Art is too often treated as an afterthought in interior design, the finishing touch added to a room that’s already painted, papered and furnished. But during the renovation of this Palm Desert, California retreat, the exact opposite happened: The homeowners’ contemporary art collection dictated the design decisions—right down to the size and placement of a living room wall. For designer Townsend Lloyd, creating gallery-style spaces sans museum-like sterility was the primary challenge of the project. Happily, she arrived armed with an intimate knowledge of this particular property. The house—one of architect John Elgin Woolf’s famed pink Hollywood Regency-style originals at Marrakesh Country Club—belonged to her great-grandfather. And the current homeowner? It’s her own mother.
Lloyd spent many childhood holidays at the house, which her great-grandparents bought in 1972 and passed down to her mother and aunts about 15 years ago. Until last year, it was an essentially untouched time capsule of ’70s chic. “The whole house was done in coordinating pink and green, with green striped chairs, pink shag carpeting and built-in mirrors—which apparently were really in back then. It had its own charm because it was so dated,” says Lloyd, but adds, “The house was a great template to work from. A lot of what was put in place is still relevant.”
Lloyd teamed up with architect Rod Youngson (himself a resident of Marrakesh Country Club) to reconfigure the layout, paying particular attention to natural light and sight lines. Among many high-impact changes—placing retractable glass doors throughout the house, carving out a powder room, adding skylights to the master bathroom—they extended the house by 10 feet on either end. This allowed for a larger kitchen and a more formal dining room in place of a laundry area that had once blocked a gorgeous hilltop view. Another key metamorphosis: A hallway leading to the to the guest room and powder room terminates in an atrium, where a sculpture by Alexander Caldwell stands on a plinth. “Instead of a passage that ends in a wall, it’s a focal point that lets so much light into the house,” says Lloyd.
Extra bedrooms were also a priority, so a “bunk room” with queen-size beds was placed in an area formerly intended as golf cart parking. Additionally, a small casita with its own entrance was thoughtfully attached to the existing home to serve as a more private place for non-family guests. “Marrakesh essentially has four plans—A, B, C and D—and we’ve taken a ‘B’ footprint and substantially changed the layout inside,” says the homeowner. “We took a sophisticated approach to a renovation, one that really pushed the boundaries.”
Museum-white walls serve to brighten the space and provide a blank canvas for the homeowners’ collection, and no room was considered too casual for art. French artist Bernard Cathelin’s work hangs in the powder room, for instance, and vibrant works by American artist Julie Speidel and Canadian William Perehudoff are framed in the kitchen. The living room’s configuration centers around two oversize pieces: an Ashley Collins canvas atop the fireplace (which was sized specifically to complement it), and across the room, a lavender-hued landscape by John Evans. “Part of the reason we decided to close the kitchen off versus doing an open floor plan was to create a wall large enough for that landscape,” explains Lloyd. “We literally built the wall for it.” Outdoor areas don’t lack for dramatic art either. Most distinctively, a massive slab of marble is mounted above the courtyard’s sitting area. It’s a statement stone that Lloyd and her mother fell in love with while shopping for the fireplace’s marble surround—and re-designated it as weatherproof art.
As remarkable as the artwork is, what’s not prominent is equally noteworthy. Flooring and furnishings are deliberately muted. Window treatments are nonexistent or minimal. The streamlined kitchen includes a workstation hidden behind the cabinet doors, and the television is stashed within a nearly-invisible electronics “garage” in the living room, cleverly rolling out only when in use. “I like a linear, geometric approach with straight lines and no clutter,” declares the homeowner. “It’s all a good foundation for the collection.”
The house was recently a stop on a community fundraising home tour—and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. But for Lloyd and her mother, the realization of the house’s next chapter is what counts. “My hope is that it stays in the family for years to come, and that future generations like my choice in tile,” the homeowner says. “I think my grandparents would be thrilled by what we’ve done.”