A modern-day remodel adds a fresh look to a classic William Krisel house while honoring its midcentury roots.
By Katherine Adomaitis | Photography by Patrick Ketchum
When Stephen Callcott and his husband, Cliff Hopkins, visit their Palm Springs vacation home, they relax in sunshine, entertain houseguests and enjoy the California desert. The home? A midcentury classic, designed by noted modernist William Krisel and gently updated by the designing duo of Howard Hawkes and Kevin Kemper.
Stephen and Cliff began their search for a getaway several years ago, zeroing in on the desert resort destination. “It’s not exactly halfway for us,” says Stephen of their bicoastal lives—he works as a city planner in Washington, D.C., while Cliff specializes in internet marketing in San Francisco. “However, we love the weather, the hiking, the great restaurants and Palm Springs’ small-town feeling.”
The couple looked at dozens of potential properties, concentrating on older homes and drawing on Stephen’s expertise in historic preservation. “We started looking at the first generation of Palm Springs houses, built in the 1920s and ’30s,” he says, “but then we were drawn to midcentury modern homes, which are so different from what we know in Washington and San Francisco.”
Eventually, the pair came upon a gem: a 1969 single-family home built in the Kings Point golf course development with houses designed by Krisel, who died last year at the age of 92. The prolific architect designed some 40,000 homes and condo units in Southern California, Nevada and beyond, often working with builders and developers to create modernist subdivisions. In Arizona, he designed the Flair community in Tucson during the late 1950s, and, for desert-dwellers who head to San Diego beaches for vacation, Krisel is best known for the Coronado Shores condominium towers next to the Hotel del Coronado.
The three-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home sported many of Krisel’s architectural hallmarks, including large expanses of glass that blur the line between indoors and out, a taller central volume with clerestory windows that brings natural illumination into the home’s core, an indoor trellised ceiling treatment, a flat roof, and a slim, minimalist profile. “Krisel did three floor plans for this development of 44 homes,” explains Stephen, “but he flipped the plans and used different details so the houses don’t all look the same.”
While the vintage abode was in good condition with a largely intact original floor plan, the existing interior finishes were a bit too ornate for the couple’s taste. The kitchen and bathrooms also needed updating. “We didn’t want an overly Googie or literal Herman Miller midcentury modern style for this home,” notes Stephen, “but we wanted a more classic, relaxed look that matched the spirit of the house.”
For help, they turned to architectural and interior designers Hawkes and Kemper, who specialize in midcentury modern renovations. “We are not purists,” says Hawkes of their method of restoration and remodeling. “We approach each project with sensitivity and try to be mindful of the things that make the house special.”
Working with builder Henry Hoyt and landscape designer Moira Williams, the designers stripped away superfluous materials and created an interior that worked for the owners. “We tweaked the floor plan,” explains Kemper. “In the kitchen, we opened up a wall between the dining room so we could expand the counter and cabinetry space. We also reconfigured a Jack-and-Jill bathroom between the two secondary bedrooms so that each could become en suite bedrooms, and we changed the entrance to the powder room so it didn’t open directly onto the living room.”
We like to keep the interiors more neutral so the focus is on the views and the architecture.”
—Kevin Kemper, interior designer
Kemper and Hawkes opted not to fill in the classic sunken living room or cover its vintage polished terrazzo flooring, and they retained the ceramic tile flooring throughout the rest of the home’s public areas. The owners and designers also opted to keep the living room’s dramatic chandelier, made of chrome spheres. “We don’t think it’s original to the house,” says Stephen, “but it seems to fit.” According to Hawkes, in similar Krisel floor plans that spot was originally reserved for a circular fireplace.
The overscale paisley wallpaper that covered the living room walls, however, did come down and was replaced with white-on-white, three-dimensional plaster panels in a geometric pattern that catches the light and casts shadows on the wall.
Elsewhere, a fireplace that warms a small sitting area between the main living room and dining area was clad in a striated, polished travertine, as was a wall in the dining area, adding a natural touch against the interior’s otherwise pale hues. A new corner window was installed in the sitting area, allowing more views of the back patio, which opens onto the community’s common greenbelt and swimming pool.
In the kitchen, sleek, white lacquered cabinetry; dark counters; and stainless steel appliances update the space—and there’s even room for a second dishwasher. “We have a lot of houseguests,” says Stephen, “and we always seem to be doing dishes.”
The bathrooms were also updated with custom cabinetry, new counters and fixtures. Keeping with the white-on-white theme of the interior, the designers suggested using three-dimensional white tiles for each shower, combined in a different pattern for each space. In the master bedroom, Kemper and Hawkes added a wall-mounted desk and cabinetry in the spacious walk-in closet, creating a small home office that disappears behind sliding mirrored doors.
In the powder room, the designers convinced the homeowners to deviate from the rest of the home’s serene, subtle look. There, a dramatic monolithic vanity floats out from the wall—which is covered in a textured, metallic wallcovering—illuminated from above and below. “Howard and Kevin said, ‘Look, it’s Palm Springs; you need a little bling,’” recalls Stephen.
When it came to the furnishings, the owners relied on the advice of Kemper and Hawkes to choose simple, comfortable pieces with clean lines and neutral hues. “We like to keep the interiors more neutral so the focus is on the views and the architecture,” says Kemper. “We add color through accessories and art.”
Hawkes and Kemper worked with local craftsperson Jeff Teel to create a floating credenza that hangs beneath the TV in the living room. In the dining room, they suggested a low-key round table, surrounded by contemporary chairs, to keep the focus on the backyard views.
Outdoors, Williams updated some of the planting materials, replacing traditional hedges with cactus and cutting out portions of the patio paving to add more planter beds in the back. A new fountain and a grade-level fire pit add interest to the patio. “The fountain is easy to turn off and drain when the owners are not in town,” Hawkes explains, “and by building the fire pit at ground level, they can pull a coffee table over it when it’s not in use so it doesn’t take up that much real estate.” Simple outdoor furnishings, with a 1960s look, add a finishing polish to the setting.
After some eight months of planning, demolition and construction, the house now serves as a calming retreat where Stephen and Cliff can relax and soak up the Southern California lifestyle.
We wanted a more classic, relaxed look that matched the spirit of the house.”
—Stephen Callcott, homeowner