Candace called me and said, ‘You’re not going to believe it, but we’re looking at a Spanish Revival home,’” recounts Calgary- based designer James McIntyre. His clients, Candace Ross and Bruce McDonald, had been on the hunt for a vacation home in Palm Springs, envisioning a midcentury modern gem reflective of the area’s distinctive style. Instead, to their surprise, “We changed our outlook—the house we found spoke to us right away,” says Candace of the 3,725-square-foot home with Spanish Colonial detailing. Within a day of seeing it, they purchased it, and despite the change in plans, McIntyre was pleased to have a broader canvas to work with instead of showcasing a strict modernist interpretation. The house itself had great bones, and the setting was idyllic, nestled in the lower San Jacinto Mountains with breathtaking views of the valley below. The only problem: It was stuck in the 1980s with shag carpet, pinch-pleated draperies and walls painted incongruous colors.
Before McIntyre started on the project, the couple took him for drinks at the Colony Palms, a local boutique hotel, on a design field trip. The couple wanted to capture a similar ambience as the hotel in their new digs, creating a place that would serve as a cozy, luxurious escape while still reflecting their own personalities through meaningful pieces from their travels abroad and their eclectic collection of art. “We wanted the vibe of the hotel to come through in the design,” says McIntyre. “I didn’t want their home to feel too precious. It’s that California lifestyle that everyone loves—trying to strike the balance between elegant and easy living.”
The homeowners wanted to incorporate a contemporary Moorish feel while also paying subtle tribute to midcentury modern décor. But first, contractor Rick Deal—who has since retired—undertook the renovations “that were quite extensive,” he reports. “We did a total remodel of the master bedroom and bathroom: hardwood floors, millwork, new doors, new iron railings and gates. We even created archways in the great room and did some fantastic custom tile work in the powder room.” Then, McIntyre effortlessly balanced the Moorish and midcentury elements by anchoring the house in earthy tones, natural materials and timeless furnishings. As the backdrop, white plaster walls ground the dark hardwood flooring. “The high contrast is a nice setting for whatever collection you put in the home,” says the designer.
For the furnishings, Candace and McIntyre looked locally, taking two trips together to Los Angeles in search of signature pieces for the home. “Candace and I like to shop for furniture as much as we like to drink wine,” jokes McIntyre. “We went to a Moroccan wholesaler and to the Pacific Design Center. We really wanted to have special pieces.” The fruits of their hunt include pieces from Ebanista, Gregorius Pineo and Espasso. In the living room, a custom- made Kyle Bunting cowhide rug in brown and cream hues serves as a focal point. The sofas are upholstered in fine linen, and the pillows subtly repeat the pattern of the rug, while a leather-clad Sergio Rodrigues chair playfully alludes to the area’s modernist heritage. “I love a neutral, serene look that mixes different textures,” says McIntyre of the similar style preference he shares with Candace. “I also love the contradiction of burlap against velvet.”
The boutique bungalow style extends to other spaces in the house, as well. For example, the petite yet functional kitchen with a patterned-tile backsplash and the jewel-box powder room tiled from wall to wall in a Moorish arabesque pattern are both rendered in neutrals. “We have so much color surrounding us, including palm trees and desert blooms,” says Candace. “I wanted to walk into the house and feel a sense of serenity and warmth.” Antique Turkish rugs from the homeowners’ travels punctuate the spaces with pops of red, one of the few brightly colored elements.
McIntyre avoided the “traditional master suite” by eliminating the boundaries between the bed and bathroom, allowing the bathtub to become a part of the main room and channeling the feel of a romantic hotel getaway. The architectural aspect of the four-poster bed creates its own space within the context of the room. Working with Deal, the designer also transformed a walk-in closet into a small foyer, while floor-to-ceiling custom built-ins now serve storage purposes. “As a designer, you have to guide the project and make it look fabulous, but it also really needs to appear as an expression of your client’s taste,” says McIntyre.
It’s this intentionally organic design that allows the couple to continue personalizing the house, be it with a pair of Moroccan poufs that Candace picked up ora new piece of art. “We didn’t go out and buy artwork immediately,” notes Candace. Instead, she and Bruce slowly amassed a collection of eclectic signature pieces, including two nude portraits by Los Angeles-based photographer Ben Cope, a pair of Pablo Picasso works and a contemporary piece by Judith Kindler. “We don’t just buy art to fill a space,” says Candace. “Art is something that my husband and I are extremely passionate about. It brings us a lot of joy.”
Client and designer alike emerged from the process delighted. “James made the project absolutely effortless and fun,” says Candace. “He is so talented and has incredible vision.” McIntyre echoes her sentiment: “We all had a common vision that we pulled together so nicely. I loved their style and taste. The house was a diamond in the rough waiting to be polished. And we polished it!”
— Alexandra Drosu