A Stale Desert Midcentury Gets a Punched-Up Personality
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A Stale Desert Midcentury Gets a Punched-Up Personality

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By Lucy Wang
In Rancho Mirage, California, a tired 1960s house is completely transformed with new features and materials that blend midcentury charm with contemporary taste.

Despite a 1984 remodel, the desert midcentury that a couple recently purchased as their vacation home near Palm Springs had long suffered signs of aging with outdated finishes, deferred maintenance, and ill-proportioned rooms. Eager to breathe new life into the 1960s dwelling, the homeowners looked to Seattle–based Stuart Silk Architects for a gut renovation to bring their holiday home to modern standards.

Poured concrete walkways flanked by desert landscaping lead to the architect-designed front door painted bright blue.

Poured concrete walkways flanked by desert landscaping lead to the architect-designed front door painted bright blue.

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"Our clients wanted to create an updated, midcentury modern home that isn’t too modern," the architects explain of the project, dubbed Thunderbird Heights. "Our goal was to capture the feel of a home that could have been built in the 1950s but also has elements of today. We wanted to integrate fresh ideas alongside design elements popular in the 1950s in Southern California."

The Thunderbird Heights house is set on a plateau above Coachella Valley and backs up to the Santa Rosa mountains to the south and west.

The Thunderbird Heights house is set on a plateau above Coachella Valley and backs up to the Santa Rosa mountains to the south and west.

An bird's eye view of the home, which sits roughly in the center of the 1.3-acre lot. The swimming pool was relocated from its original location in the courtyard to the back yard.

An bird's eye view of the home, which sits roughly in the center of the 1.3-acre lot. The swimming pool was relocated from its original location in the courtyard to the back yard.

Starting with a reconfiguration of the entire floor plan, the architects removed and replaced "90 percent" of the original house with new construction; most of the existing foundation and roof structure were reused.

Deep roof overhangs protect the interior from the hot desert sun. New, thermally broken doors and glass were installed throughout the house.

Deep roof overhangs protect the interior from the hot desert sun. New, thermally broken doors and glass were installed throughout the house.

Stuart Silk Architects made significant changes to the exterior with their addition of beige brick walls, thin custom-designed columns, steel trellises, and large roof overhangs.

Stuart Silk Architects made significant changes to the exterior with their addition of beige brick walls, thin custom-designed columns, steel trellises, and large roof overhangs.

Thermally broken windows replaced all original glazing while large expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass were installed to open the home up to greater natural light and views of the outdoors.

The view from the rear lawn towards the house. The outdoor living room is accessible from the family room (on the right) and the living room (on the left).

The view from the rear lawn towards the house. The outdoor living room is accessible from the family room (on the right) and the living room (on the left).

 Arcadia windows and doors with bronze finishes help achieve the homeowners' goal of indoor/outdoor living.

Arcadia windows and doors with bronze finishes help achieve the homeowners' goal of indoor/outdoor living.

Further enhancing the indoor/outdoor living experience are two new open-air terraces attached to the living room and kitchen. To accommodate a growing family, the architects also added an extra bedroom for a total of five bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms.

Located across the entrance, the cozy family room includes a mini bar and overlooks the outdoor patio and backyard with the relocated pool.

Located across the entrance, the cozy family room includes a mini bar and overlooks the outdoor patio and backyard with the relocated pool.

The home's terrazzo floors, fabricated by Architectural Concrete Innovations, are flecked with gold and brown accents.

The home's terrazzo floors, fabricated by Architectural Concrete Innovations, are flecked with gold and brown accents.

Midcentury influences abound in the updated architecture, from the home’s long horizontal forms and flat roof to custom-made details like the geometrically inspired entrance door and metal screens.

The living room features a double-sided gas fireplace, a pair of Jan Showers chairs, a 1stdibs coffee table, a custom Kush Rugs rug, and a Look Modern teak side table.

The living room features a double-sided gas fireplace, a pair of Jan Showers chairs, a 1stdibs coffee table, a custom Kush Rugs rug, and a Look Modern teak side table.

Yet the home is far from a 1960s time capsule. Blending together midcentury elements, contemporary surfaces, and the couple’s individual tastes, Thunderbird Heights has a vivacious character that’s uniquely its own.

Yellow Popham Design tiles add whimsy to the kitchen. A vintage Murano glass chandelier hangs above a custom table surrounded by DWR chairs.

Yellow Popham Design tiles add whimsy to the kitchen. A vintage Murano glass chandelier hangs above a custom table surrounded by DWR chairs.

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Pablo Designs Swell Medium Pendant
Pablo Designs Swell Medium Pendant
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Frederick Arndt Artworks Mid-Century Modern Block Trivet
Frederick Arndt Artworks Mid-Century Modern Block Trivet
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Drew Barrymore Flower Home Velvet Track Arm Sofa
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The light-filled den is furnished with a Jonathan Adler sofa and chair, a Dwell Studio chair, a vintage 1stdibs coffee table, and Stark Carpet carpeting.

The light-filled den is furnished with a Jonathan Adler sofa and chair, a Dwell Studio chair, a vintage 1stdibs coffee table, and Stark Carpet carpeting.

Bathed in daylight, the powder room includes Heath Ceramics wall tile and a custom slab vanity and mirror.

Bathed in daylight, the powder room includes Heath Ceramics wall tile and a custom slab vanity and mirror.

The master bedroom overlooks a private garden. Two DWR pendants hang on either side of the bed; at the foot is a Global Views settee.

The master bedroom overlooks a private garden. Two DWR pendants hang on either side of the bed; at the foot is a Global Views settee.

Visual Comfort & Co. sconces add playfulness to the master bath that's fitted with a custom vanity with Pental Surfaces quartz countertops.

Visual Comfort & Co. sconces add playfulness to the master bath that's fitted with a custom vanity with Pental Surfaces quartz countertops.

Thunderbird Heights original floor plan

Thunderbird Heights original floor plan

Thunderbird Heights new floor plan

Thunderbird Heights new floor plan

Related Reading: Donald Wexler Himself Helped Renovate This Palm Springs Prefab Rental

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Stuart Silk Architects / @stuartsilkarchitects

Builder/ General Contractor: West Coast Builders

Structural Engineer: RA Structural Engineer

Landscape Design Company: Anne Attinger

Interior Design: Maison Inc

Cabinetry Design/ Installation: Adonai Concepts & Design