An Indian Wells midcentury moves into the spotlight with a brand-new take on the showcase concept
By Alexandria Abramian
Desert Oasis doesn’t play by the typical showcase home rule book. For starters, the home designed by architect John Walling is not a spec project. Instead, the homeowner of the 4,350-square-foot Coachella Valley midcentury with soaring roof lines and natural rock-covered walls brought a distinctive vision for the project—one that involved design inspiration that included a South Pacific/Polynesian/Hawaii vibe, with a touch of tiki.
And it may be exactly those parameters that led to the creation of such a standout collaborative home, according to Karen Okner, President of Design Collaborative and showhouse producer. “The owner had his own very distinctive aesthetic,” she says. “In many ways, those parameters provided a great source of creativity for the designers.”
Lead designer Michael Berman of Michael Berman Limited designed the living, dining, and bar spaces, while overseeing the entire project. “I worked as the conduit between the owner and the designers,” says Berman of the group of all-star interior designers Chris Barrett, Shannon Palmer, Jen Samson, Huma Sulaiman, Jenika Kurtz, Donna Johnson, Linda Allen, and Maya Williams. PIRCH, a leading retailer of luxury kitchen, bathroom, and outdoor appliances and fixtures, was the project’s premier sponsor, providing the core appliances, water fixtures, and hardware throughout the kitchen, bathroom, and outdoor areas of the show house.
And while creating a cohesive home that would honor the specific requests was the goal, Berman also ensured that each designer’s unique vision could shine. “We wanted to do something original but have our own imprint on it,” he says. “That’s a really cool challenge.”
Designers rose to that challenge in a variety of ways.
Linda Allen wove a mix of whimsy and function to the laundry room. “If you’re doing laundry, it might as well be fun. Or if it can’t be fun, you might as well be surrounded with iconic fish by legendary Alfred Shaheen,” says Allen, who used tiki-inspired tiles by Teaki Tiles in both the powder and laundry rooms. “But the fish need to be in water, right? And there’s water in the washing machine. So, I connected the two, and decided if you’re going to do laundry surrounded by Alfred Shaheen’s Ebb Tide fish by Brenda Houston, then it makes sense to give the illusion of being submerged in water surrounded by fish,” she adds.
Chris Barrett, principal of Chris Barrett Design, took a contemplative approach to the master suite with a soothing mix of materials and elements. “In keeping with the client’s love of all things Polynesian, we created a natural, cozy environment,” says Barrett, who integrated pieces such as the owner’s 16-foot rustic canoe. “Enveloping the walls in grass cloth and using a stylized paisley wallpaper gives it a bit of an exotic flare, while remaining a strong, masculine space.”
Other spaces found inspiration in the homeowner’s 10,000-square-foot trove of collectibles. “It’s a warehouse of wonders. If you want vintage sports memorabilia, art deco juke boxes, midcentury mannequins, Paul Frankel rattan chairs… It’s all there,” says Berman. Jen Samson spent an entire day exploring the owner’s tiki collectibles only to discover that “the vision for the JSD guest bedroom and bathroom room came to life after falling in love with one of the homeowner’s vintage chalkware lamps. I immediately knew that the lamp, donning a near nude female figure draped in a coral sarong standing under a tree, would be the muse for our space. These two rooms are a collection of colorful and organic feminine shapes that come together to create a playful, midcentury inspired, modern Fijian-inspired enclave.”
Berman says the warehouse was also the source for one of the home’s most iconic moments: The shark bar. “The owner said, ‘I’d love it if you can do something with this old shark head.’ He’s a pro surfer and Olympic swimmer who grew up in Malibu, so I thought about it and that night I dreamed about putting it mounted on the wall above the bar. I sketched it up at 3am and emailed it to him. I got a one-word response: ‘Exactly.’”
“Key to the entire home concept was creating a unified color palette,” says lead designer Michael Berman, who discovered a trove of the owner’s Polynesian menus that came from transatlantic luxury ships in the 1930s and 1940s. Selecting the art on one of the menus, Berman transformed it to become a dining room mural that would do double-duty as a palette for the rest of the home. “We had them printed on a unexpected material, porcelain tile printed by PlanIt Printworks. That beautiful, saturated color is impregnated into the tile and became the palette for the rest of the house.”
Photo by Chad Mellon
“The house has a definite midcentury vibe so we wanted to respect that,” says Chip Tom, Senior Curator for Heather James Fine Art. “At the same time, you don’t want to overdo it. If you have a midcentury house, people often put in midcentury furniture. We could have also put in art of that same period but then it can start to get to be a really period piece. Instead, we worked with the designers and our inventory to find pieces that work color-wise and complement the spaces. In the primary bedroom, we selected this piece by Seth Kauffman. It’s so perfect because the house and the bedroom have an indoor/outdoor feel and this sculpture connects to that: It’s made out of bronze but is cast from real trees, so it’s growing like a tree but is manipulated by the artist.”
Photo by Chad Mellon
“For the outdoor kitchen, we created a circular pad as a complement to the circular pool spa and other concentric gestures on site,” says Ecocentrix founder and landscape architect John Feldman. “It aligns with the center point of the pool and with the fire pit sitting area on the other side. Our client requested that the orientation of the 13-foot-long cabinetry and adjacent dining table be on the bias within this circular paved pad. The idea was that when he manned the barbecue, he would have the most commanding view of the mountain peaks. The cabinetry by Moya Living is the highest-level construction and fabrication, and we were so fortunate to collaborate with the company’s founder Moya O’Neill on this piece. It features fantastic heavy-gauge stainless steel metal with custom powder-coated finishes.”
Feldman adds, “The cabinetry hosts great top-end accessories in appliances that were all made possible by our friends at PIRCH. Chris Barrett was particularly instrumental in the selection of these components and worked closely with the homeowner to make sure to accommodate his every whim.”
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