Before & After: Palm Springs Party Pad Becomes a Sleek Retreat
A mid-century home once featured in Playboy transforms into a modern desert fantasy
Written byElizabeth JardinaJuly 11, 2016
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Palm Springs love
When Marc Walters of Portland decided to buy a vacation home in sunny Palm Springs, he was looking for a respite from the Northwest’s winter gloom—and, perhaps, love. “I had been single for awhile,” says Walters, whose partner of 19 years had died four years prior. “I thought, Well, I guess I’ll try my luck in Palm Springs.”
First, though, he lucked onto a house: an architect-designed 1960s rancher that was featured in the April 1966 issue of Playboy. Yes, that Playboy.
Built as a grown-up playground for a bachelor Palm Springs attorney, the house had a very open concept: The master bedroom was separated from the living room only by a rotating fireplace and a set of Japanese-inspired shoji screens. The wet bar in the living room was completely stocked for shaking up martinis, while the master bathroom had a sunken terrazzo tub hidden from the bedroom by a functional freestanding wall.
By the time Walters got to it in 2013, the house had undergone a series of renovations, leaving a mash-up of original pieces, tile and cabinetry from various eras, and plenty of wood veneer. But he was drawn in by the sleek front profile, the floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto the pool, and the house’s beautiful light and flow.
In the front yard (pictured here), the sturdy trunks of California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) anchor the space, designed by Marcello Villano. The landscape is studded with Agave ‘Sharkskin’, feathery Yucca rostrata, and golden barrel cactus. The tall Mexican fan palms, Washingtonia robusta, were preexisting on the property.
To make the home warm and modern while retaining the charm of its history, Walters turned to interior designer Sam Cardella for help. The designer proposed that the ceilings be swathed in reddish brown cedar planks. Cardella also worked with contractor Mark Hahn to replace the shiny white terrazzo floors with a low-sheen brown-gray concrete floor that infuses a calm earthiness to the house.
And then he turned to the problem of the cylindrical fireplace. Although the piece was original, it was also gimmicky. Cardella tore it out but designed an ode to it in the form of a wood-clad wall with back-to-back fireplaces that separates the bedroom from the living space. Rather than leave the wall open at the ceiling, Cardella installed two mirrors that reflect the cedar planks, giving the illusion that you’re looking into the next room without sacrificing privacy. On the living room side, the fireplace faces out into a room decorated with masculine, welcoming pieces, including a set of leather tub chairs, a Jens Risom sofa, and an oversize coffee table.
At the same time, the spirit of that swinging ’60s Playboy pad remains. In the master bath, the full-length glass door to the outside slides away completely, converting the indoor shower into an alfresco, spa-like sanctuary. Outside, landscape designer Marcello Villano reimagined the front yard as a stylized desert fantasy. Palms wave in the breeze over an undulating landscape of river boulders, agaves, yuccas, and barrel cactus. In the backyard, Villano shrunk the pool’s footprint and squared off its corners, while Cardella brought in a suite of white ’60s-style patio furniture and soft lighting.
“We do a lot of dinner parties, and we like to have a cocktail hour out by the pool,” says Walters. “The landscaping is gorgeous at night and the lighting’s very sexy.”
No matter how alluring the house, however, it didn’t find Walters love. That came from home, in Portland, where he met Rick Cassar, the man who would become his husband in 2014. Walters, a college instructor, had already retired, but Cassar was still working—coincidentally, at a remodeling firm. “I talked him into retiring,” Walters says. All the more time to spend in Palm Springs.
The custom fireplace is set into a hand-built wall of oiled afrormosia, an African teak. Pieces of mirror at the ceiling give the illusion that the wall is open at the top. To complement the home’s wooden accents, interior designer Sam Cardella chose masculine, classic pieces in soft tones, including a pair of J.J. quilted lounge armchairs from B&B Italia, Volume Tub leather swivel chairs from Donghia, and an Easy Sofa by Jens Risom.
Mid-century modern gets a contemporary twist in the kitchen and dining space. The cabinetry is done in a taupe-gray laminate that looks like grayed oak. The Seven dining table from B&B Italia brings an organic shape to the linear space, while the stacking black leather Anziano chairs from Donghia keep a low profile. The Torroja Cross light fixture by David Weeks offers a hint of space-age cool.
In keeping with the home’s “Playboy pad” history, Cardella preserved the location of the built-in wet bar, redesigning it in gray laminate, with a pair of Blackman Cruz Molar stools. As in the original house, the walls are white, but the interior is warmed by the brown-gray concrete floors and the cedar planks used on the ceiling.
The bedroom is dominated by two pieces by Oregon artists: a colorful oil hung as a diptych by Jay Backstrand, and a huge red-painted Joshua tree log turned into sculpture by artist Steve Shigley. Because Walters decided to turn the home’s former office into a closet, Cardella incorporated a workspace into the master bedroom, tucking a desk behind the headboard.
The glass door slides into a pocket, converting the master shower into an outdoor one. The walls are Venetian plaster, which is meant to look like concrete.
Villano gave a preexisting hedge of Carolina laurel cherry (Prunus caroliniana) a trim, which visually lifts it up and makes room for feathery Mexican grass tree (Dasylirion longissimum) and a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) in front. The wall, which was originally stucco, got a refresh in slate. Around the pool, the vibe is pure midcentury modern, furnished with pieces including the Accordion table from Janus et Cie, Eames aluminum swivel chair from Herman Miller, Richard Schultz 1966 collection dining set and lounge chairs by Knoll, and Drum table from Janus et Cie.