Originally built as a contemporary in the late 1980s, “it took a wrong turn on the road to Tuscany in the 1990s,” quips owner Jack Corwin. “The previous residents pancaked it with beige everything.” Beige wood, beige stone, beige carpet and tile—it covered every surface, not a pop of color to be found.
The bland landscape wasn’t the only problem. The home’s original designer had buried the kitchen deep in the center of the house without a single window, the patio doors were too small and the pool looked like a Fred Flintstone flashback. Still, the house had a lot going for it. Corwin loved the location, with its broad views of the Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto Mountains, and the high ceilings and mostly usable floor plan were also pluses. He realized that if he renovated he could have the home of his dreams: a sexy contemporary with the confident optimism of a mid-century modern, all glamorous furniture and sleek finishes.
The homeowner called in architect Anders Lasater, principal of Anders Lasater Architects in Laguna Beach, to help bring his dream to life, and the two tackled all the minuses during a three-day-long design and draw session. “We had to erase a lot of mistakes,” says Lasater, who ultimately moved the kitchen into a little-used room nearby; the addition of a movable window wall opened the view from out front to the relandscaped pool in the rear. Sleek, precisely fitted Italian cabinetry from Snaidero now fills the space. “Installation was exacting,” says Tom Lathrop, of Lathrop Development and Construction in Palm Desert.
Lasater used a specific process to turn the fantasy into a reality. “I investigate a client’s particular desires and create a design that will work for their space and their space alone,” he says. That modernist approach—stating a problem and then solving it—here gave conceptual depth to what otherwise may have simply been a laundry list of furniture and finishes.
But what a list it was. Corwin presented designer Christopher Kennedy, principal of Christopher Kennedy Design in Palm Springs, with a selection of must- haves, including a Vladimir Kagan sofa, B&B Italia chairs and Charles and Ray Eames seating. Corwin, though he loves the mid-century aesthetic, did not want to live in a museum, “so I freshened the look with contemporary pieces and more customized elements,” says Kennedy. “We didn’t want the house to look like a consignment store.”
For pieces from his own hand, Kennedy channeled what the great designers of the 1950s did. “Saarinen and Eames took the latest in technology and concept and brought it forward,” he says. “That’s what I like to do.” In the living room, for example, he perched an espresso-finished cylinder atop a stainless-steel base to create a coffee table; above it floats a cloud of disks sheathed in acoustic fabric and bands of steel. The grouping is one of three seating areas in the room.
“Mr. Corwin either entertains 50 at a party, six for dinner and discussion, or he cuddles on the sofa with a loved one,” says Kennedy. “We designed the room for all three uses.” Circles above and circles below establish a minor motif that’s reflected in the dining room’s spherical Macassar ebony table and the curved wall that embraces it.
The brown-on-brown tones of the ebony show up throughout in cabinetry, upholstery and rugs; they contrast the brightness of the finishes, particularly the high-gloss terrazzo flooring. The selected stone and tile has a neutral look overall but delivers a bit of sparkly bling when you get close. And, because Corwin is a fan of fine fashion, too, his designer chose upholstery with a subtle wink to menswear. “We were inspired by the finishes and materials of 50 years ago that set the stage for the furniture and art of the desert lifestyle,” says Kennedy.
“Life in Rancho Mirage and mid-century modern design have something in common,” concludes Corwin. “Both are comfortable with their indoor and outdoor personalities. This house took that up a notch.”