner was a mere primer for an indoor-outdoor party Kim hosted last year for 115 people.
“People ask us, ‘Did you rent for a number of years or have a relative out there?’” she laughs. “Neither one. And we’re not snowbirds. The goal is to spend more and more time here because it’s never enough.”
Kim Shwachman doesn’t regret forgoing a home on the coast. “This is the best rash decision we ever made,” she attests. “And this house was absolutely the right one. I can’t think of a greater place to be or a greater place to live.”
Yerkey designed a singular master bath as an elegant refuge of current style. “The round window above the tub used to be a glass sliding door,” he says.
The master suite is a jewel box on a grand scale. The white opaline 1920s milk glass lamps are from Paris. Bolster bench is by Scott Arthur Yerkey.
A Murano light fixture Yerkey found in Paris illuminates a crackle-finish wall treatment combining gold leaf foil and cork. Solid iron chain link table from Formations.