Bold and Beguiling
Captivated by its potential, a pair of home remodelers transform a forgotten gem into a dream retreat.
By Shannon Severson | Photography by Patrick Ketchum
The house, known as Casa Estrella, commands attention from its perch on a corner lot in Palm Springs’ Indian Canyons neighborhood. So it’s hard to believe the 1975 Hal Lacey custom home once languished unsold for months on the open market. That is, until a price reduction caught the eyes of Jackie Thomas and DeeAnn McCoy.
“I couldn’t believe that we hadn’t been aware of the home previously, especially since we’d been working on a house a few doors down,” says Jackie, who with DeeAnn owns a design/build firm and specializes in remodeling midcentury homes. “When we walked through the front doors, it was extremely dark, even in the middle of the day, and everything was beige. You could tell it was, as we say, ‘quite original.’”
There’s a wonderful sense of discovery as you enter each room.”
—LISA VOSSLER SMITH, executive director, Modernism Week
The couple immediately knew that the house would be their next project, but even though they’d been able to transform and sell 21 other properties, they agreed that there was something about this one that they couldn’t let go.
“We just kept looking at each other, and we both had this feeling,” recalls Jackie. “It was just a sensation. The soaring ceiling, the volume of the place, the sunken bar—it’s the perfect home for entertaining. A lot of houses in the area have essentially the same midcentury elements, but this custom build was something we hadn’t seen. This one seemed like it could be really special. It felt like a statement house.”
Vacation homeowners in the area since 2005, the couple made a permanent move in 2010, leaving their high-powered corporate global marketing and advertising jobs in Portland to live in the desert town year-round.
“Palm Springs is a lifestyle,” says DeeAnn. “We love everything about it—the sunshine, golf, architecture, fashion, culture and design. It’s allowed us to have a work/life balance. We left the rat race and no longer live to work; now we work to live.”
Restoring the area’s residential gems soon became their joint venture and a labor of love. Known for their bold use of color, Jackie and DeeAnn customarily design with an eye toward keeping core elements relatively neutral for future buyers. Risk comes in the form of easily changeable touches, such as art, pillows and vintage furnishings. Casa Estrella was a chance to renovate in a manner that would highlight the original structure and incorporate texture, color and bold design choices on a grand scale.
The intricately carved front door (now painted a brilliant shade of fuchsia) and Arabesque medallion niches in the entry courtyard, along with ornate, original ironwork gates are clearly Moroccan in feel. As the couple patiently listened for the house to communicate its best iteration, these traits spoke loud and clear.
“We used the Moroccan elements as inspiration for the entire design of the house,” says Jackie. “We knew we could take that as something that is authentic to the house and elevate it to give Casa Estrella a more defined point of view while doing something that is really unique.”
Inspired by a retreat they once owned in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, the designers chose Montauk Black slate floors for every room except the bedrooms. The choice set the tone for the house: unexpected, not too precious and exceedingly tolerant of pets and dust tracked in from days spent on construction sites.
“We raised some eyebrows,” says Jackie with a laugh. “People asked if we were really going to put dark floors in a home that was, at the time, dark to begin with.”
Now the commentary is that the pair has redefined what midcentury modern looks like in Palm Springs. The mark they’ve made created quite the buzz around town, according Lisa Vossler Smith, executive director of Modernism Week, which debuted the house to the public.
“We used the home for a small, exclusive event during Fall Preview week in October, and it was a smash,” says Smith. “We knew we had a hit and approached the owners about having Casa Estrella be our showcase home in the spring. The reactions were fabulous. From the curb, you could hear the audible gasps. Jackie and DeeAnn have such wonderful taste, a beautiful eye for detail and respect for original architecture. There’s a wonderful sense of discovery as you enter each room. You don’t want to miss a thing.”
Palm Springs is a happy place, and we wanted an environment that could stand the test of time.”
—JACKIE THOMAS, homeowner
Those gasps were augmented by the desert lush gardens created by landscape designer Wendy Proud, who has worked with the design duo for so many years that she felt comfortable proposing something a bit out of the ordinary.
“The house has such a romantic feel,” says Proud. “I wanted to accentuate that softness by layering and blending plants for a harmonious effect. The front yard is very freeform and has many of the original windmill palms along with newer plants and black mulch instead of the more commonplace decomposed granite. Jackie and DeeAnn were very open to my guidance and gave me a look that said, ‘We totally trust you.’ It was fantastic and became a great collaboration.”
The home’s timeless, essentially neutral color palette of black, white, gray and yellow is punctuated with plenty of color. Deep teals, blues and greens combine with playful pops of bright pink and brass fixtures to bring warmth to several of the public rooms, while soft pinks and shimmering gold give the master bedroom a subtle sense of glam. And everywhere is texture—in the fabrics, art, natural materials and landscaping. The effect is welcoming and eminently livable. It’s probably why there always seems to be a local friend or two popping by to have a drink and visit.
“Friends tell us that this is such a happy house, and that’s the sensation we wanted in our home,” says Jackie. “Palm Springs is a happy place, and we wanted an environment that could stand the test of time, but we also wanted to have a little fun, a little whimsy. We’re not very serious people.”
In the guest casita (which the couple uses as a pool house when unoccupied), things get bold with fuchsia, bright orange and a sleek white midcentury sectional in the sitting room. The look gives visitors the chance to enjoy the classic Palm Springs vacation vibe.
“The casita is where we took the risk because we don’t live in it every day,” says Jackie. “The space feels like quintessential Palm Springs to our guests, which is important. When it’s lit at night, we can see it from the main house, and it reminds us to go out and play.”
Jackie and DeeAnn love to entertain, but even when they’re not hosting guests, the home’s layout perfectly fits the way they live. They spend much of their time outside or in the den they’ve named the “Estrella Scotch Library.” It’s such a favorite spot that they’ve printed up cocktail napkins with the moniker. Cozy and drenched in deep blues and teals, the room retains most of its original millwork, including carefully reformatted built-ins and a library ladder. The two begin and end their days in the room, starting out with coffee, the newspaper and views of the sunrise over the San Jacinto Mountains; when night falls, they settle in to watch sporting events (avid fans, they have a bit of a rivalry between DeeAnn’s Oregon State and Jackie’s Cal Berkeley) with a glass of scotch, of course.
Despite the come-and-go nature of purchasing, renovating and selling homes, the pair isn’t prone to peripateticism. Casa Estrella is a keeper.
“We are nesters,” says Jackie. “We like to get into a place and make it ours. There’s a significant amount of effort you go to in order to fine-tune your living space, and we’ve done that here. It’s large, but the way it’s laid out is very connected and makes it easy to live in.”
Adds DeeAnn, “Hal Lacey left no detail unaddressed in this home. I think of it as ‘functional beauty.’ We moved in because it is unique and something we’ve never seen. Casa Estrella is a special place, and we have no plans to leave.”