Tracy Turco and her husband Jerry bought the former Magda Gabor home in Palm Springs’ Little Tuscany neighborhood.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY AUSTIN HARGRAVE
To say that Tracy Turco does more in a week than most people do in a lifetime might not be an understatement.
The Palm Springs–based designer, hotelier, entrepreneur, author, style icon, wife, and mother is on a mission. “There’s so much I want to accomplish,” says the blonde dynamo, who, with her real estate developer husband, Jerry Turco, has bought and restored two historic homes and opened three 1960s-themed hotels — the Art Hotel, the Tiki Hotel, and the Cheetah Hotel — in the five years since they moved to the desert from Manhattan. A fourth boutique property, the Deco Palm Hotel, will open in December on North Indian Canyon Drive.
Their development company, T&T (for Tracy & Turco), specializes in retro-style boutique hotels. She’s responsible for all the design work — choosing paint colors and furnishings, creating her own textiles and wallcoverings, even placing the custom starburst doorknobs on a double-door entry (each one smack-dab in the center, of course). The Miami Beach native, who holds a BFA from the University of Tampa and studied at the New York School of Interior Design and abroad, also creates the properties’ branding. “Everything is branding and marketing,” says Turco, who often works with her 1-year-old daughter Marchesa Dali Turco in tow. “Otherwise, it’s just a building. People know there’s a person, a hostess, behind our hotels. It’s like having a friend welcoming you into their home.”
“Jerry and I together have invested $20 million in Palm Springs, and we are just getting started,” she says. The pair were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend. They bonded over their love of jazz, architecture, and vintage cars and, when they honeymooned in Palm Springs in 2017, fell in love with the majestic natural beauty and retro culture of the desert. So, they started house-hunting.
While on the East Coast, Turco launched and sold two companies: SalonTea, with locations in Manhattan, Paris, and Dubai, and Tea&Co., a line of custom-blended teas and tea-based beauty products. She also authored two books, Tea For You and Tea Party, for Random House.
In addition to spearheading property design, Turco also uses her keen eye to find and invest in properties to add to the T&T portfolio — including the former Magda Gabor estate, the couple’s glam home in Palm Springs’ Little Tuscany neighborhood. Turco discovered the Hollywood Regency–style jewel box while buying black-and-white-striped espresso cups at an estate sale held by the former owner and has rechristened it as Palazzo Turco, aka The Pink Palace. “I made my husband come with me to pick them up so that he could see the house,” she says. “We gave each other the wink, which is our thumbs up. He met the owner that day, and we closed in one week.”
The 2,600-square-foot house was constructed in 1964 by Italian builder and socialite Tony Gallucci, a fact that was not lost on Jerry, who is also Italian and built the couple’s 7,000-square-foot, New England–style house in Southampton, New York. “He loves that it was built by an Italian, who put it high on the hill away from everyone,” she says, laughing.
Turco painted the house in Dunn-Edwards’ assertive Taffy Pink, easily spotted from space, in time for its Modernism Week reveal in February. “It’s not the color I showed [Jerry],” she admits, noting the swatch she presented was paler. “It’s a bait-and-switch pink.”
The three-bedroom, four-bath abode still houses many of Magda’s former possessions, including artwork, chandeliers, a gold damask sofa with bullion fringe, and a Hungarian indoor rotisserie grill that Turco is turning into a pizza oven.
“Magda’s spirit is definitely in the house,” the designer says. She moved an oil portrait of Magda from a guest bathroom to a more prominent spot after the lights in the house started flickering during a dinner party. “I moved her to the foyer entrance, so she could greet everyone, and we’ve never had a flickering light after that. We know she’s happy.”
Their desert shopping spree also includes an 8-acre site in Joshua Tree where they plan to build ARTPARC, a geodesic-dome-themed residential community powered by solar energy with a dog park and space to park RVs.
On weekends, the family often drives to Temecula to the Turco Estate Vineyard, which has a six-bedroom contemporary house and a 3,000-bottle wine cellar on 5 acres with grenache grapes, 36 pepper trees, 300 rose bushes, and a single prized Meyer lemon tree, which she picks to make lemonade. Turco Estate Vineyard wine will be offered at T&T hotels.
In the fall, the Turcos will unveil their “passion project,” the 12,000-square-foot Modernism Museum on North Palm Canyon Drive.
It will feature rotating collections from Coachella Valley residents, changing every six weeks, as well as eight vintage clothing, housewares, and accessories vendors and “walk-through vignettes of midcentury kitsch,” such as the Red Baroque Bedroom with smoky mirrors, 3-foot-high crystal sconces courtesy of Magda Gabor, and a pair of gilded tables once owned by Trini Lopez.
The museum will also house a duckpin bowling alley, petite roller rink, and Disco Pizza, Turco’s new Italian food concept whose first franchise will open this fall in Orlando, Florida.
“Jerry and I together have invested $20 million in Palm Springs.”
Turco, who recently formed the Women’s Entrepreneur Club of Palm Springs, is also launching a line of Palm Springs–inspired resort apparel designed in collaboration with European couturier Malan Breton and has been retained to help rebrand the 81-year-old city of Desert Hot Springs.
“She has a unique skillset in that she’s extremely creative and has also been very successful in creating and managing boutique hotels,” deputy city manager Doria Wilms says. “It couldn’t be a better fit, and we’re so excited to work with her.”
Before the ink dried on the contract, Turco had already conceptualized plans for a Tracy Turco–branded hotel and spa in Desert Hot Springs and was brainstorming botanical formulas for an amenity line. “We bought property near the fault line in Desert Hot Springs, where the most nutrient-rich waters are located,” she says. “It’s all geothermal. It’s like the Fountain of Youth. I’m going to combine it with green tea for beauty products and create a line of bottled drinking water.”
Indeed, she will, and all before we have our second cup of coffee.