As a seasoned professional, interior designer Kristen Smokowski knew she and her husband, Bernard, needed to field multiple proposals before choosing an architect to conceive their new home in La Quinta, California. Among the firms pitching ideas was Danielian Associates and a young architect there named Andrew Schaffner. Ultimately, the then 26-year-old Schaffner, who also happens to be Smokowski’s son, and the firm prevailed with the winning concept. “We wanted to give everyone equal opportunity, but he nailed it,” she recalls. “It’s so important to find somebody who can translate your vision, and he did that at such a young age.”
The couple envisioned a modern take on a Spanish-style ranch, “which fit that site,” says Smokowski, pointing to the surrounding desert landscape and Santa Rosa Mountains beyond. “It was essential to have something that felt intrinsic to the landscape.” To satisfy both the family’s wishes and community design guidelines, Schaffner, working with colleagues Michael Boyd and Dale Patton, employed traditional elements such as plasterwork, pillow-cut limestone and reclaimed brick for the parapet trim. He then laced black steel details throughout, such as the floor-to-ceiling windows, and incorporated decorative steel I-beams softened with warm wood inserts. The I-beams, installed under the direction of general contractor Bill Leddy of Sun Vista Construction, were a “trust me” moment with his mother, Schaffner recalls. “But I knew we needed that contemporary detail to come through, to show that this is a new home.” Once the wood insert was in place, “it so perfectly blended in,” says Smokowski. “It gives that hint of a modern, forward- thinking perspective.”
Punctuated by two enclosed courtyards, Schaffner’s open-plan layout invites discovery. “As you walk around the entire home, you have views from both sides,” says Smokowski. “There is this constant unrolling of surprises.” The wonders begin outdoors at the massive custom gate. There glimpses of the front courtyard, planted with palms and bougainvillea (a collaboration between Smokowski and landscape designer Gustavo Magaña of GM Future Designs) are visible through square cutouts. “They make you want to see what’s on the other side,” says Schaffner. “We wanted to create visual interest that keeps you moving to the next space.”
Many of the entertainment areas also radiate from this sun-kissed core, including the dining room, which opens wide to uninterrupted vistas of the Chocolate Mountains.
Other social spots such as the kitchen, media room and wine bar flow together. Private spaces flank the rear courtyard, where the master bedroom suite overlooks a reflecting pool, which features a commissioned sculpture by artist America Martin.
When composing these interiors, “I like to keep it simple,” explains Smokowski. “Because I think the interior designer’s true job is to create a canvas, so you can fill it with things you love, things that matter.” Colors remain neutral to showcase the family’s vibrant artworks and sentimental pieces, like the lamps made from antique concrete wallpaper rolls by Smokowski’s maternal grandmother. For furnishings, she also favored pared-down yet easy silhouettes in lush fabrics and finishes, from the cashmere B&B Italia sofas in the living room and a family room to the richly stained dining table by Flexform. “Her approach to design is always about making everything feel comfortable,” notes Schaffner. “She would never choose a cold piece just for appearances.”
A vein of familial warmth indeed runs throughout the project, forged through sunny days on the construction site and late-night text exchanges, swapping sketches and ideas. This spirit is perhaps best captured by Schaffner’s unexpected detail for his mother—an exterior fireplace at the entrance. “We were finalizing the massing,” says Schaffner, who turned 29 this year, as the project was wrapping up. “We thought a chimney would evoke that Spanish Revival look and create a warm welcome for people entering the home.” The surprise worked perfectly. “We light it when we’re home, to let people know they can come by,” says Smokowski. “And I think everybody who comes here enjoys our space. I hope they see the passion and the beauty of a family who knew what they wanted and was actually able to bring it to life.”