Desert landscapes can be an exercise in extremes. While earth and air are in ample supply, other fundamental elements are often conspicuously absent. When it came time to build a new home situated on the Mountains course at Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, “the client really wished to see as much nature as possible from inside the house, with the beautiful landscape of the golf course through the rear pocketing doors and the mountains and sky through the clerestory windows in the great room,” says architect and project manager Yoav Weiss of Whipple Russell Architects, the Los Angeles firm led by principal architect Marc Whipple. “The only two elements that were missing were water and fire.”
So, the Whipple Russell team devised deft plans to integrate this specific request while creating an inviting contemporary desert home ideal for hosting overnight guests and entertaining. Two water features help anchor the home, gestures that both nestle the structure in its setting and provide dramatic contrast. The front entrance courtyard pond and the swimming pool in the rear area mean that “from pretty much anywhere from the house, you see mountains, you see nature, you see water, and then fire elements as well,” Weiss says, pointing to the multiple fireplaces indoors and out. Creating a new oasis, however, took programmatic and aesthetic priority.
Once past the private primary street-facing elevation, the home begins to reveal itself and its relationship to the site. The entrance pond and fountains, enhanced by Anne Attinger of Attinger Landscape Architecture’s quietly impactful design, establish a serene tone. The smooth pathway stones appear to float above the water, setting a rhythm in concert with the series of vertical ribbon windows that enclose the bedroom wing of the house. Other materials such as brown porcelain exterior siding and warm white stucco reference the desert surroundings.
The horizontal massing of the house simultaneously frames its interior volumes and the outward-facing vistas. The multipurpose great room contains an expansive kitchen and is capped with a band of clerestory windows to bring in mountain views as well as more light from above, in tandem with the skylights. The warmth of the engineered walnut tongue-and-groove paneling adds richness to the shared and select private zones throughout the four-bedroom, four-bathroom home. “We love to suggest wood ceilings wherever possible,” Weiss says.
Interior designer Carla Kalwaitis opted for a neutral palette throughout “to let the views speak for themselves and ensure the interior scheme honors the architecture,” she says. Incorporating a few statement pieces of minimalist sculpture and art, “we kept it all really organic and clean, and tied the design into the desert and mountains.” To bring a strong water element into the primary bathroom, an oversize Calacatta slab-clad rain shower faces the golf green yet appears hidden thanks to carefully composed interventions. Here, strategically placed berms and plantings help protect the space and also guide the eye across the fairway. In many ways, it’s the ultimate luxury.
At the core of the house, fully retractable floor-to-ceiling walls further blur indoor-outdoor distinctions. The pedestal decking system that Whipple Russell employs for its projects also maintains a seamless flow through the great room, rear patio, and pool area. “This allows the interior and exterior finish of the floor to be dead flush,” Weiss explains. Instead of using sloping drains, the porcelain tile flooring surfaces are elevated on adjustable pedestals with open seams that allow for drainage to be routed through to the subfloor. “When those doors are open, it’s got to read like it’s one space,” Kalwaitis observes. Mission accomplished.