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Winning Design

Keeping the best and losing the rest, a couple re-imagines a country club home as a social space for their fun-loving friends

Steven Biller Home & Design

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Beyond the Zucker house’s glass-framed entrance, the foyer features a pair of vintage wall sconces from a French theater and sheep wool benches from Argentina situated beneath. Once inside, the view expands to a bright great room whose living space continues onto the outside patio.

Steve Zucker loves a big game. The retired Chicago sports agent, renowned for negotiating blockbuster contracts for Jim McMahon and Deion Sanders, calls on a long list of friends and family to watch marquee events with him and his wife, Shelly, at their Tamarisk Country Club house in Rancho Mirage. They hosted almost 150 people for this year’s Super Bowl, screening the game on 11 televisions inside the house and outside on the patio.

Like many sun-loving Midwesterners who split their time, the Zuckers purchased and renovated their desert house to entertain. But on most days only the two of them occupy its 6,200 square feet of living space. The challenge was to make their wide-open home feel cozy and intimate.

Enter Sam Cardella, the interior designer they met through friends and hired to update this 1993 Thomas Jakway-designed house formerly owned by George and Edith Nadler, art collectors and philanthropists. Working with his clients, Cardella selected pieces that reflect influences from midcentury mod to eclectic global styles. His cohesive design wove vintage, antiques, art, and contemporary furnishings throughout the home in bright, welcoming spaces.

Beyond the Zucker house’s glass-framed entrance, the foyer features a pair of vintage wall sconces from a French theater and sheep wool benches from Argentina situated beneath. Once inside, the view expands to a bright great room whose living space continues onto the outside patio.

Situated on the golf course between the 12th and 15th holes, the property offers expansive views of the greenbelt and the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains. To see the full panorama, they had to replace about 250 trees and bushes with desert landscaping. “It was kind of like a fortress,” Shelly says. “I need to see everything out there.”

The Zuckers purchased several works from the Nadlers’ collection, including an abstract expressionist bronze by Bruce Beasley that sits poolside and figurative works by Robert Graham (patio) and Boaz Vaadia that rise up in the backyard.
Inside, the original Jakway floor plan perfectly suited the Zuckers. “It’s functional moving from one room to another,” Cardella says. “It’s a very livable house.”

In the master suite, where the Zuckers wake up to a view of the pool against the backdrop of a mountain range, Cardella refaced the existing built-in nightstands with a new wood-veneer and installed a mural-sized painting by Dusty Atkins over the bed. In the seating area, Cardella designed a custom fireplace and added a sofa, swivel chairs, and a hanging Scheherazade light fixture.

Steve Zucker retained his antique lacquer, leather-topped writing desk — a classic touch that suits his character (he still dabbles in law) and helps define the distinctive office and den.

Adjacent to the master bath — and its atrium dotted with palm trees, cacti, and a sculpture — Cardella neatly arranged family pictures in Shelly’s walk-in closet. “I like to place family photos in areas where they wake up to every morning and retire to every evening,” he says. Similarly, he punctuated Steve’s side with a vintage football and medicine ball. “He might be the only one who sees it, but it’s important to respect and acknowledge his professional career.”

A secret passage connects the master suite to the office and den where Steve can be found working at an antique lacquer, leather-gilded writing desk. The Zuckers retained the Nadlers’ sofa, which fits into the niche on the back wall, but reupholstered it in charcoal mohair velvet. A large-scale kite by artist Michael Thompson hangs above the sofa, providing an unusual three-dimensional focal point.

The office and den open to the great room, where the top priority was extending the flooring onto the patio to create a continuous space. “The patio deck is massive, great for entertaining — truly a gift,” Cardella says. “It acts as another living space.”

Shelly achieved the bright home she wanted with abundant use of white in a space that gleams with glass. Accents of black, gray, and brown round out the palette. “She was bold enough to dictate the white fabric sofas in living room even though they have grandchildren,” Cardella says. “It may not be practical, but I really love white sofas in this room.”

The figurative sculpture by American/Israeli artist Boaz Vaadia faces the Zuckers’ patio from the lawn.

The great room features a baby grand piano, a seven-arm chandelier by Serge Mouille (another fixture by the French designer hangs in the dining room), and African antiquities from the Zuckers’ collection and local sources, including Galleria and Stewart Galleries in Palm Springs and Colin Fisher Studios in Cathedral City.

The most significant modification to the great room was the reconfiguration of the fireplace to separate it from the dining room. “We lowered and reframed the fireplace, which made a big difference to the overall space,” Cardella says, pointing out the sports-friendly, 80-inch televisions on both sides of the wall.

The dining room side begs for a dinner party. Cardella situated two round tables of eight each (an outdoor dining table accommodates another 14 guests) in front of an antique mirror from Syria with a mother-of-pearl inlay. “This is one of the first items we got,” Cardella beams. “There are certain items that you see and appreciate, and you find the place to showcase it.” The designer embellished the existing buffet, adding a glass-beaded wall covering to the inset of the door face and vintage cabinet handles from Liz’s Antique Hardware in Los Angeles.

The focal point of the morning room, a hand-woven rattan sea urchin chandelier, hangs over the midcentury-style Saarinen oval dining table and Herman Miller Eames Molded Fiberglass dining chairs.

All the guest rooms have a patio with a view of the mountains and share the aesthetic of the master. Art and design objects from local boutiques and studios distinguish the rooms, although one has a colorful painting the Zuckers bought in Cuba last year. It depicts Cuban people in various activities, including robbing a bank and boarding a boat to Miami.

The Moroccan-style powder room presents another aberration. “The upholstered walls and window coverings were existing,” Cardella says. “Although the fabric is not Fortuny, it has the Fortuny appearance to it. I thought, let’s leave it as is, reface the powder room sink, and play it up with a more Moroccan feel.”

For the Zuckers, the living room and patio are the heart and soul, where family and friends settle in for games and parties and watch the dramatic sunset over the mountains. Their playfulness made the interior design a winnable game for Cardella, as well. “I had a lot of fun with Steve and Shelly,” he says. “They enjoy life. They embrace it. This house allows them to enjoy this kind of lifestyle.”

Steve and Shelly Zucker never feel alone in their 6,200-square-foot country club home. They’re always making plans to host children and grandchildren, as well as friends who come to watch the big game and soak in the scenery.

The dining room, situated on the opposite side of the fireplace wall separating it from the great room, features two round tables with eye candy in every direction.

An antique mirror from Syria with mother-of-pearl inlay.

An abundant use of white creates a bright home.

Chicago artist Dusty Atkins painted the mural-sized canvas that hangs behind the master bed.

Like much of the artwork and décor in the house, Pop-style lithograph, “What a Dish,” came from a local source — Spaces in Cathedral City.