Shadows cast a graphic pattern in a corridor, where a site-specific installation by artist Phillip K. Smith III, made of mirrored glass and LED lights, changes color throughout the day; the Azadeh Shladovsky rosewood-and-sheepskin bench is from Jean de Merry.
Photo: Roger Davies

Marmol Radziner Crafts a Modernist Masterpiece in Palm Springs

The luxe Southern California retreat perfectly reflects the subtle palette of the surrounding desert landscape

One of the home’s signature indoor-outdoor spaces includes a boulder and reading nook. Photo: Roger Davies

The Los Angeles architecture firm Marmol Radziner is no stranger to working in the desert, whether restoring midcentury icons like the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs or building original, modernist-inspired takes on indoor-outdoor living in Scottsdale, Las Vegas, and various points across California’s Coachella Valley. One of the firm’s strengths is the artfulness with which it inserts architecture into natural surroundings. For a recent project in La Quinta, south of Palm Springs, the challenge was less about integrating a home into the desert landscape than it was integrating a desert landscape into the home.

When an Aspen-based couple—semi-retired businesspeople involved in a variety of philanthropic pursuits—approached Marmol Radziner about creating a residence in a new private development in La Quinta six years ago, they certainly weren’t looking for a conventional mega-mansion. “If you had ever told me that I’d own a house on a golf course in Palm Springs,” the wife remarks, “I would have said, ‘Clearly you haven’t met me.’”

A large-scale work by Michael Chow anchors the living room, which features a bronze-and-lacquer cocktail table custom made by Hudson Furniture, a sectional sofa by Minotti, and throw pillows covered in alpaca fabric by Rosemary Hallgarten. The Richard Wrightman stainless-steel barstools, at right, are upholstered in a Moore & Giles leather. Photo: Roger Davies

The brief from the clients was straightforward but hardly simple to execute. “They wanted a home with main spaces large enough for entertaining, but also to have their zone of living still feel compact,” says Ron Radziner, who heads the firm with Leo Marmol. The homeowners, who are enthusiastic collectors, also requested some walls for large-scale artworks (a nearly 18-foot-wide Michael Chow painting required a living room wall to be extended by six inches) as well as a strong connection between the interior and exterior.

The pool chaises are by Sutherland, with cushions covered in a Perennials fabric, and the iron-and-travertine side tables are by Philip Nimmo from Jean de Merry; Minotti made the sofa and daybed grouped near the fireplace. The landscape is by Madderlake Designs.  Photo: Roger Davies

They got all that and more with Marmol Radziner’s design, which is anchored by a 6,500-square-foot structure containing double-height entertaining spaces, a large master suite, and a guest room. There is continuous flow from the kitchen into the dining and living areas, with sliding glass doors opening directly onto the terrace and offering glorious views of the San Jacinto Mountains. Across a courtyard, a guesthouse features two additional bedrooms.

A pair of velvet-upholstered brass armchairs offer dramatic desert views in the living room; the sectional sofa and daybeds are by Minotti, and the silk rug was custom made by ALT for Living. Photo: Roger Davies

The architecture has many of the firm’s signatures: striking rectilinear forms, abundant glass exposures, generous overhangs for shading, asymmetrical ceiling heights, and overlapping planes that create visual dynamism. But for all its cool, modernist bravado, this is also a house with a softer, subtler side.

Korean artist Chun Kwang Young created the three-dimensional work in the dining area, the chandelier is by David Weeks Studio, and the dining chairs are vintage Milo Baughman designs; a 1950s Italian mirror from Wyeth hangs above a custom-made credenza by Hudson Furniture. Photo: Roger Davies

Sophie Harvey, an architect and designer in Aspen and New York City, collaborated on the interior finishes and oversaw the furnishings, instinctively gravitating “toward neutrals and earth tones while keeping everything warm,” she says. “This is a very modern house, but there’s nothing cold about it when you’re inside.” Responding to the owners’ taste for “a little luxe,” Harvey prioritized comfort in the mix of contemporary and vintage pieces, while deploying “really yummy silk rugs” and lining entire walls with creamy leather behind the platform beds. “We wanted it to have a luxurious feel but in a simple, understated way.”

The kitchen cabinetry is crafted of bleached walnut with concrete countertops; the sink fittings are by Dornbracht, and the stools are by Minotti. Photo: Roger Davies

The choice of materials—limestone floors, teak ceilings, bleached-walnut millwork, concrete countertops in the kitchen, travertine in the baths—was about channeling the faded, dusty hues of the desert. “Even the plaster color of the building itself,” says Radziner, “is a gray, slightly greenish tone that blends with the landscape.”

A painting by Sam Francis adds a splash of color to the serene master bedroom; B&B Italia swivel chairs flank a 1960s Paul Evans cocktail table, the horsehair bedside sconce is by Apparatus, and the silk rug was custom made by ALT for Living. Photo: Roger Davies

That connection to the desert is reinforced by the striking landscaped courtyard spaces, which are ingeniously woven into and around the house. The masterminds behind the meticulously crafted gardens were Jody Rhone and Tom Pritchard, principals of Madderlake Designs, who drew inspiration from, among other things, a temple garden in Kyoto. “The home is built on a flat piece of sand, without a shred of contour, elevation, or green—it was a blank slate,” Pritchard recalls. “We sought to use native desert elements to tell a story and create a context that the house could belong to.”

In the master bath, silver travertine from Tuscany lines the walls, the tub is a Claudio Silvestrin design by Boffi, and the tub filler and shower fittings are by Dornbracht. Photo: Roger Davies

To realize their vision, the designers doggedly tracked down perfectly craggy olive trees and handpicked granite boulders from a farmer’s fields some 60 miles away. “We spent days going around on ATVs and tagging different clusters,” says Pritchard. “No one in Palm Springs had ever seen anyone do something like this.” Ultimately, they trucked some 430 tons of rocks to the house, painstakingly reassembling them in the precise configurations in which they’d been discovered. “It was a struggle, but finding the right boulders was key to realizing the concept that we had,” Rhone says. “They are like characters in a story.”

The story of this house was the work of multiple authors whose collaborative efforts produced extraordinary results. “Leo Marmol summed it up best,” the wife recounts. “He told me, ‘You hired the A team, and they all gave you their A game.’ And it’s true.”

Click here to view more photos of the home.

Cover: Shadows cast a graphic pattern in a corridor, where a site-specific installation by artist Phillip K. Smith III, made of mirrored glass and LED lights, changes color throughout the day; the Azadeh Shladovsky rosewood-and-sheepskin bench is from Jean de Merry.
Photo: Roger Davies


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