location: Rancho Mirage, Riverside County, California, USA | architects: Stuart Silk Architects | interior design: Maison Inc. | landscape architecture: Anne Attinger | photography: David Papazian

Originally built in the 1960s, the challenge for the architects on this project was how to update a mid-century modern house without sacrificing its charm. Situated on a 1.3-acre site perched on a plateau above Coachella Valley, the rugged, inhospitable Santa Rosa Mountains rise immediately from the back garden. The almost 600-square metre house sits roughly in the middle of the property; entry is off the driveway and through a private courtyard.

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The client’s goals were to create an open and light-filled home that maximised views of the Coachella Valley below and the Santa Rosa mountains to the south and west. They also wanted to create a fluid connection between the primary indoor rooms and the outdoor terraces for both entertaining and casual outdoor living with their young children.

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‘The horizontality of this single storey, flat roof home provides an elegant response to the site and a counterpoint to the drama of the surrounded Santa Rosa Mountains,’ says architect Stuart Silk. ‘By further integrating the house with its desert context, it has captured a sense of place in making the best possible use of light and landscape. Its rich palette of materials and textures banishes any feeling of austerity, while awakening the senses to provide a wonderful living experience.

‘The material concept here was to contrast the rocky terrain by keeping the interior bright and crisp, while also complementing the desert palette in maintaining warmth and human scale,’ notes architect David Marchetti, a member of the project team.

The original design was closed-in and compartmentalised, and though the house was remodelled in the 1980s, it suffered from deferred maintenance. This renovation eventually encompassed 90 percent of the existing house, including reconfiguring the entire floor plan and the exterior elevations. Portions of the existing foundation and roof structure were repurposed. New brick walls, delicate cruciform-shaped columns and steel trellises were introduced, as well as large roof overhangs to limit exposure to the harsh sun.

‘Walls of floor-to-ceiling glass provide intimate views of the dramatic desert surroundings. The glass extends each room, blurring the line between interior and exterior – the experience is one of living in nature,’ adds Silk.

Among the most significant changes was extending the living room and kitchen to two open-air terraces, and adding a generous pantry and combined mud / laundry area. Several bedrooms were also added to accommodate the growing family (a total of five). The master suite was reconfigured to access a private garden and the master bathroom has its own private outdoor shower, accessible from the main shower. The swimming pool, previously located in the courtyard, has been relocated and paired with a spa in the spacious rear garden at the base of the rising mountains.

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Inside, the design departs from the typical monochromatic schemes of many mid-century homes by introducing unique design elements, rich textures and bold colours. These include the custom-designed decorative metal screens at the front gate and entry hall and the cruciform-shaped columns. Part of this palette are a white terrazzo floor, a bright yellow wall of tile in the kitchen, and the custom-designed aqua blue front door.

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The bedroom wing is accessed via a corridor lined with white brick, which functions as a gallery for the clients’ art collection; the opposite glass wall allows it to be seen prominently from the adjoining courtyard. Furnishings here reinforce this feeling of delight and complement the architecture, while the floor is white terrazzo with amber accents to pick up the warmth of the earth tones found in the landscape.

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