By: Michael A. Thomas, FASID, CAPS
For the last several months, I've been working on the interior design of an existing residence in South Palm Springs with two quite special clients.
It has been an interesting journey so far and as the project is coming to a conclusion, I started to reflect on the relationships created between client, designer and the design of the house.
While the high-end residence built just five years ago had good bone structure, the interior clearly was showing its age. The interior had been finished poorly and filled with one too many faux-modern and fake-classic pieces by the previous owner.
The result was a feeble attempt at design that made the interior look more "staged" than a real home designed to be lived in by real people. • Funny or maybe not so funny.... I see a lot of interiors just like that,... images published in shelter magazines that try to suggest that a house actually has real people living in real spaces, that it functions as required and that it has an individual personality, not one that mimics interiors from days gone by. Often they come off looking like they are furnished by Ikea over a long weekend.
Initially, we all seemed to struggle with finding a key direction for the project and design. But one thing was clear: the clients expressed a desire to have a visually stimulating yet timeless space and one that would work with their collection of unique art.
A multitude of ideas were floated. Raw concepts were sketched. Detailed drawings made. And eventually after a couple of critical meetings, a vision was created and plans began to take shape, one that would transform the old interior into a warm, inviting and sophisticated contemporary environment.
But there was much work ahead for the clients who moved to the desert valley from Los Angeles last year.
First, a neutral color scheme was determined and approved that ranged from black to white and all grays in between, one that would not compete with the art yet form a solid background.
The peachy beige stacked stone walls that extend from the exterior into the interior thru large expanses of glass walls were stained a multi-toned grey. In the bedrooms, the commercial carpeting was ripped up and replaced with hand-selected, hand finished 24" square slate in a tone that can only be described as as a "raw steely" color.
The quite awkwardly scaled original fireplace wall in the living room now features angular panels of brushed stainless steel and a hearth and mantel of highly polished absolute black granite. Existing kitchen cabinets previously stained in a washed out chocolate are now refreshed in a deep charcoal color.
Furnishings were carefully selected based on their style but also on their scale as the angled ceilings rise above the floors some 16 feet in the entry, living, dining and kitchen areas. For instance, the dining room chairs are nearly five feet tall and provide a bit of visual whimsey to the space in their bold grey, silver and white vertical stripe covering, much to the delight of the clients. An overtly large white glass apple on the 66" glass dining table repeats the use of items that seem to be larger than life.... like something from the Wizard Of Oz.
New built-in wall shelves of black granite are a repeating theme in the interior, defining areas of interest and highlighting places for art and accessories. They pierce the walls at acute angles while echoing the same multiple angular design seen in the home's architecture and to a degree, making connections to the angles of the mountains and desert just outside the windows.
Diverse three-dimensional wood, metal and stone sculptures along with stimulating wall art like the one (above on the left above ) of a gang of "upside down people" crafted on sheets of lucite beckon guests to begin their exploration of the residence. Halls also provide exceptional spaces for installing art by creating strong focal points and incorporating lighting from a combination of sources: natural daylight thru windows, LED can lighting and tubular-style skylights from above.
The extensive patio deck, one with a front loaded curved pool, now has a face of fine Italian porcelain tile in a dove "greige" accented with a companion steel gray tile at the water line providing a low maintenance finish and nearly seamless appearance. The landscaping follows the same philosophy as the interior with a minimum of desert plantings and furnishings.
While there are a few remaining pieces to be installed and a select number of fine art yet to hung, the clients are most pleased with the results and glad to be living once again without the construction debris and team of workers.
"Thank you so much for helping us with this house. When people ask, we always tell them that you were always right in the all the important decisions." - JS + CQ
Actually the success of this interiors project was about the team work that occurred among the clients, contractors, me and, of course, the house, each with their own personality and contributions; a team built thru constructive conversations about what how it would function, how it might look, and what it would take to make both happen.
Bill + Steve
8/15/2014 02:48:35 am
I love to read stories like this one, Michael. It looks like you and your clients really did a number on the home and it shows. And I agree with your statements about the design here in Palm Springs. So many people fall into that scheme of making something look like it did in the 1960s just because they feel it is the Palm Springs contemporary trend to do so. And I get so tired of things being called mid-century modern when they are clearly not. But you made this house contemporary for today' standards, not yesterday and probably for a long time to come. Compliments to the clients for hiring you in the first place. I bet you took them farther than they would have been able to do on their own. And... Thanks for sharing all this good stuff. Enjoy your blog.
Beverly and Robert Stephens
8/15/2014 03:05:52 am
Love this house !!! I really really do !! But I have a question for Michael. How long did it take to do this job? We are planning a remodel and would like some advice about how to go about it without it creating all sorts of chaos in our lives. Any advice would be most helpful to us. Thanks again and truly LOVE your work. It is really special.
8/15/2014 03:54:08 am
Beverly... Thanks for your comments. The time frame to remodel varies depending on scope but one way to control such "chaos" is to have a firm design created on paper first,... with all the costs determined up front. It takes longer to do that phase but so worth the effort. Then the actual remodeling process takes a shorter period of time and ensures there are no BIG surprises at the end. Hope that helps.
8/15/2014 04:05:15 am
Michael !! Very fun and very creative interior. Great job. I'd live there. And I agree with the other comment about too much mid-century crap. It is so last year... make that... it is so last century. It is time for a fresh voice in design and you're the man. ;-)
Chris and Allen Levy
8/15/2014 04:22:11 am
I visit your website every so often and what I see is a variety of work that isn't one style or just the trend of the day. But this one is certainly timeless. That shows a lot of experience and talent. The clients have a great collection of art and I'm sure that helps you in getting a feel for what kind of interior you need to be giving them. Very nice. Very very nice. You should be published in Arch Digest for this place.
8/15/2014 04:29:09 am
Chris + Allen ... thank you. ( blushing now ) Once the interior is completely finished and art all hung, the client wants pro shots taken and has threatened to get it published. ;-)
8/15/2014 06:26:43 am
I don't usually leave messages but wanted to let you know that I really liked your recent home design. It seems that even though it is modern, it feels warm and friendly. Your client should be very happy with the results of your work. Congratulations.
8/15/2014 07:48:08 am
You sure did a great job on this house. My, oh my, I wish I could live in that house. And I sure like the fireplace panels.. very nice. When you work with an interior designer, you get something you just can't get at a store.
8/15/2014 11:56:14 pm
michael thomas: this house is really special. i am intrigued with the fireplace design. I have an old 1950s house with a fireplace with a weird opening that is off-set and off center from the wall. I have not been able to figure out how to make it look better. maybe i should hire you to design a plan for me. -mark
8/16/2014 07:41:52 am
Mark... or is it mark ( as in lower case "m" ).....I find the greatest successes with projects are to work thru the challenges on paper ( or in my case, on the computer using CAD software.) When you can look at various solutions, such as your off-centered fireplace, sometimes one idea leads to another, then to a best solution.
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Michael is an award winning interior designer based in Palm Desert, CA. He is a Professional Member of the American Society of Interior Designers and a member of the ASID College of Fellows.
As a Certified Aging In Place Specialist, he creates smart looking spaces that are safe and secure and create homes for a lifetime.
And with thirty plus years in the profession, he has honed his humor, elevated his passion for design and sharpened his wit to not take anything too seriously except his design work.