Some empty nesters downsize. Stephen and Anne Rader supersized. Lifelong Angelenos, the couple have their primary residence in Beverly Hills, where Stephen is a co-founder and managing general partner of the private equity firm Clarity Partners. When their two daughters were growing up, the family rarely came to the desert.
“We were always busy, with tennis tournaments, school, work. When [the daughers] moved out of the house, suddenly we had a lot more time,” Anne says. “We started thinking how nice it would be to have a vacation home that would be close enough for the girls to visit. This is just a two-hour drive, and it’s very convenient for us as well.”
Four years ago, they found a prime lot at the Madison Club in La Quinta. The fact that the club has a family membership, which is rare for luxury communities in the desert, “was a huge plus for us,” Stephen says. “We want our children and their children (when they come along) to feel like this is their home too.
“A friend in L.A. suggested we find a world-class architect, someone who could see the possibilities, and not just put up another Tuscan-style building,” he says. The Raders interviewed half a dozen architects before choosing XTEN, a design firm with offices in Los Angeles and Switzerland.
“Lots of so-called modern homes have too many angles and too many levels,” Stephen says. “XTEN gave us a very simple, very strong design. There’s one unique design feature where the two levels are slightly askew. That moves this away from being a box and makes it extraordinary.”
At XTEN, Austin Kelly and his partner, Monika Häefelfinger, created a design that is a study in yin-yang, strong-delicate, and open-closed concepts and is strongly rooted in the natural characteristics of the site, with its elevated location and unobstructed view of the Santa Rosa Mountains to the west.
Once the design was solidified, the construction took about a year and a half, with much of that time spent getting the two stone walls just right. Kelly says the project architect looked at stone from a number of California quarries, settling on material from one near Carlsbad that most closely matched the natural stone in the Santa Rosas. Then scale models of the walls went up and the chief mason went back and forth between those models and the ones now standing, making sure the patterns matched the architectural vision.
The walls are the backbone of the house, extending from the entry courtyard through the entire length of the house, protecting the interior from strong winds out of the north and extreme heat from the south. Each is 4 1/2 feet thick; made of warm-toned, rough-cut stone; built around insulated concrete cores; and dry-set without mortar.
The southern portion of the house contains the garage, offices, exercise room, wine room, service spaces, and a media room with a covered terrace facing the mountains. The area can be closed off from the main living space, which encompasses a kitchen, dining area, and living room centered around a massive stone fireplace.
A second fireplace anchors the upstairs master suite, which looks onto the pool below and the mountains to the west and opens to a sheltered deck running the length of the house from north to south. Both fireplaces use the same stone in the same patterns as the walls. The master bedroom, like most of the other rooms, has full blackout curtains, but they rarely are used. “We never want to block out that view of the mountains,” Anne says.
To the north, four guest bedrooms with baths are separate from the main house, each with its own entrance and each overlooking the central courtyard.
Glass panels — 88 of them — serve as dividing walls inside the house and as floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that open at the push of a button and disappear into the side walls. Cantilevered overhangs provide shelter from the sun, while allowing in light and desert breezes.
When the Raders drove out to spend their first few days here, they experienced a bit of trepidation. Neither had lived in such a streamlined, purposefully modern home. “We’d certainly been in modern homes we admired, but didn’t know if it would be comfortable,” Stephen says. “It’s actually very easy to live here. The angles may be sharp, but the furnishings are all cushy and comfortable; and the views make it an extremely Zen, peaceful place to think and slow down.”
The two say that the house has encouraged them to keep clutter out of sight. “We aren’t the tidiest people by nature,” Stephen says, “and living here pushes us to keep things clean. We don’t leave piles of books and magazines around. It actually feels very easy to do that here. The layout is great, and when it’s just the two of us, it feels just right, rather than too large.”
Within a neutral palette that contrasts pale terrazzo floors and countertops with banks of dark wood cabinets, the only vivid color comes from the furniture and carpets and Stephen’s own hyper-real color photographs — some as large as 6 feet square. He began this project with two goals for the overall design: to build a midcentury modern house and to have a place to showcase his photography.
“When it was all done, we realized that there are very few walls where we could hang the photos,” he says. “Austin suggested we reconfigure some of the areas, but I realized that the house is the biggest piece of art. I am happy with that outcome.”
Q&A With Architect Austin Kelly
What was your biggest design challenge here?
The desert environment is very harsh, with intense heat and often fierce winds. The house had to offer protection, yet be open to the beauty of the mountains and the landscape. We wanted it to be a frame for the people and the landscape, rather than an imposing structure. The site itself is magnificent, so the house had to almost disappear into the surroundings, while maintaining a high level of elegance and giving the owners a supremely comfortable, private retreat.
Why two chandeliers in the dining room?
The open space needed an anchor. One chandelier would just get lost. These steel and crystal pieces are from Dutch artisan Brand van Egmond. They reference the palo verde trees in the courtyard and side yards. And, they appear light and delicate — a nice contrast to the sturdy, muscular rock walls.
Does the scale of this home change the spirit of the midcentury modern aesthetic you were after?
I like to think that if [John] Lautner and [Richard] Neutra and the other giants of midcentury modern had been able to use the techniques and materials that we have access to, their designs would have been very similar.
• The home’s footprint, which includes overhangs and garages, is 12,000 square feet. Interior living space is 8,500 square feet.
• There are no traditional doors or windows. Entry doors pivot open, and all interior and exterior sliding glass panels can be opened at the touch of one master button.
• Insulated Concrete Formwork was used to create super-insulated R60 walls.
• The house opens in every direction to passively cool the interior spaces, and the courtyard reflecting pool serves as an evaporative cooling system for the ground-floor areas opening onto the courtyard.
• High-performance glass and high-efficiency mechanical systems and fixtures further reduce the energy profile of the house.