Thanks to its desert locale and legendary trove of mid-20th-century butterfly roofs, breezeways, and boomerang pools, Palm Springs routinely gets tagged as a modernist “mecca.” Likewise, many a vintage garden there suggests an “oasis” of putting green turf, Technicolor flowers, and bottomless reservoirs. A 1956 version of that magic lives on at the former estate of the Broadway and Hollywood composer Frederick Loewe (My Fair Lady, Camelot, Gigi), now a rental getaway and events venue owned by Chicago entrepreneurs. But when the couple decided to build a family vacation home on a lot next door—originally Loewe’s three hole golf course—they sought a 21st-century modern alternative to retro showmanship.
The luminous, finely honed planes of the new house by architect Laurence Booth, of Booth Hansen, almost levitate between the San Jacinto Mountains to the west and downtown Palm Springs farther east in the Coachella Valley. Space and panoramic views flow back and forth across thresholds, terraces, and an infinity pool, as well as through automatic sliding glass walls and an outdoor dining porch.
Transparent surfaces that dissolve in shifting light also solidify to capture reflected palm trees and sunrises as ephemeral additions to the clients’ substantial art collection. Hoerr Schaudt expands upon this legerdemain in the landscape, disguising boundaries—and neighbors’ houses—behind deftly graded berms and dense vegetation. The 1.6-acre property appears to stretch countless miles before meeting the valley’s craggy rim.
Hoerr Schaudt took its cue from the stark splendor of desert and mountainside. Native boulders dominate the austere “moonscape” designed to complement Booth’s minimalism. Sinewy olive trees bring sculptural flamboyance to the front yard, alongside creeping rosemary, for evergreen color and texture, and bushy hedges of Indian fig laurel for privacy. Like the Texas sage, creosote bush, oleander, and mesquite that screen the slope east of the house, these drought-tolerant plantings are sustainable with modest care in a region where annual rainfall averages 5.8 inches.
Hoerr Schaudt replaced thirsty lawns with a continuous xeriscape of decomposed-granite. Fine enough to mimic drifts of desert sand, identical particles of weathered rock also cover the driveway, eliminating the line between pavement and ground. All along the approach to the entry, it looks as if boulders have cleared a trail that materializes and vanishes like a mirage.